We review the five games that best represent the essence of the Finnish Housemarque, which in a few months will bring Returnal to PS5.
One of the exclusive stars of PlayStation 5 throughout this 2021, beyond the great productions like God of War Ragnarok or Horizon: Forbidden West, is undoubtedly Returnal, of which we have discovered new data this week. In this way, and beyond epic adventures, lovers of direct action will have with him, in the month of March, an unavoidable appointment, since we are talking about a reference study regarding arcades, especially twin stick, and The most classic aspect of shoot em up refers to: Housemarque. Virtually every game from this underrated Finnish studio is a breath of fresh air for fans of the same old gameplay, “bullet hell”, and the arcade spirit of many decades ago, that is, to beat the scores of other players , and oneself, but … who are they? Why this turn in his philosophy that results in Returnal?
The arcade that came from the cold
Although its popularity skyrocketed during the PlayStation 3 generation, Housemarque is a study with more than two decades behind it, and which soon demonstrated what it is capable of with games like Super Stardust, a curious top-down and scroll shooter. diagonal called The Reap and with the hallmarks of the studio, and the most peculiar, a graphic adventure, Alien Incident. Obviously, with these credentials, another genre in which they could do well is extreme sports, and they did so with Supreme Snowboarding (1999) and Transworld Snowboarding (2002), the latter being their first exclusive for a Microsoft console, the original Xbox specifically. However, despite already having a considerable curriculum, it would take until 2007 to glimpse the true capacity and essence of Housemarque.
The staging of the studio is supposed to be Super Stardust HD (2007), a high definition version of the original with a great reception (85 in Metacritic), and that would still see a new improved version on PS4 and with virtual reality compatibility, Super Stardust Ultra. Surely it became popular for something it shouldn’t, and that is because it was one of the games that Sony gave away due to the infamous PSNgate incident, with which millions of PlayStation Network accounts around the world were compromised. There is no harm that for good does not come, and it is that many users had the opportunity to know a frenzied arcade in which the term bullet hell made perfect sense. Similar to one of their best games, Resogun, which we will talk about later, the player controlled ship featured three different primary weapons, which could be upgraded, as well as a limited number of bombs and a temporary invincibility active ability. . Obviously, it dispenses with any hint of narrative, and the game’s greatest attraction was its online scoreboards.
They would not abandon the overhead perspective in Dead Nation (2010), set in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and which, curiously, was also given away after the event we talked about earlier. They kept the system of two sticks, one to move the character and the other to aim thanks to a red peephole, and which they would later perfect without the need for a button to shoot. This is one of their games with more customization possibilities, since although the protagonist is pre-established –to choose from among several-, we can buy different weapons such as flamethrowers, machine guns, shotguns… and armor that enhance certain capacities. One of its main peculiarities is that its world ranking showed it in the form of a map indicating the infection rate of each country, one of its most original aspects.
However, the great surprise that Housemarque has given us throughout its trajectory is Resogun (2013), one of the video games that was part of the PlayStation 4 launch catalog, and which was also free for PS Plus subscribers . Undoubtedly an outstanding discovery that with his 84 in Metacritic surpassed others that came with the console such as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag or Killzone Shadowfall, remaining only below in this aspect of NBA 2K14. This time they ventured into the horizontal scroll, in five phases -with their respective bosses- in the shape of a cylinder in which to kill hundreds of enemies with one of the three ships available to choose from (Nemesis, Ferox and Phobos), each one of they with different characteristics such as speed, size, arsenal … As common skills they had bombs, capable of completely clearing the screen of enemies, or the funniest Overdrive, a kind of acceleration in speed -with a very limited time- that allowed us to go through waves of enemy ships without suffering damage and thus be able to overcome more than one hurry. Fun, frenetic, and highly replayable.
His next outstanding game, and prior to what we could consider his magnum opus, is Alienation (2016), which cannot be deceived either, since it is another excellent twin stick shooter. We could speak of him as the evolved formula of Dead Nation -in fact, Housemarque considers him his spiritual heir-, since under his gameplay and a different setting, he offers an unprecedented depth for the study, allowing even certain jokes in the dialogues between his characters. First, we are faced with the greatest diversity between classes –Tank, Saboteur and Biospecialist-, with skill trees and very different from each other to strengthen cooperative play, which unfortunately is only available online. In addition, it introduces a Devil-style looting system – saving distances, obviously – with the possibility of getting even legendary weapons and improving their sections such as damage, rate of fire or magazine size. In short, we can speak without fear of being wrong about your game with more content.
In 2017 they would launch what is their most acclaimed game to date, Nex Machina, with a fantastic average score of 88 on Metacritic, and with which they culminated an absolute reference trajectory in the arcade. With the collaboration of Eugene Jarvis –in fact the game began as the Jarvis Project-, creator of classics such as Defender, Robotron 2048 or Smash TV, Housemarque created a video game with a fabulous variety on stage, adorned with the usual light and effects show , and with overwhelming transitions between levels. The objective, how could it be otherwise, eliminate a large multitude of enemies with an arsenal that goes beyond firearms -there are even swords-, while we try to rescue all the humans present in the level, direct inheritance by Resogun. On this occasion, the studio dispenses with ornaments typical of other genres, such as loot or improvable skills, in addition to having a number of game modes that are not the most generous, but it does so to the benefit of evolving its formula to its highest point.
“The arcade is dead”
Unfortunately – or not, who knows – Housemarque’s legacy in the arcade ends here, and it is that three years ago they decided to make a clean slate. As they themselves recognized, their games were well received by critics and the public, but their profitability was far from being optimal, so, after the arrival of Matterfall (2017), they took a new course that has led to their next game, Returnal. Luckily, it is still possible to glimpse a glimpse of his previous work in this title, a procedural roguelike with which they venture into development in a bigger way, and which promises to become a new benchmark for those who like strong emotions.