Slouching Toward the Next Generation: Resogun’s next gen score chase

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I’m encircling the darkened dystopia of Acis in the starfighter Nemesis. Scouting reports call Acis a “derelict city run by the species known only as the sentients,” its primary function “a prisoner processing compound.” The city looks like a collapsing Atlantis, the light an aquatic blue. My mission? To save the last humans. Human prisoners are held in glass boxes elevated above a crumbling cylindrical cityscape. Fleets of voxel sentients patrol in patterns. Tanks and cannons launch fire into the sky. Green glowing keepers materialize with a warning. The Nemesis knows their flight path well.

I’m nearing the end of phase three. I’ve saved 9 of 10 humans. I haven’t lost a life or used a bomb. My main cannons are upgraded, homing missiles unlocked. My multiplier is up to 6.85. Overdrive is fully charged. The Nemesis is an agile messenger of destruction spitting bright colored death. I finish off a wave of keepers and a green bolt shoots halfway across the level, shattering the glass box of human number 10.

After the jump, the disastrous rescue of human number 10.

Resogun is a 2D sidescrolling shmup. It is developer Housemarque’s reimagining of the 80s arcade classic Defender. Not only is it the best of Sony’s Playstation 4 exclusives, it may be the best game on the entire system. I find it fitting that at the dawn of this new generation Sony has decided to anchor its launch to a bedrock gaming experience: the score chase. Resogun’s innovations are simple but brilliant. Each of Resogun’s five levels — Acis, Ceres, Decima, Febris, and Mefitis — is shaped like a drum, or cylinder, wrapping around the backdrop of a city or complex. A level is large enough that traversal from one pole to the other — marked by floating extraction points in the sky — takes some time; but small enough that you see exactly what’s happening in every direction, even through the level to the opposite side.

You have a choice of three starfighters — Nemesis, Ferox, or Phobos — each with their strengths and weaknesses. The decision of which ship to pick is one of many ways to alter the gameplay. Three difficulty levels are offered upfront — rookie, experienced, and veteran — with a fourth, master, behind an unlock. Like all great shmups the difficulty acts as an additional multiplier.

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Your ship is equipped with a primary weapon, a few bombs, and two special abilities: overdrive and boost. The primary weapon upgrades over time as you rescue humans and snag power-ups. Bombs issue a shockwave clearing the level in all directions. Overdrive is a massive sustained laser blast, fleeting but destructive, tearing through whatever it hits. Boost is a speed buff granting temporary invulnerability. Coming out of boost results in a spherical explosion, the more enemies you fly through the bigger the charge.

Enemies spawn in groups, or fleets, with different weapons, flight patterns, toughness, and abilities. A level will have ten groups of special green glowing enemies called keepers, each group tied to a specific human. The speaker in the Playstation 4 controller announces their arrival: “keepers have been detected.” Their flight path is mapped as a glowing trail prior to their spawning. Destroy the whole group and a human is freed, blasted out of its box by a green bolt. Fail to do so and the human dies, lost forever. Later levels turn up the heat by forcing you to destroy keepers in a specific order.

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When a human is released a green arrow guides you toward it. Take too much time and the arrow will start blinking red. Freed humans always walk along the ground, immune to enemies and weapons. They can be blown off an edge or, if you take too much time, abducted by a flying saucer. After you grab a human you need to fly it to one of two extraction points. There is an option to toss the human, but this can be dangerous. Miss the point and the human will fall to its death. If you die while carrying a human the human dies with you. Fail to kill a group of keepers? The human dies in its box, laying dead for the remainder of the level, a reminder of your failure.

A bar sits at the bottom of the screen charting your progress. Levels are divided into phases which are breaks in the action. At the end of each level a gigantic boss awaits. Defeat the boss and everything explodes in a shower of particle effects advancing you to the next level. You can play in single level or arcade mode. Single level is practice, arcade is for the high score. In arcade mode your score, upgrades, lives, bombs, and multiplier follow you from level to level. The further you get the higher your final score. I’ve played hours on experienced difficulty and have only made it to the third level, Decima’s boss destroying me every time. This game is hard. It rewards patience, memorization, skill. My meagre progress has awarded me a score of 6,508,230 ranking me number 7813 in the world. Not great but still good enough to land me at the top of my friends list. Which is all that really matters.

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A wave of sentients is spawning in to my left. I see human number 10 on the other side of the level to my right. My multiplier has just turned from green to yellow. I don’t have much time. I decide to head right. I activate boost and I’m rocketed across the level. There are unfortunately no enemies to fly through. I see human number 10 walking along the ground near a stationary tank. My multiplier has turned red, it’s blinking and about to expire. As I dive toward the ground I deactivate boost, scoop up human number 10, and destroy the tank with a blast. Multiplier preserved, human saved. I start flying to the extraction point when everything abruptly stops. The screen stutters frozen in an overlay of red. I’ve run into a slow moving fireball, a leftover shot from the tank I just destroyed. I never saw it. Life lost, multiplier reset, human number 10 dead. High score effectively thwarted.

This was my best run of the night. The best run I’ve had during all the many hours I’ve played. I have most of Acis committed to memory but I didn’t see that shot. This was the run. If I had just taken my time and ignored the human I would have kept my multiplier. But keeping my multiplier may have cost me the human and a perfect 10 out of 10 saved. Is it better to keep the multiplier and lose the human? Maybe I should have used a bomb instead. Or would have overdrive been the winner? These are the kinds of decisions Resogun forces you to consider. Then reconsider. Resogun taps into a primordial well deep inside all gamers. It has preserved the pure arcade score chase for a new generation.

Resogun is currently free on the Playstation 4 for all PS Plus subscribers.

Next time: your move Microsoft

Scott Dobrosielsky lives in Northport, NY with his wife and dog. While not enjoying family vacations to Disney World or the beach, he spends most of his time at the hotel arcade playing Street Fighter 2 and Turtles in Time. He posts to the QT3 forums as Scott Dobros.

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