We're rolling out PlayStation 4 review coverage all the way through the launch on Nov. 15. Check out more coverage here!
Oh, whoops, guess I threw that one into a lake. The rescue capsule was over there, wasn't it? Resogun is a game derived from clever cruelties, and is smarter than it first appears. Its looks are dominant in the mind, however, with developer Housemarque doing what it does best: harnessing computational power for flashy destruction and every little piece of detritus that results.
You hurtle above a track 'round and 'round each level, which spins like a vertical cylinder as enemy ships both flee and pursue your craft. When you shoot them, they split and shatter into three-dimensional cubes, called voxels (as you might recall seeing in 3D Dot Game Heroes). There are so many they start piling up at the bottom and then spill over the edges of the stage, presumably onto a life-hating janitor who has to sweep it all up in the bowels of the world. Every ship and creature bursts into chunky confetti upon death, which is not something you often see at funerals. And at the end of the level, everything – the floor, the glossy fortresses, the stair-step pools of water blocks, everything – explodes. It's the gamer's finale.
With so many particles flying all over, the satisfying skill in Resogun emerges as a form of reading, and that's where the ten green humans awaiting rescue in every level come in. Unlike the hapless astronauts in the classic Defender, which is Resogun's closest cousin, the humans are optional acquisitions; their loss won't result in overt punishment. But you'll miss out on extra points, shields, extra lives, extra bombs, and you won't know which until you try to get them all and bathe in the angelic choir that denotes success.
As any shoot-em-up fan will tell you, the best way to succeed in the face of bullet hell is to look at the big picture: A vague gaze at everything offers the primal directive of where to move, who to shoot and where to be one second later. The worst thing you could do is to focus on just one thing, like that human waving all the way on the other side of the level, moments before an evil UFO makes an abduction run.
Even that isn't cruel enough for Housemarque. Humans cannot escape their cages until you take out guardian enemies in all the clutter, highlighted in green and sometimes in a particular order. They don't hang around for very long, and they are the easiest thing to miss. Resogun is cognizant of all the chaos on screen, offering frequent verbal updates in addition to a HUD that wraps around the level itself, and one that encircles your ship, pointing the way to the next human.
When the humans are free, they wander like idiots, unaware of how disruptive they are to your bad-guy blasting rhythm. And there's another cruelty from Housemarque: Your bullets can knock them over, bounce them around and into a fatal gap in the floor. Pursuing them is worthwhile, exciting and dangerous.
Managing your ship's speed and its screen-melting overdrive laser, available after you've succinctly extinguished a small army of aliens, would have been enough to sustain a frantic arcade shooter such as Resogun, but there are further wrinkles still. A few levels feature snow flakes (all of them identical, as far as I can tell), which freeze enemies mid-air when shot. The game also offers online co-op for two players, and three different ships across the speed and power spectrum. I suspect you'll pick the most agile one and stick with it, though, as dodging bullets is one of the primary challenges, so obviously written in Resogun's shower of brightly colored bits, pieces and people.
The lack of meaningful nuance to the ships is a minor disappointment, as are the game's bosses. Their composition is impressive at level's end (you really do see their assembly out of gleaming cubes), but their decomposition at your hands is often too predicated on avoiding heat-seeking bullets rather than unusual attack patterns. It's good that they don't break the rules of the game, of course, even if the trade-off is that they must stay on track.
Resogun is a smart, merciless little shooter, with just enough substance to match its extravagant flash. The humans are a welcome pain, as they always are, conspiring with relentless enemies and ostentatious graphical effects to exterminate boredom at every opportunity. Resogun may be built out of blocks, but its heart is set on another round.
This review is based on a PSN download of Resogun, provided by Sony.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.