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Resistance 3: PS3's best exclusive shooter?

It's the end of the world as we know it, and it feels refined...

Civilisation is dead, Joseph Capelli has been living in a bin for four years having shot mankind's best hope and, incredibly, things are about to get worse.

What could be less fun than hiding on a bleak, ruined Earth as it's turned into a hostile alien environment? How about having to leave your family, finding yourself in a Pennsylvanian forest hunted by Chimeran snipers and dropships, accompanying the probably-crackers Dr Malikov. It sucks to be Joe Capelli right now.

"We didn't always know that Joseph would be hero for part three," says lead designer Drew Murray of Resistance's shift in direction. "At the beginning there was definitely some debate, the 'Are we somehow going to resurrect Nathan Hale?' talk. But ultimately we wanted to tell the story from a different angle, and Resistance 3 is a bit of a departure."

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It looks that way. In a welcome change from the usual brown, the forest is a chilled, moonlit blue filled with the shadowy limbs of winter trees. There are new dangers too.

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Malikov speaks to Capelli by radio, warning about enemy locations - the snipers are cloaked, Predator-style, and only betrayed by their laser sights. They're barely armoured though, and once found can be slotted relatively easily - Capelli's Auger, which picks out Chimeran shapes through the trees, does the trick.

Much harder to deal with are the new shield drones. These are small airborne robots which hover at head height behind hybrid soldiers. They cast impenetrable shields and must be dealt with before the enemies they protect can be taken down.

Through both Resistance and the Ratchet & Clank series, developer Insomniac has earned a reputation for delivering imaginative, explosive armouries. So it's not a huge surprise that a lot of work has been put into Resistance 3's weapons. Every gun has been redesigned, so even familiar weapons look and sound different.

The previously traditional Rossmore shotgun is now a thick brace of metal, while the Auger's sights have a sexy new electronic display that expands as it's brought to eye level. And in a turnaround from Resistance 2, the weapons wheel is back, meaning players have full access to all the guns they've collected at any point It works far better than the fashionable, 'realistic' restrictions of Resistance 2.

"The level design's much more open," says Murray of the increased tactical options the wheel affords. "You might want to throw down a couple of mini-turrets with the Marksman to make sure you're not being flanked, then throw a couple of EMP grenades which are good against the shield drones, or a Bullseye tag - the drones move pretty erratically. And once you take down the drone, you might switch to a shotgun and take the hybrid out."

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In fact, you really should do that, since the shotgun now features a powerful firing mode which causes enemies to erupt in flames. It's part of a wider upgrade system - each gun's regular and alt fire modes can be upgraded twice - which also sees the Magnum's explosive rounds turn into a limb-raining, fire-crackerish chain reaction.

The shotgun is our best friend during a play of the much-trailered river mission, as we chug along a dank and foggy Mississippi, swatting hybrids as they leap from the bank to the boat, sending them writhing to their deaths in flames. Welcome to America, boys.

New toys are also to be found in the multi-player. After Resistance 2's over-ambitious 60-man battles, the new online modes have been tightened to 16 players, with smaller maps to make sure the new abilities are as effective as possible. These abilities are a little like the class-specific powers from R2's co-op, falling into support and combat categories, with things such as ammo supply and bubble shields for support, and dash and holograph dummies for combat. The trick is combining them.

"Each loadout, because you can create custom loadouts, includes two active and two passive abilities," says senior designer Cameron Christian. "You can combine those in different ways. One of my favourites is the bubble shield combined with the lightning shield." The bubble prevents gunfire from getting in or out, he says, while the lightning stuns enemies who rush through the bubble for hand-tohand attacks. "They're not going to melee you because, well, they'd be silly to do that," he says.

The system is certainly more accessible than the chaos of war squad matches in Resistance 2 and, as with the single-player campaign, seems designed to inject new life after that overambitious, slightly creaking second act. Now all we'd like is not to get shot between the eyes at the end, and we're on to a real winner.

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