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Retribution does the best it can with the PSP’s single analog stick. It maps aiming to the face buttons and indulges you with a generous amount of aim assist – but it still feels far from an ideal solution. It’s a shame really, because in every other respect this is classic Resistance: epic, explosive, and fast-paced.
Fitting neatly between the two PS3 titles, Retribution takes you across mainland Europe on a quest for revenge. James Grayson, a disgraced former Lieutenant and xenophobic cockney, is saved from a firing squad by the French Resistance and forced into a suicide mission in Rotterdam. Cue some casual racism – every other Frenchman is a “bloody frog” – as James juggles his objectives with his thirst for vengeance (his brother was a victim of Chimera conversion).
The game may struggle with the PSP’s crampy button layout, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful title on the system. The initially forgettable environments recall the monochromatic sludge of the first Resistance, rather than its brighter, bolder sequel, but the character models are superb. James looks full of character with his leather jacket complete with sewn-on badges, and each of the new Chimera types are great looking villains.
The change from first to third-person perspective is essential, for a number of reasons. Auto-aiming seems less offensive in a more distant view – you’d never get away with this much aim assistance in a true FPS – while the game’s snappy cover system would be ten times more fiddly in first-person. When it decides to work, cover is simple - unfortunately, you can only take cover when enemies are present, and sometimes not even then if James isn’t in precisely the right spot.
Thankfully, pulverizing alien scum is enormously satisfying. The series’ trademark crop of inventive weaponry is all present and correct, and there’s a good variety of Chimera to use them on. Our favorite new gun is the Razor, which launches homing energy blades that bounce from enemy to enemy. It’s much less satisfying using precision-based weapons like the Fareye sniper rifle, where the digital aiming proves annoyingly slow. It’s possible to come to terms with the controls by cranking the aiming speed to maximum and surrendering to aim assist, but at times the game’s PSP-enforced awkwardness will slap you hard across the chops.
While its stages are hardly indicative of the countries you’re supposedly in – most of James’ time in Bonn, Germany is spent down an alien ditch – they are at least well paced and full of variation. Although series creators Insomniac have had little to do with Retribution, Sony Bend have managed to retain the flavor of the franchise, injecting levels with giganto-monsters and intense, desperate combat. Later levels force you to use the fiddly cover system constantly as you’re assaulted by waves of Chimera.
We would like to have seen some exploratory downtime between combat situations – as it is, the near-constant barrage of enemies can get a bit much and there’s not really any reward for poking around the stages. The occasional ill-advised swimming section is thrown in as a token diversion, but it’s the combat that will really keep you engaged as it constantly switches between massive encounters with boss-like enemies and scrappy skirmishes with full Chimera hordes and Cloven soldiers (Russian grunts exposed to the Chimera virus and transformed into savage zombies).
If you look beyond the faults, Retribution is a perfectly pitched, thrilling action game. It is the finest shooter on PSP, but this accolade isn’t as prestigious as it might be because Sony’s handheld is a hostile place for first and third-person action games. Sony Bend has done a great job of making it as accessible and playable as possible, but it still feels like the devs have been asked to put a square peg in a round hole.
Mar 17, 2009