Doing for Defender what Geometry Wars did for Robotron?
I was a big fan of Mutant Storm Reloaded and Geometry Wars at the 360 launch, and enjoyed Super Stardust HD quite a lot when it came out during the PS3's first year, but I wasn't sure what I'd think of Resogun when I finally got my hands on it. When I was a little kid growing up, Asteroids was one of my favorite games. I hadn't played Robotron at the time, but the Asteroids connection was enough to sell me on those games, and they made me a big fan of the twin-stick shooter genre.
While those games were homages to Robotron and to a lesser degree Asteroids, Resogun takes a similar formula and applies it to Defender. Unlike Asteroids, I never was a fan of Defender as a kid. I always found the game to be pretty uninteresting. As an adult, I've grown to appreciate Defender's place in gaming history, but I've never developed a love for the game.
So when I loaded up Resogun for the first time, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. It looked nice enough in preview footage, but I was afraid it just wouldn't be for me. Firing up the first level, I used the default ship and chose the "Experienced" difficulty, which is the second of 4 difficulty settings, and I believe it was the default selection. I had watched some gameplay of the game, such as the Quick Look here on Giant Bomb, so I had some grasp on the mechanics before I played. I strongly recommend anybody who plays this game for the first time to watch some videos that explain the mechanics, because the game does absolutely nothing to teach you. There is nothing especially obtuse in the game's mechanics, but there is a massive sensory overload with the game's visuals, which could make it very tough to figure out what's going on on your own.
To summarize - You control a ship which can fly left and right around a cylindrical playfield. At various points in the level, you will see neon green Humans (which look like little Darwinia guys) trapped in glass cubes. Enemies spawn out of thin air all around you for the duration of the level. There is a little wisp of smoke as they materialize into the environment. At first it can be difficult to pick this up, but as you play you learn to parse the environment. Every now and then a group of "keeper" enemies will spawn, accompanied by a "keepers detected" voice-over. If you kill these keepers, one of the humans will be released from his cell, and will drop to the ground.
This is where the game gets interesting. In order to rescue the human, you will need to take your ship down to him, which will cause him to attach to the underside of the ship. (you can also shoot him and push him along, but this tends to be a bit chaotic and there are pits on some levels the humans can fall in and die) Once attached, you carry the human to the... uh.. hell if I know. There are static ships above the playfield with "beam me up" beams below them. Take the little guys into the beams, and they get beamed up to the mothership and saved. The beams only go about halfway down the playfield, so it's hard to get them up there with shooting alone, unless you get a big bounce. If the beam is in a spot that's too dangerous to fly into, you can use the "Throw Human" button - which, as an aside, is the greatest name for a button in the history of videogames - which will toss the little guy out into space and into the beam. They're seemingly impervious to all the weapons and explosions going on, which begs the question of why they're not saving you.
If you fail to kill a group of keepers, the human will die in his cell. If you release him and fail to take him to the beam, an enemy ship will come down and beam him up, at which point you lose him as well.
Saving humans on its own seems sort of meaningless given the sheer frenetic chaos going on around you, but it's brilliantly balanced by two factors. One - It gives you a big points boost. Since this is a score-attack game, points are a solid reward in their own right, but in addition to that, you can also get tangible in-game rewards for saving them. These include a shield, which will protect you from one kill-shot until it expires, an extra life, and screen-clearing bombs. Tying these rewards to rescuing humans makes saving them far more valuable to beginning players than simply rewarding points. As we all know, beginning players at a game aren't going to be putting up anything impressive on the leaderboards, and this game is tough. It will chew you up and spit you out when you first start playing, and these extra rewards for saving humans will bail you out and help you complete levels you may not have otherwise cleared.
And the levels are where my biggest gripes with the game lie. For one, They're a bit too long for my tastes. I also thought the levels in Super Stardust HD (also by Housemarque) were a little on the long side, and that tradition has carried over here. That's not to say that I'd like a shorter game overall, but I'd prefer a game with 10 levels half as long as this game's 5 levels to the setup we have here. The second issue I have is with the loading times between levels. In an absolute sense, the load times aren't very long - without timing them I'd say they're between 5 and 10 seconds, but the fact that they exist at all in a fast-paced linear arcade game like this grates on me.
I have a complicated relationship with load times. Sometimes a 30-second load goes by and I don't care, and other times a 5-second load can drive me absolutely nuts. A lot has to do with the nature of the game and what's being loaded, and this one happens to fall on the wrong side of the fence for me. Ultimately, it's probably a by-product of this being a launch title, and it's easy to excuse it based on that, but it still bugs me. At the end of the day, it's really not that big of a deal, and others may not even notice it.
Beyond those minor complaints, I have to say I'm quite positive on the game. It looks nice, it sounds nice, has responsive controls, and enough gameplay variety (5 levels, 3 ships you can play, and 4 difficulty levels) that you could keep coming back to play it for hours. It's the best game of the PS4 launch, and while I like it a hair less than the twin-stick shooters at and around the previous generation's console launches, I'd recommend it to anyone who likes arcade style games.