Hands-on with Resogun: arcade complexity and audiovisual splendor

At a cursory glance, Resogun looks like Super Stardust in a cylinder. In truth, Resogun is anything but.

What’s not abundantly clear about Resogun from its trailer and promotional materials is that there’s a wealth of underlying systems and objectives to keep track of. You advance through stages–in true Stardust fashion, there are five–by clearing the playing field of enemies, but you won’t make a dent in the leaderboards without rescuing the humans that periodically call for help. Humans must be picked up and taken to rescue pods–often, as clusters of enemies are closing in–but how do you decide when it’s a good opportunity to interrupt a glorious streak of colorful explosions to pick up a human in the first place? Hell, the nature of the cylindrical, see-through playing field itself means the mind of top-tier players will be in a few additional places at once, monitoring all corners of the battlefield at a given time to predict their next move.

That’s to say nothing about Super Stardust mainstays like boosting, which has its own added complexity. Now, rather than a simple trigger press unleashing a boost of speed and invincibility of equal duration every time, you decide how much boost to use by holding the L1 button accordingly. Additionally, the more enemies you destroy during the boost, the bigger a damaging blast of energy is released as the boost ends. You’re stilling picking up green particles–here, volumetric pixels called "voxels"–but they’re now contributing to an additional Overdrive meter that, once activated, grants invincibility and releases a devastating front or rear attack.

Having packed away dozens of hours on Super Stardust Delta and its PS3 predecessor, I was surprised at how daunting managing all these elements in a shoot-’em-up game can be. On the surface, you’re still blasting your way through hordes of moving enemies while squinting through explosive visual splendor, but there’s quite a bit more on the Resogun plate than in any of Housemarque’s previous offerings. Consequently, I think Resogun will be less inviting to casual arcade gamers, but the potential for greater long-term appeal and leaderboard chasing is undeniable.

The aforementioned voxels are a big part of what makes Resogun an aesthetically splendid affair. Enemies explode in a shower of these little cubes, which individually reflect light as they tumble off the screen in 3D space. It’s visually noisy, and perhaps more distracting than a Housemarque effort has ever been, but that’s part of the allure. From garrishly contrasted neon colors to elements of destruction that linger throughout a stage, Resogun is a stunning sight to behold; and cap that off with outstanding music: a fast-paced electronic blend with thumps and synthesized notes that had me stomping my feet and nodding my head in seconds. Housemarque is eager to release the Resogun soundtrack as standalone content, and it’s easy to see why. From a strictly technical perspective, in all aspects of the audiovisual experience, Resogun may be the most hypnotically compelling PlayStation exclusive in years.

Other elements of the game are a bit too familiar for my taste. Homages to Super Stardust design like the five-stage arc and end-of-stage boss fights are amusing, but some of the content feels a bit recycled. The boss of stage one, for example, started its attack with the same rotating projectile spread as both Super Stardust entries. Meanwhile, the "countdown moments" from Super Stardust–where destroying specific enemies in rapid succession yields major rewards–are back here, in a sense: you must destroy green, glow-y enemies before they leave the field to release humans from captivity and open the opportunity to save them. Similar means to similar ends and a strange adherence to the "rules" of Housemarque schmups makes Resogun feel a bit torn between identities. The leap from Super Stardust’s spherical playing fields to cylindrical levels with more objectives and systems teases something altogether new and exciting. Resogun most definitely is both of those things, but I can’t help wonder what ideas and creativity could have substituted for the remnants of Super Stardust that Housemarque was unwilling to let go.

We’ll have more coverage of Resogun from an exclusive interview with Housemarque very soon, and our review of Resogun is just around the corner. Drop a comment or question about Resogun below to join the PS4 conversation, and stay tuned for our written and livestreamed reviews of Resogun and other PS4 titles in the coming days.