Geometry Wars was one of the most notable of the retro-arcade revival titles of its time, a simple return to the twin-stick arcade shooter genre that made the most of the technical achievements of modern consoles and computers graphically. Resogun, one of the PS4’s launch titles and a free title on PS+, offers much the same experience; it is an appealing recreation of an arcade classic utilising the technology of a new console generation effectively. At its core, Resogun is a remake of the classic Defender, a horizontally-scrolling arcade shooter from 1980; the same core mechanics of a large screen area populated by waves of enemies and humans to rescue feature, albeit with a number of scoring and mechanical improvements reflecting how the arcade shooter has developed over time.
Resogun is an abstract game in a genre which has increasingly moved towards more concrete theming; although the design and between-level text suggests a plot it is much less clearly defined or characterised than in a game like R-Type or Touhou. There are no real characters, with the ships simply given names and stats with no implication of a pilot, and the levels’ theming is about as strong as a racing-game’s tracks. This places the emphasis of the game purely on the mechanics and experience of playing it; even the cityscapes that form the background disintegrate into the same geometric shapes as the enemies and power-ups and thus contributes most strongly to the game’s retro feel. Defender‘s creator Eugene Jarvis summed up his game with the quote “if you’re defending something, you’re being attacked, and you can do whatever you [want]” and this ethos carries through into Resogun; each game begins with the instruction “Save the Last Humans” and from there there are no other rules. The humans are uncontrollable ragdolls that move like lemmings along the bottom of the screen until either picked up by the player or killed by the enemy, and once recovered must be returned to goal spaces at the top of the screen either by being flown there directly or thrown with the shoulder-trigger, while remaining almost immune to the player’s shots. On some levels with large pits along the ground, shooting the humans into the sky to prevent them falling to their deaths is a key strategy to preserve them.
Levels contain ten humans to save if possible, keyed to special enemy waves called Keepers; once a Keeper wave appears, the player must destroy it before it leaves the map to “release” a human, and then evade other enemy waves to reach and extract that human. It encourages very risky play in a fashion similar to “graze” mechanics in other shooters; in order to guarantee success at rescuing a human, the player will have to take less than optimal routes across the map. Here, mastering the different abilities becomes key; the player’s ship has a regular rapid-firing shot, a boost granting temporary invincibility which dissipates if it hits an enemy but if otherwise ended causes a small explosion to clear an area around the player, the “Overdrive” shot which is a large laser covering much of the screen and screen-clearing bombs.They are familiar upgrades within the genre which need to be deployed in new ways to succeed under Resogun‘s unique pressures, and yet the game does not assume familiarity with shooters. The first level introduces enemy waves that implicitly recommend different strategies of attack, and so by experimentation on easy waves the player builds up knowledge of how each mechanic works. As the level progresses, and the waves increase in size, the same mechanics remain applicable which is a sign of strong intuitive design.
This kind of intuitive design, which encourages exploration of mechanics in different combinations, is the main selling-point of Resogun for a new player; being a seasoned shooter player offers little advantage at first because while the abilities are generic in their execution, the way in which they must be used is what is learned. The arcade shooter genre, like the fighting-game genre, relies on this kind of subtle differentiation to survive; commonly-held skills (in the latter case the common combos of quarter-circle and similar) are applied with new behind-the-scenes mechanics to remain fresh. Maintaining a high score multiplyer in Resogun seems impossible at first until one realises how to time attacks, boosts and human rescues to stay ahead of the timer. Yet even when these mechanics have been mastered, the game still builds the tension and difficulty with ever-more overwhelming enemy waves which make carrying out simple tasks (identifying Keeper waves, locating humans and avoiding enemies with predictable patterns) difficult. In terms of shooter design, Resogun is based on the idea that bullets are an obstacle; there are few player-seeking bullets and instead the game uses avoiding the enemies themselves, and placing time-sensitive location-based objectives on the field, to force the player into hitting a bullet.
Thus, while it appears a simple game (and indeed it is an effective remake of a 1980s arcade classic much like Geometry Wars and the previous generation’s reimaginings of Galaga and Pac-Man), Resogun has enough depth to be a good arcade game. It takes into account how the scrolling shooter genre has developed and applies those changes back to the core mechanics of the original. Similarly, it uses the technology of newest-generation consoles to make the visuals as impressive as possible – that everything forms out of, or explodes into, cubes which move and bounce around is something that would not have been possible to this extent – when accompanied by the impressive particle effects – on past technology. Thus while not being a visual spectacle in the way something like Killzone is, Resogun shows well the potential of the PS4 as a console; its capacity for impressive particle effects and handling of many more physics objects at once than past consoles is shown off to the full.