Friday, November 22, 2013

REVIEW - Resogun (the Duel of Chamberlain and Chance).

A twin-stick shooter from Housemarque (Super Stardust HD), Resogun is, without question, the most-perfect action game available at the launch of the PS4.  It's a simple, humble little affair, but within its smallness there is detail and depth of play and the capacity to burn away countless hours of your time in thumping neons, splashy explosions and (I do not use the term lightly) pulse-pounding challenge.  Easy to learn, epic to master.

I should provide the same warning I did prior to the Velocity Ultra review - it bears mentioning that me reviewing  Resogun is a bit like me reviewing Madden NFL 25.  Shoot 'em ups are not a genre I'm deeply familiar with - I lost all my quarters to pure frustration with the arcade cabinet for 1942 in like, '88, and I enjoyed Sine Mora up 'til the laser garbage chute - so I can't really speak to the game's sensation within that context, or its mechanics when compared to the history of its form.

I can say that Resogun is a heckuva' lotta' fun, and my affection for it began... innocently.  Upon booting up my PS4 on day one, I put most of my time into Killzone before trying out this Resogun thing all the journalists had been drooling over, mostly just to check out the pretty explosions.

I cleared the first few levels, got a score of about 4 million points and returned to Killzone.  Over the past week, though, my affection for the title has matured into what I can comfortably call "love," thanks in no small part to Chamberlain.

Chamberlain tried out the game too, saw my high score and promptly flattened it, dropping me a PSN message reading "so much for your high score in Resogun."

I hadn't even thought about Resogun until that message, but I dutifully fired it up, became more comfortable with the game and its balance and very politely replied

And on it was.  Instead of waiting for him to push the envelope, I shoved at it myself, nearly doubling my score to 24,000,000.  Kayla wanted me to show her the game, and - for some reason - I played better than I ever had before in the demonstration, getting to 33,000,000.  By this point, I felt, I was really beginning to understand Resogun - its checks and balances - the risks the player must court in pursuit of their score counter.  

It's brilliant, but its basics are so simple.  There are humans you must rescue, bound in cages.  To free the humans, you must defeat "keepers" - enemies that glow green. 

Boosting through keepers.
Every keeper you defeat rings a tiny chime in an ascending scale - an auditory clue that you've defeated so many of them, and so many yet remain.  Upon eliminating an entire wave of keepers (which may be between four and fifty foes), an energy pulse shoots up and down into the background.  That energy pulse is bound for the cage of a human, you see - and the game tells you quite plainly that your purpose, here, is to "save the last humans."

Once that energy pulse hits the human's cage - cages are scattered about the level - the human is freed, and you must get to it, pick it up by flying in to it, and deposit it at one of two motherships on either side of the level. 

This seems simple, but the danger of rescuing humans is that you have to get to them.  In doing so, you may have to fly away from a level's enemies - and if you ever spend a full three seconds not shooting enemies, your score multiplier resets.  A score multiplier of 1.00 is a ticket to the score poorhouse. 

You can use a speed boost that renders you invincible for its duration, and causes a small detonation around you when you release the trigger - eliminating multiple enemies simultaneously for a points bonus.  But you must be careful when using boost, as you can't use it again to escape a sticky situation until it fully recharges. 

So you must balance.  You must be vicious - boosting in to a crowd of foes to obliterate them with one sweet maneuver for bonus points - but cautious, ensuring once that boost comes to an end, you have an escape rout (that doesn't require boost).  You mustn't just rush to a human's aid all willy-nilly (though don't dawdle or the aliens will abduct them), but ensure you can save them while maintaining your all-important multiplier.  

For his part, Chamberlain worked at it, nipping at my heels but failing to break 29,000,000.  Then, yesterday, as I was playing Assassin's Creed IV, the battle cry sounded once again. 

And I tried, last night.  I tried a half-dozen times, but none of my attempts approached that deliriously perfect run with Kayla earlier in the week.  This morning, I tried again. 

The secret, you see, is to never drop your score multiplier.  Never ever - and that means never dying.  And in Resogun, getting hit once kills you.  

The first level wasn't a big problem - for most of the past week, I've been able to save all humans while never wasting a single bomb, never dropping my multiplier, never dying on the game's first level.  I had that shit down. 

In order to beat Chamberlain's score, I reckoned, I'd simply have to do the same thing with the first and second levels.  I could do it.  I was sure I could do it.  

A half-hour later I said "fuck this," and went back to Assassin's Creed IV.  As I sailed the high seas, though... it was gnawing at me.  I knew I could do it. People can do it - the top-scorer right now is at 150 million, so it's obviously possible.  

I tried again.  And again.  And again.  And I did it. 

This is what my score card looked like at the end of the second level when I cleared it perfectly. 

I saved all the humans.  I never got hit - not even once.  I never dropped my multiplier - perhaps thanks to never using the screen-wiping bomb, which ensures you may not have an enemy nearby to kill to maintain your combo. I was boosting into groups constantly, netting huge score bonuses instead of the pithy, tiny scores you get for simply shooting them, and now, armed with a 10x multiplier going in to the third stage, I was confident in Chamberlain's defeat. 

It went well.

I fly the Nemesis - all agility, built for regular boosts.

I ended up with just over 65,000,000, dying repeatedly and dropping my combo on the last two levels - but it was a helluva ride.  

Resogun now feels like less a video game than a martial art.  This is a game - like a good fighting game, a good first-person shooter - that sees the controller bleeding in to nothingness as you begin to react, play, do without thinking.  A exhilarating meditation. 

I have gained proficiency in the art of Resogun, but I am no master.  I have a modicum of skill, but there are far higher mountains to climb - if I'm only prepared to challenge myself to continue the journey. 

I don't expect I'll be able to stay away from it for long - knowing Chamberlain's penchant for pushing the boundaries of what's possible, I doubt I'll make it through the weekend.  

The PS4 is currently a playground for sexy new games that are far, far better-looking than those you'd find on the previous generation - and Resogun is indeed very good-looking (what with all its little voxels exploding across its world, all jazzy effects and hypnotic music threatening to burn out your rods and cones with over-stimulation) - but it's the game's exceptional design that makes it such an arresting experience.  

Its balance of risk and reward, of challenge that challenges instead of frustrates and seductively calls you back for more - the exceptional replay value of its scant five levels are stunning.  This is Housemarque at the top of their art, and perhaps the PS4's first must-play game - a tiny package one could bathe in for weeks.

Give it some time, get to know it.  Resogun is holy-shit good. 

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