Housemarque has made many memorable games over the years, including Gold: Tee It Up!, Dead Nation, and Outland. The one game that the talented team is most known for is Super Stardust, which has been on every PlayStation platform released after PS2. Super Stardust’s concept was grounded in an arcade realm of upgrades, survival, and boss battles, and Housemarque hasn’t veered too far off that course with its new title, Resogun. When a concept works splendidly, it needs little tinkering, and Housemarque knows how to create engaging arcade-style games as addictive as they are challenging.
After only a few minutes of gameplay, Resogun comes across as a combination of Defender and Super Stardust with an extra twist that only Housemarque could dream up. Instead of randomly spawning "the last humans" in Resogun’s cylindrical levels, Housemarque places their fate with special, green-glowing enemies called Keepers. The player must destroy all Keepers in a wave before they leave the level in order for one of 10 humans to escape from cells scattered around the level. Using the left joystick for navigation and the right for shooting, players must destroy a myriad of enemies and avoid taking damage while picking up humans as they appear and taking them to drop-off points. Fail, and a major boost in points will be lost. In all of the on-screen madness, you’re thankfully alerted to the presence of Keepers by in-game narration, which comes through the DualShock 4 speaker (or wired headset). You’ll also be alerted when humans are killed because you took too long to save them or when bonuses are awarded.
As explosions take place in Resogun, sections of the map deteriorate into small blocks. During these visual treats, I often reminisced on the first PlayStation 4 tech demo with the million-particle drop. Included in this visual feast is the immense amount of effects and on-screen colors that are constantly bombarding the senses. This is one of the few games in which I’ve actually worried about seizure-ish impacts, but only because the graphical palette is so vibrantly rich and silky smooth.
The narrowed design of Resogun’s cylindrical maps, especially compared to the rotating planets from Super Stardust, feels bland as the game begins. Only a few enemies appear early on, so the experience feels a bit undercooked. However, television real estate becomes taxed as the game progresses, and a feeling of claustrophobia appears under onscreen enemies’ overwhelming presence and the small level size. The experience is intense, and I cannot count how many times I’ve died in Resogun because of something that I neglected to pay attention to, especially later in the game. Enemies fly across the screen in different patterns and speeds, and almost all of them fire weapons. The ability to see and keep track of everything becomes difficult as more and more vibrant colors and effects take over the screen with visual glory. This ties in with the game’s significant difficulty, and is one of Resogun’s only negative aspects: keeping track of everything gets harder as the game itself progresses in levels and difficulty.
Still, the difficulty of tracking Resogun’s enemies, objectives, and hazards isn’t a negative I would leverage against the game, but rather one I would put upon myself. Top-tier play requires a massive amount of concentration, and the 45 minutes or so needed to get through all five Resogun maps places a lot of weight on perception and reaction time.
Despite the game’s overall difficulty–this is a serious step up from Super Stardust–weapon upgrades can feel overpowered at times. And yet, I’m often grateful for the clever balancing act between stress and relief that seriously powerful weapons afford. Whenever enemies start taking more shots than normal, the only way to survive for long is to upgrade your weapons. Later in the game, as upgrades pile up, the small ship spews missiles and shots from every which way in a wall of destruction, making offense the best defense. I was periodically able to sit in one spot while my auto-targeting missiles did the work for me, only having to avoid projectiles that got too close. A bounty of upgrades must be gathered for such an onslaught of missiles, so the rewards are based on play rather than luck, leaving the relief of not having to work so hard for a few seconds so refreshing.
Of course, the lasting appeal of this game is set in one’s need for higher scores and co-op play. Rescuing humans bolsters your overall score, and eliminating enemies quickly to keep your multiplier high makes the difference can make the difference between tens of thousands of leaderboard ranks. Unlike Super Stardust, each kill increases the multiplier by small portions that add up to an accumulated amount–and a few seconds without enemy kills drops the multiplier back to 1x–so surviving as long as possible without dying yields the most points. That is easier said than done, because each difficulty puts a cap on how big the multiplier can get: Rookie difficulty tops out at 5x, Experienced at 10x, Veteran at 15x, and Master at 20x. Each difficulty has a different ranking leaderboard–and online cooperative difficulties have their own leaderboards, as well–so the appeal of bragging rights and leaderboard dominance is definitely there, but only certain types of gamers will really resonate with it.
Regardless of what difficulty you play on, you’ll find great survival and multiplier benefit in the use of Boost, which allows you to fly through and destroy enemies, and Bombs, which clear a map in an instant. Apart from these abilities, and the Overdrive mega-weapon enabled by collecting particles from destroyed enemies, only the game’s boss fights add significant variety. If you aren’t a leaderboard chaser, these gameplay aspects alone don’t encourage much replayability. Hopefully, like it did with Super Stardust, Housemarque will have downloadable content in the near future to add more game modes that break away from arcade repetition.
Put simply, Resogun is a must-download title, and its inclusion in the PS Plus Instant Game Collection makes it the perfect download for any new PS4 owner. The experience is vivacious and engaging even when topping the leaderboards isn’t your agenda. The retro influence is strong, and the experience that Housemarque has with the Super Stardust series makes this next-gen arcade outing a perfect retrofit. With only replayability really holding this compelling title back, the potential for a series is as great as the feeling of chaining your multiplier and saving the last humans.