Returnal’s developer has been making incredible action games for years. Here are four Housemarque games that fans shouldn’t miss.
For over 20 years, one Finnish developer has been rather quietly creating some of the most exciting video games on the market. Housemarque Games has recently found massive exposure with its excellent roguelike third-person shooter Returnal, but the studio has long been a favorite of players who care about gameplay above everything else in video games.
Housemarque has, for many fans, been the unofficial king of arcade action shooters. Despite the company’s successful transition from smaller indie experiences to big-budget games with Returnal, it still has a long history of fantastic arcade action titles. Here are four Housemarque games that players should check out after completing Returnal‘s difficult roguelike alien worlds.
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Released in 2011 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Outland saw Housemarque create a side-scrolling platformer that combines exploration with a unique polarity game mechanic. Players inhabit a nameless man possessed with the spirit of a legendary warrior who must take down the evil Sisters of Chaos by harnessing the powers of the sun and the moon.
Outland features a gorgeous silhouetted art style where players must navigate and battle foes using the aforementioned polarity mechanics. Players can switch between the dark powers of the moon and the light powers of the sun to take out enemies of opposite alignment or navigate dangerous hazards. Difficult but fair, Outland is a challenging platformer full of action combat and tricky puzzles using its unique systems.
Housemarque’s return to the topdown twin-stick shooter following 2010’s Dead Nation would see the company create a spiritual successor of sorts with the science-fiction PlayStation 4 exclusive Alienation. In it, Earth is invaded by aliens, and only the UNX, a military team tasked with fighting back against the overwhelming odds, can save humanity from the onslaught.
Alienation can be played single-player or with up to four others, either locally or online. Players choose from one of three distinct classes, Bio-Specialist, Saboteur or Tank, all with distinct visual designs and equipment load-outs. They must navigate increasing numbers of aliens, blasting them into oblivion in thrilling, action-packed levels. Alienation features a robust loot system and procedural generation, allowing for massive replay value and experimentation. Alienation also deftly displays the signature Housemarque style where fun gameplay matters above all else, with the shooting and cooperative elements that are second to none.
Developed in part with legendary video game designer Eugene Jarvis (creator of Defender, Robotron: 2084, and Smash TV), Housemarque’s 2017 game Nex Machina saw the company look backward to the ultra-hard arcade titles of the ’80s and ’90s. Nex Machina envisions a world overrun by robots where one hero and his retro-future arm cannon are humanity’s only hope.
As gorgeous to look at as it is challenging, Nex Machina assaults the player’s eyes and reaction times. The twin-stick shooter hurls enemies nonstop at the protagonist, simultaneously feeling like an homage to Jarvis’ classic shooters and a devilishly difficult evolution of the genre. Players are barely able to take a breath during fast-paced levels that fill the screen with incredible particle effects when robots explode and new ones take their place. Nex Machina doesn’t mess around, and it’s glorious to behold in real-time — the only problem is staying alive for more than a few moments.
Matterfall saw Housemarque return to two-dimensional game design with another science-fiction shooter. In this 2017 PlayStation 4 exclusive, players are Avalon Darrow, a hero who dons a futuristic battle suit to save the world from an infection of an alien material known only as “Smart Matter.” Players must jump, shoot and dodge to battle through this side-scrolling adventure full of Housemarque’s trademark arcade-action style.
Matterfall plays like a Mega Man game turned up to 11, with loads of enemies, dynamic movement and satisfying combat as its main tenets. Players can also wield a matter gun that explodes the evil alien Smart Matter, and create platforms to help with the tricky navigation of its 12 fast-paced levels. Not only is Matterfall another great action experience, but it showcases Housemarque’s talent for creating gorgeous graphical effects and visuals. Much of the voxel and particle effects players encounter in Matterfall serve as a precursor to what Housemarque achieved in Returnal, all while refusing to sacrifice performance for visual fidelity.
Overall, Housemarque is a studio that knows how to make an action game. Fans should be relieved to learn that, in its transition to a bigger budget affair, the studio hasn’t sacrificed the concepts that made it a name in the arcade gaming sphere in the first place. For players who cannot get enough of Returnal‘s thrilling combat, these four games are all worthy alternatives that successfully place engaging and enjoyable gameplay above all else.
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