Sometimes the simple games are the best
Arcade shooters are video game comfort food. I was born long after the arcade-junkie was a staple of American culture, but even to someone who grew up with a console in their home, the idea of an arcade cabinet, greasy from the hands of a million different players, still feels like returning to my roots. Amidst the bombastic plot lines of the PlayStation 4 launch, filled with goblins, zombies, and rewritten histories, is Resogun, an arcade homage from the talented team at Housemarque, the same team behind the popular series Super Stardust on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
While Super Stardust has been Housemarque’s most successful game, it is nice to see the developer leave the series behind and build a new arcade shoot ‘em up. While the game is new, the feeling of Resogun is that same ol’ twin stick action the developer is so famous for. Much like arcade games of old, watching someone take on Resogun’s challenge is almost as much fun as playing the game yourself. Resogun is a ferocious, mile-a-minute assault of twitch gameplay that sucks you in and seems to fast forward time, as you lose yourself by simply begging for one more go-round. Few games can elicit fist pumps and joyful screams quite like Resogun can, as this is almost assuredly the best game you will find on the PlayStation 4 at launch.
Resogun does not specify time or location, but based on the aesthetic, it’s easy to draw some other-worldly science fiction. Nothing is explained, and nothing has to be, as Resogun drops you into its setting and gives you a simple message, “Save the last humans.” And you will. Why? Because these small green humanoid figures are trapped in little boxes, and disappear into little red pixels if you don’t. Resogun somehow manages to gain investment simply by pulling the strings on old arcade staples. You save the green guys because green is good, you bring them to where the green arrows says, and if you spend too long questioning motivation or background, you’ll find its pretty hard to make the leaderboard. It’s not that Resogun doesn’t give you motivation, or that it lackadaisically assumes that players have been conditioned to follow instructions, it simply gives the right suggestions and allows players to draw their own conclusions.
Where the game gets hairy is in its difficulty. In my time with Resogun it was hard to strike the right balance of challenge and fun. I progressed through the single player campaign on the lowest difficulty in a couple of hours. However, mid-way through a second playthrough on the medium setting, the game spiked nastily in difficulty. Single levels were taking the better part of an hour to progress through, and the game seemed to dissolve into tedious repetition. Playing the easier difficulties is fun if your only goal is trying to rack up your score and showboat your way through a level, but none of those levels offer a very meaty challenge. Turn the setting up one degree, and the game becomes a grind, with you throwing away any care of score to simply try and survive. There is a lack of an appropriately challenging progression curve in the game that would have provided a more satisfying playthrough. Further contributing to this problem is the fact that the game only has five levels with four degrees of difficulty. It does not give Housemarque enough time to ramp up the challenge appropriately; it also means these levels start to become a bore as you progress through each difficulty.
The reason for the difficulty spike may be that levels are the exact same when playing the online co-op multiplayer. When the game gets difficult, you can head online and find a buddy to help you blast your way through to the next stage. The problem is that since the levels are the exact same, what was super challenging for one person is a breeze for two. Had Housemarque designed separate levels for the cooperative play and the solo campaign, the game might feel like a gradual incline in challenge, however the way it currently is, trying to forge ahead can be too easy or too hard. Cooperative mode tallies points between the two players, lacking an individual score of for each. It is a nice sentiment to encourage teamwork, but it would have been nice to know individual contributions as well.
The biggest problem with the game is that it lacks any sort of couch cooperative play. Playing online is a blast as having a buddy to watch your back is exhilarating and offers a natural - and surprisingly deep - change in strategy. You find yourself talking to a PSN name that may be thousands of miles away, sharing in the joys of victories and frustration of defeat. This shared experience is so good with someone who you may have never met, playing with someone on your couch seems like it would be the best way to enjoy the game.
Whether you are playing solo or cooperative, the game is fairly easy to keep track of, which an overlooked, but important feature of Resogun. Enemies are pouring in by the dozens, and sometimes what feels like the hundreds, but the game communicates enemies, humans, powerups, and obstacles with incredible precision, never feeling unfair or unclear. Resogun is not going to drop jaws with its graphics, but the understated backgrounds are gorgeously draped is sci-fi bright greens and dark blues. The ambience is also conveyed through the robotic, disembodied voice that informs you of when you can save humans, when humans have been lost, and when you have finished the level. The voice also echoes through the speaker in the DualShock 4, a surprisingly nice touch.
The loop of Resogun is fantastically addictive, each turn will leave you feeling like you have learned a bit more and can move a bit faster. Talent in Resogun is not only satisfying to gain, but satisfying to watch. Much like old school arcade players, watching people navigate their way through tight enemy attacks, and pull off split second shots to save themselves, is an awesome experience. While the game may not have cooperative play on a local level, passing the controller around between friends will be a blast on its own. The gameplay is so tight, the controls are so responsive, firing your way through the levels of Resogun feels rewarding, no matter who is playing.
Resogun is an incredibly well-crafted game, a must-play for anyone picking up the PlayStation 4. While new consoles like to flaunt their new graphics, having something like Resogun, this video game comfort food, feels like an important addition to any launch line up. After you’ve popped in Battlefield or Killzone, to show off the pursuit of photorealism to your friends, turn on Resogun, hand them the controller, and show how old-fashioned arcade shooters can still amaze and excite, no matter what generation they are a part of.