PS4’s first must-have digital release is Resogun, a new schmup following in the footsteps of Super Stardust. Dave Owen has stars in his eyes as he chats with developer Housemarque.
The spiritual successor to the Super Stardust games, also developed by Finnish indie Housemarque.
A PlayStation 4 launch title.
Free to PlayStation Plus members at launch.
A visually impressive side-scrolling shoot-’em-up (schmup) which does some clever things with the PS4’s hardware.
So, it turns out that being an exclusive launch title in arguably the most heated console war yet is a little bit stressful. Not that Resogun developer Housemarque is complaining. It’s preparing to launch its frenetic side-scrolling shooter alongside PlayStation 4 this month, and it’s busier than ever before. The game is ready to blast off, and the Finnish studio is doing everything in its power to take advantage of an incredible opportunity.
After all, there’s a surprising amount of pressure on Resogun to deliver the goods. After high profile delays drastically thinned the PlayStation 4 launch line-up, the game has found itself in the somewhat unlikely position of headliner. It’ll be available from day one for all PS Plus subscribers, and, with a dearth of exclusives, Sony will have its fingers crossed that it proves to be a killer app. Housemarque hasn’t let the pressure get to it.
“Actually we see that as a very big opportunity,” says Housemarque’s community manager Tomasso De Benetti. “All of a sudden Resogun is getting a lot more attention. The way things went, there’s a good possibility Resogun will rekindle the love for shoot ‘em ups for millions of players – from day one of a new generation cycle. How’s that not amazing?”
The real question is how many players still feel nostalgic for a genre known to aficionados as ‘schmups.’ Such games long ago tumbled out of the mainstream, and the younger generation crucial to this console battle is unlikely to miss them, or even known that they existed. Still, Housemarque has exceptional form in the genre, their portfolio boasting Super Stardust HD and Super Stardust Delta HD. The developer is aiming to use their expertise to take Resogun to players who might only be accustomed to mainstream triple-A experiences.
“If you look at the Japanese schmup scene,” says De Benetti, “you have a bunch of excellent games that only a small niche of players knows by name, and an even smaller niche of players who are actually able to enjoy them because they get really hard really fast. With Resogun we wanted to make a game anyone can pick up.”
Of course, the risk is that broadening the appeal will alienate that niche audience to which steep difficulty is essential to the experience. De Benetti is quick to stress that Resogun is designed to cater for all skill levels.
“We planned the difficulty levels making sure each of them will change the way you experience the game. Each time you go up a notch you’ll have to figure out new strategies to score high and survive. You just can’t keep doing the same stuff over and over, because the game will teach you better.”
It promises to be an intense learning process. Although the focus is on destroying oncoming alien hoards in spectacular fashion, an extra layer has been added to the gameplay whereby players are required to rescue humans and deposit them into escape pods. That’s all while epileptic explosions and spectacular pyrotechnics erupt around your ship as you power up your weaponry and unleash iridescent hell. It certainly earns its capitalised title.
It’s shaping up to be a dizzying arcade experience, geared very much toward old-fashioned high score chasing and online leaderboards. It’s this old school approach that has led some to be critical of Sony staking so much on Resogun as a launch title for its shiny new next-gen hardware. Housemarque is defiant.
“When we discuss how to present our games to audiences that are more used to, say, Call of Duty, we like to describe Housemarque’s output with ‘This is gaming,’” says De Benetti. “Gaming in its purest form is not about cutscenes, story, or how many radio stations you have in your car: it’s about reflexes, performance, adrenaline, the determination to conquer an obstacle and pull off unbelievable stunts. This is what Resogun is about. This is gaming.”
Visually Resogun is resolutely next-gen. It displays at 1080p and runs at 60fps, and the sheer number of effects and enemies onscreen at once, along with how the environments are built, mean the game simply couldn’t have been developed in its current form for the departing generation. Levels are constructed from hundreds of thousands of voxels, cubes that are individually animated by GPU-accelerated physics. This means that they explode, collide, or simply float as you tear environments apart. It’s possible for a whole level to completely disintegrate. For all its old school sensibility, Resogun’s tech really pushes PS4 hard.
It’s a particularly impressive achievement when you consider that Resogun has taken under two years to complete, with Housemarque only getting their hands on the first PS4 dev kits at the beginning of the year.
“The tech team has been really happy with the machine,” says De Benetti. “I believe Sony learned a lot from the PS3 experience. The general feeling is that PS4 is a very powerful hardware, much easier to work with than in the past.”
The team is also very positive about the support it has received from Sony throughout development. Follow president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida or indie playmaker Shahid Ahmad on Twitter and it’s immediately clear that their love for the game is genuine. Housemarque says that this is testament to Sony’s commitment to indie developers. “We can see the effort they are making to be a good option for smaller studios,” says De Benetti. “Before being developers we are gamers, and as gamers we can only praise this attitude.”
This made the decision for Resogun to be offered to PS Plus subscribers as easy as Sony mentioning the possibility. “We accepted,” says De Benetti. “After all, it means millions of players will be able to enjoy Resogun from the moment they purchase a PS4. We see it as an ‘instant install base.’”
It remains to be seen just how many players will take to Resogun, but Housemarque plans to make it good value for those who do. “We plan to support Resogun with regular updates,” says De Benetti, promising that it’ll take hundreds of hours to fully master the game. “So there’s gonna be a lot to play.”
Old school or not, that’ll be music to the ears of early PS4 adopters the world over.
Resogun is a PlayStation 4 launch title; the PS4 arrive sin North America on November 15 and in Europe and selected further territories on November 29.