Returnal is a perfectly timed release. The game brings a wonderful breath of fresh air to Sony’s exclusive lineup, which recently came under fire for lack of variety.
At first glance, Returnal may look like another third-party action game with the PlayStation Studios splash screen attached. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The return is a bold step forward for developer Housemarque and proves that the studio is one of the best work teams in the business.
Returning them often involves great risks. Remarkably, almost all of them pay off. No other publisher publishes big budget titles as risky as this villain. If you have a PS5, it is essential to return it.
Returnal’s premise captivates you from the start. You are immediately thrown into the boots of the astronaut Selene, who has just landed on the hostile alien planet Atropos. After a short script opening, Selene finds herself in a time warp.
Every time she dies, she returns to the wreckage of her crashed spaceship and has to start again from there to solve the mystery of Atropos. She also needs to find out why she is trapped in this never-ending cycle.
The story mainly takes place in audio logs that you recorded from previously fallen versions of Selene yourself. These logs are generated randomly, which makes the story feel a bit fragmented. Even when the narrative is scattered in small snippets, the central thread is surprisingly gripping.
There are some surreal cutscenes in the mix. You can also unravel more history through first-person sections set in a spooky 20th-century house from Selene’s past that inexplicably appeared on the surface of the alien world. These segments are pretty bizarre and even get a little meta. But they are a great change of pace and often feel annoying.
The story definitely takes a back seat to the gameplay in Returnal, but the narrative comes to a satisfactory, if somewhat hasty, conclusion. There is also a secret “true” ending tied to a number of post-game collectibles that could fill in the few remaining blanks.
Returnal is the natural evolution of Housemarque’s earlier critically acclaimed games like Resogun and Dead Nation. It takes the excellent bullet hell shooting of these titles and increases the production values by a few levels.
You mostly spend your time running, jumping, and charging around enemies while avoiding waves of brightly colored projectiles. As you do this, sections of the platform break up the tense combat encounters. While the jumps feel a bit floating, making precise landing difficult, these sections provide the variety and time you need for your heart rate to return to normal.
As mentioned earlier, Returnal is a villain and quite an unforgiving one. This means that after each death you will return to the place of the crash without your previously collected weapons, upgrades and items. You start with almost nothing except a simple pistol, and every death brings you back to that state.
Some games in this genre, such as Dead Cells and Hades, are quite generous and offer players a number of upgrades that will persist across runs. In Returnal, however, very little is carried over. Traversal abilities that are unlocked at key moments in the story are retained, as is a currency called Ether. You can also keep some specific weapon upgrades that you will earn through long-term use. Otherwise you will lose everything.
Furthermore, there are no safe rooms or ways to stop your progress. If you turn off the game while running, you will lose everything and start again at the crash site. You can use the PS5’s sleep mode feature to suspend the game, but it’s an awkward solution. The game urgently needs a “save and exit” function. This would prevent players from cheating death with frequent parries, while still making the game more accessible to people who cannot play for hours.
Return value: upgrades and difficulty level
There are many interlocking systems in Returnal. There are two types of currencies: ethers, as described above, and oblities, which do not transfer across runs. There are also different types of pickups, such as: B. Parasites. These are small creatures that attach themselves to your body and provide a positive upgrade, as well as a negative effect. The only way to remove parasites is to perform a randomly generated task, such as: B. kill a certain number of enemies or collect large amounts of oblities.
There are also artifacts and malicious chests, any of which can infect you with a negative malfunction. You can purify these items with your precious supply of ether. Then there are gameplay systems like Overcharge, which is similar to active reloading in Gears of War, and Adrenaline, which rewards you with upgrades for every three enemies you kill without taking damage.
If it all sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, Returnal doesn’t do a great job of slowly introducing you to each system. Instead, it throws them all at you from the start. The first few hours of Returnal are overwhelming. Every few minutes you will be trying to familiarize yourself with a new fold or upgrade.
The game’s six unique biomes are also procedurally generated. Everyone feels different except for one in the back half of the game, which seems like a pallet swap. The randomness helps make every run feel unique. While you will quickly begin to spot individual rooms, the enemy’s placement is usually different. Well-placed control points and shortcuts minimize the need to endlessly repeat previous biomes, but some areas repeat.
Returnal warns players from the start that it is supposed to be a challenging experience, but it starts off pretty easy. In fact, my first death came after the third boss fight. However, the second half of the game increases the challenge considerably. While it never approaches the brutality of a Souls game, Returnal has a pleasant difficulty curve. I was always concerned about what a terrible animal was lurking in the next dark corner.
How long it will take you to reach the end depends a lot on your skills. I managed to fight my way to the final boss of the game in 15 hours, which felt a bit short. However, the unpredictability of each new run and the added post-game collectibles give me plenty of reasons to come back.
Overall, the structure of Returnal and the committed risk-return balance made almost every minute of the game a joy. I had one particularly devastating defeat in which I fell on a mini-boss with little health left after slowly crawling through one of the toughest biomes in the game for two and a half hours. My reaction was momentary frustration, followed by an immediate determination to return to this enemy and seek my vengeance. And trust me, the mini-boss sensed my anger (after killing me a second time).
Review: Visuals, Sound and DualSense
Returnal is a real example of the capabilities of the PS5. The game is graphically stunning. From the incredible environmental design to small details like the fauna swaying in the wind or the movement of the grotesque tentacles of an enemy, everything looks wonderful. A PS4 couldn’t dream of doing this.
Notably, the game stays at a smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second with no noticeable hiccups. This is absolutely necessary for the bullet-hell nature of battles, where perfect timing makes the difference between dodging an attack and losing a massive chunk of your precious health.
The sound design is also extremely impressive. Returnal proves that 3D audio is not just a marketing gimmick. When you walk into an unexplored area and hear a bloody scream from a new breed of monster behind you, it never gets old. You need to play Returnal with a decent headset or suitable surround sound system. This good audio design is not intended for lackluster television speakers.
Technically, the game is also impressive. I haven’t experienced any major bugs or glitches aside from a few forgivable clipping issues with some of the bigger enemies. However, a promising run ended in a bad fall. This was pretty frustrating considering the lack of medium-term save points.
It’s almost impossible to talk about Returnal without mentioning the implementation of the unique features of the PS5’s DualSense controller. These tenfold the feeling of immersion. The DualSense uses haptic feedback to simulate everything from raindrops on your metal helmet to the hum of your gun ready to fire a powerful shot.
Each weapon has an alternate fire mode that slowly charges over time. To switch between fire modes, do not hold down any buttons or toggle any setting. Instead, choose what type of round to fire by pulling the left trigger. The DualSense’s adaptive triggers create a shooting system that a player must experience to fully appreciate. Returnal is the best implementation of the DualSense functions since Astros Playroom.
It is also worth noting that, thanks to the PS5’s fast SSD, loading times generally do not exist in Returnal. Fast trips are essentially instantaneous and have a particle effect that is downright mind-boggling.
Return value: judgment
Returnal is an independent system vendor. While many of the game’s best ideas come from other villains, Housemarque has put all of these different elements together into a uniquely satisfying package.
This remarkable game feels completely original in the big budget gaming space, which often feels frustratingly risk averse. Returnal stands shoulder to shoulder with popular PlayStation exclusives like God of War and Ghost of Tsushima and is the first must-play title of the new generation of consoles.