Resistance 3 is radically regressive. In a world where the first-person shooter’s singleplayer experience is becoming little more than an elaborate tutorial for multiplayer, it’s reassuring to see that developer Insomniac Games is prepared to fight the good fight for considered, story-driven solo campaigns.

Resistance 3 strikes out on an overgrown highway, hardly trodden in this generation, even by its two predecessors. It abandons the elite modern military approach and instead tells a more solemn tale of earth’s plight. The extraterrestrial war that raged throughout the first two games is over, humanity has lost, and with but 10 per cent of the world’s population left, the situation is predictably bleak; now we're hiding from Chimeran sweeps as they scour the globe in attempts to complete a total victory.

There’s no shortage of lulls submerged in total despair between the longer passages of shooting – these desperate pockets of humanity are simply waiting for the end. But even the action is permeated with a sense of melancholy seldom seen in the fist-bumping modern shooter.

Our conduit to all this hopelessness is Joe Capelli, a former soldier holed up in Oklahoma with his wife and son. The cold, dark tunnel system-come-refugee warren serves as an artful starting point to a despondent cross-country trek through a different kind of War of the Worlds post-apocalyptia. After a particularly severe Chimera attack, Joe’s wife and son flee into the wastes. Joe is talked into one final, most probably suicidal mission to New York where the Chimera appear to be focusing much of their attention.

Resistance 3 plays out something like a road trip: as Joe makes his way east, he’s introduced to new locations and new characters, thus ensuring that the game never becomes stale, or indeed, predictable.

Yet for all its aesthetic differences Resistance 3 is a shooter, a good ol’ down-home blast-away with a real sense of tradition. The arsenal of weapons in particular drives this impression. Casting aside the two-weapon load-out so popular in recent years, Resistance 3 recklessly – and welcomely – allows Joe to carry a vast armoury in his handkerchief hobo sack.

Along with first-person shooter must-haves such as the rocket launcher, sniper rifle and shotgun, in addition to past favourites such as the Bullseye and the Auger, Resistance 3’s considerable arsenal gets even more elaborate with the inclusion of hugely entertaining weapons capable of creating pocket black holes, or mutating enemies into animated, pulsating explosives. It’s so satisfying it makes the idea of only having two weapons at a time seem ironically old-fashioned and patently ridiculous.

Increasing that delight is the ability of each weapon to employ a secondary means of firing. A standard machinegun now has homing bullets; after the cryogen’s primary fire freezes enemies, a secondary pulse wave shatters them. Each secondary firing ability brings with it something new and offers more options to complete a scenario.

Compounding that entertainment is a weapon levelling system that rewards the player for their expertise. Simply killing enemies gains weapon-experience, and with enough practice the weapon levels up; bullets then become incendiary or explosive-tipped, instead of one wall-phasing missile the weapon now fires three. All these choices can at first be seem overwhelming, but after unleashing a symphony of destruction it’s hard to contemplate not having that variety.

That same variety is doubly required as Resistance 3 moves away from recharging health and backwards to finite health bars and med-packs. No longer will players be rewarded for simply charging – guns blazing with belligerence – into a fight and then, after a few seconds rest, be at perfect health. The proper use of available weapons and secondary options is a must. Thinking about how best to approach an entire room of adversaries is finally back in vogue as open-ended encounters in beautifully crafted settings require good decision making in order to triumph.

And yet, just as the game approaches the crescendo of success, its boss battles reveal themselves to be distressingly vanilla. Shooting themselves in the conveniently highlighted foot, here Insomniac finally seems to run out of well-implemented ideas. Time and again the player is asked to kill a boss, and time and again that boss decides the best way to defend its weak spots is to make them glow. Shoot spot, weaken boss, shoot some more, rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

The despair presented so eloquently in the singleplayer manifests itself in a much more literal sense in multiplayer. There doesn’t seem to be much heart here, almost as if the inclusion of multiplayer was a list item agreed upon by a committee. For now, the mode is an unseemly mess. Partly, it’s cramped by the singleplayer game’s expansive arsenal that is doubtless difficult to balance.

New players may be quickly driven off as higher levelled and more experienced players tear them apart with a much greater arsenal, and a selection of toys such as cloaking devices, lightning shields and holographic decoys. Fresh meat with a single machinegun may quickly tire of getting shot through walls by invisible foes. One can hope a matchmaking system will take this into account.

Game modes have no real surprises, and the weapon levelling found in the solo missions can be found online too. Regenerating health returns for the multiplayer, where it makes a little more sense. Along with online firefights there is also two-player co-op, which supports both local split-screen and online (with friends only) play.

Resistance 3 gets a whole lot right with a handful of clever development choices that help it to stand out in the largely predictable first-person shooter market. Even so, some of that first-person shooter unoriginality remains meaning Resistance 3 never quite reaches its true potential. All the boxes are ticked and it works, but its retro-inspired design also means Resistance 3 is an enjoyable game that can never quite get where it wants to be.