Finland’s oldest active games developer, Housemarque, make a much-anticipated debut on the PlayStation 5 this month with their latest project, Returnal. As any PlayStation fan will likely tell you, they have quite a history when it comes to PS gaming.
The Housemarque story began back in 1995, when two Finnish developers, Bloodhouse and Terramarque, joined forces, sharing syllables to form a new company. At this point they had been developing on home computers such as Commodore’s Amiga and Atari’s ST, and decided to concentrate on the ever-growing PC market.
The game that had started it all would go on to cement a place in the hearts of many a PlayStation gamer in the future – Housemarque’s PlayStation debut in Super Stardust HD for the PS3. A heady space-based arcade experience that was somewhat reminiscent of Atari’s Blasteroids, it was super-playable and built up a huge following – so much so that it made its way in various guises to the PSP, then the PS Vita and eventually the PS4. It also received an update once PlayStation VR hit, taking it into wholly new territory.
Super Stardust was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Housemarque and PlayStation, with their next release, addictive twin-stick zombie shooter Dead Nation, initially exclusive to the PS3, before later arriving on PS Vita and PS4. Another arcade blast, it had overtones of frenetic Williams’ arcade classics such as Robotron and Smash TV, but in a somewhat more undead setting.
In 2011, Housemarque self-published a PS Vita game called Furmins, which was a port from iOS. It was the time of Angry Birds and physics-based puzzlers were the in thing. This one took several cues from 1990s classic Lemmings, as players relocated cutesy critters from point A to point B.
Late 2013 saw the arrival of the PlayStation 4, and while many played bigger name titles, those in the know considered Housemarque’s Resogun the PS4’s launch killer app. A side-scrolling shooter that owed a lot to another Williams’ arcade classic in Defender, the scintillating arcade gameplay was full-on. It also looked graphically stunning, helped by the use of voxels (a form of 3D graphics – to explain it properly we’d need to bolt in a few extra pages). Resogun was such a hit that it also made its way to the PS Vita and even PS3, for those who hadn’t updated console generations as yet.
Come 2016, the much-anticipated follow-up to Resogun arrived on the PS4 in Alienation. Another twin-stick shooter akin to Dead Nation, it added light RPG elements and was another smash from Housemarque.
Seemingly able to do no wrong, 2017 saw Housemarque let loose ace top-down twin-stick shooter Nex Machina. Having previously worn their arcade inspirations on their sleeves, they brought in the creator of such classics as Robotron, Defender and Smash TV, Eugene Jarvis, to help in the game’s development. It was another arcade fan’s delight.
In the same year, Housemarque also gave us Matterfall. A PS4 exclusive, it was a side-scrolling platformer-cum-shooter that conjured visions of everything from Blade Runner to Metroid.
Still in 2017, Housemarque released a statement with the ominous title ‘Arcade is dead’. Citing a lack of sufficient sales of their bevy of brilliant arcade experiences, it stated, “Looking ahead to our next projects, we are exploring something totally different than what you might expect of us, but we believe this will lead to the creation of even more engaging gaming experiences.”
Enter 2021, and the arrival of the first fruit of this new direction for Housemarque: PS5 exclusive, Returnal. A horror-tinged, time-looping third-person shooter, it promises all of Housemarque’s legendary slickness, but with a more mission-based structure. Look for it from April 30 – and you can pre-order now at JB Hi-Fi.