Game Review

by Dave Riley, Dec 2nd 2013



Resogun, spiritual follow-up to Housemarque's Super Stardust HD, expertly manages sensory overload in graphics and sound with precision timing and breakneck speeds.

Resogun marries the bumping beats, shooter stylings, and lady-bot announcer of its spiritual predecessor, Super Stardust HD, to a neon post-future aesthetic built out of voxels, 3D pixels that enjoyed some minor popularity before polygons definitively seized the 3D throne. It's a twin stick shooter by definition, but the only directions your guns can handle are "right" and "left." Stages move left and right, too -- like Defender, from which Resogun draws its most obvious inspiration -- scrolling around a circular map, as if the all the spaceships were riding the outside of a tin can.

Enemies spawn in corrosive-looking blasts of green and purple and, more often than not, they are arrive too quickly for any normal human being to keep pace. Some are labeled "Keepers," interstellar jailers the player must defeat to free neon-green pixel people from cages scattered around the level. Once freed, these prisoners of war enjoy being picked up and flung at high speeds into the nearest of two human receptacles, glowing space stations that spit out shields, upgrades, and points for successful rescues. When enough humans are saved, and enemies exploded, a mammoth of a boss arrives, at which point the goal is generally to hammer upon them with lasers. Positive-feedback for proper aim is dispensed in the form of mega-sized cubes blasting away from the boss's weak points whenever even a mote of damage is inflicted.

Ships have various powers beyond the usual guns and bombs. Boosting lets the player skirt out of danger with brief invulnerability, recharges fairly quickly, and has a fancy-looking explosion at the end. Overdrive powers itself on the cubic cores of destroyed enemies, and, when deployed, fires out a screen-wiping electric laser. On offer are "fast," "medium," and "slow" vehicles. The fastest (Nemesis) offers near-infinite boosting and homing missiles at the cost of a weak main gun. The slowest (Phobos) maneuvers like a truck, and doesn't boost worth spit, but its heavy lasers split into explosive spread shots on contact.

Resogun operates on a constant line of sensory overload, from the continually spraying prismatic colors, to the pounding bass, to the purposeful, awkward disintegration of the frame rate with every successive enemy obliterated during a screen-clearing boost. The gameplay is a constant state of push and pull; usually push. There are always too many bad guys, and more than too many bullets. Using the boost meter in small chunks, to avoid fire and clear out clusters of enemies, tends to be the most effective strategy, making the Nemesis the obvious choice for clearing levels, but the Nemesis's woefully weak main gun extends boss fights to an endless series of ducks and weaves through sheeting plasma.

Falling behind is a guarantee, especially since time spent ferrying humans to safety is time enemies use to morph into more dangerous golden forms, which spew additional bullets, travel the map more aggressively, and home in on the player's ship more accurately. The robo-announcer keeps the player apprised of status-changes -- "Overdrive Charged," "Shields Lost" -- through the onboard speaker in the PS4 controller, whose modestly low-fi sound quality imbues the living room with an arcade quality. When the speaker crackles out "Keepers detected," the player must throw caution to the wind and burst through half a map's worth of enemy formations (Keepers prefer to spawn where it is least convenient for them to spawn) to destroy them before they exit the map. Keepers kill their human captive on escape, and sometimes if they're destroyed in the wrong order, denying the player their rewards (and the exultant fanfare that plays when all prisoners in a level are safe) in the process.

Each map is split into three phases. When each is complete the game world explodes, scrolling neon letters of congratulation across the screen, and giving the player time to unwind their neck muscles, undoubtedly clenched from a cavalcade of near-misses. This is not a bullet hell, at least not in the style of Cave, though parts of it are inarguably hellish. Mistakes usually feel player-made, and not game-forced, but really, who could tell the difference? There's so much happening on the screen that you may not notice the bullet that kills you until it already has, and the next life starts so quickly you have barely a second to think on your failure. To compensate for this lack of internal reflection, the announcer dispassionately declares "Human Lost" as your ship returns to the field.

Resogun could stand to be more dense. It can be completed in a few hours (though, depending on player skill, maybe only on the easiest mode), and it feels like it would've been better served with a few unlockable ships or more gameplay modes. People who don't go in for high scores may find it too short, and anyone who isn't a dyed-in-the-wool shooter fan may find it too hard. However, for those that love the high-scoring and spaceship-piloting of decades past, Resogun perfectly builds the sensation to which all shooters should aspire: it gives its player a feeling of absolute control, while moving so quickly that it requires gut instinct more often than it does conscious technique. There re space for master play. Changing directions mid-boost comes with the satisfying skid of an e-brake turn, requiring precise compensation, and tight time limits encourage advanced showmanship, like using the ship's guns to juggle two humans across the map at the same time, so you can deposit two POWs at once.

It's tough to recommend a $400 system for a $15 game, but for those who have already brought their PS4 home, Resogun is worth a look to anyone with even a marginal interest in blowing up aliens with a dazzling cluster of homing missiles, a cluster that becomes more dazzling and more dense with each weapon upgrade. It may not sell you a $400 system, but Resogun is worth every ounce of its purchase price, and it's the best thing the PS4 launch has going for it.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Graphics : A-
Sound/Music : B
Gameplay : A-
Presentation : B+

+ Fast-paced shooter action that feels more purposeful and less random than its predecessor, Super Stardust HD
Small amount of content, with replayability focused on high-scores

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