Background scenery in side-scrolling games tends to exist simply to establish a mood. Your success in gameplay terms rarely depends on how closely you survey the horizon. In Resogun, however, your hopes of saving the last remnants of humanity – and your leaderboard self-respect – depends on it.
Since the levels of Housemarque’s 2D shoot ’em up are laid out like carousels that rotate as you fly left and right, its designers are able to tease you with time-sensitive objectives that can be observed playing out on distant portions of the ring. For instance, prison-colony holding pods that contain humans to save can only be unlocked by killing a special glowing wave of alien Sentients within a limited window of time. Resogun’s gameplay is sublimely frantic, proving that you hardly need to slap a digital countdown clock on the screen to communicate urgency to players.
You’re meant to feel as tense as an ambulance driver whose dispatcher can’t wait for you to finish one drop-off before summoning you to a life-or-death emergency somewhere else. But instead of having to weave around the aerial traffic jams slowing your progress, you’re invited to pulverise them with lasers, heat-seeking missiles, nukes and an Overdrive cannon that looks like you’re channelling every volt of electricity around you into a focused death ray. It’s gorgeous; Resogun draws on its host hardware’s graphical capabilities to make you feel like the most powerful entity in the room.
Speaking of your arsenal, rescuing humans is hardly an act of charity; scooping them off the ground and depositing them safely in one of two receptacles along the ceiling provides a random bonus to either your score, shields, or life count, in addition to momentarily supercharging the number of missiles swarming off your regular weapon fire. If you’re simply focusing on killing the next enemy careening toward you, sacrificing humans via careless play, those lost rewards will tilt the odds against you, especially in the harder modes.
Despite the modest expectations players might have for a downloadable arcade title, even one on PS4, Housemarque never wants you to forget that Resogun is running on new tech. So in addition to the rush of fiery explosions and forks of electrical current, its designers have composed the entire world from thousands of tiny voxels that tumble and ricochet off one another with realistic collision models. Everything you destroy erupts into torrents of cubes. Admittedly, voxels serve an aesthetic purpose and don’t impact gameplay directly, but Housemarque’s conjured something we’ve never seen before. Surely that’s the baseline promise we expect to see honoured in any next-gen game.
Resogun is out now in the US and released on November 29 across Europe on PS4.