Returnal released exclusively for the PlayStation 5 on April 30th. It is a third-person shooter that combines the alien environment, the complexity of the Dark Souls series, and endless repetition. Designed by the Finnish studio Housemarque which is famous for their arcade games. For example, Resogun which was a side scroller shooter that was revolutionary for its time. The same can be said for the beautiful Nex Machina and Alienation that followed. And now they have come to add Returnal to their list.
Despite the high quality of the above games, at some point Housemarque decided to abandon indie style games and try something else. As a result, they created the battle royale Stormdivers. Unfortunately, Stormdivers wasn’t really a success. It turns out that breaking with their indie past was difficult, and it took Sony to offer them a new path forwards.
Enter the studio’s new game, Returnal. Remarkably, Returnal is not just an arcade, but a diverse genre. It is a thriller, platformer and action game rolled into one. But above all, Returnal is a rogue-like game.
A spaceship crashes on an unknown planet with the ancient Greek name Atropos (this is the name of one of the three goddesses of fate, who cut the thread of life). The only passenger on the ship to survive is the space-scout Selene. In a shocking twist however, she soon finds her own corpse. There can thus be no other explanation, she realizes that she is trapped in a time anomaly.
Each time, after her death, she experiences the impact of her spaceship on the planet Atropos again and again. Meaning that we start our new endeavour from the point where Selene gets off her damaged spaceship. On the way she meets alien ruins, ancient foundations and statues, and gradually we get acquainted with all the elements of the game. One of the biggest surprises of Returnal is that it is a plot driven game.
This planet is inextricably linked to Selene. She went to Atropos because of a signal that transmitted worrying information about the “white shadow”. But what exactly it is, no one knows, except Selene. It gives you the impression that this is very personal for her, and we’ll let you discover for yourself why that is. Atropos in turn offers to bring all the heroine’s horrors and hassles into its healing light, delivering her desperately needed panacea in her time of need.
As you venture forth deeper into the forest, the more profound it cuts into Selene’s emotional wounds. This means that the plot is foreign to the alien world, and unravels instead in Selene’s earthly home. Upon entering the house, you feel a shiver and a lot of palpable P.T. vibes. An additional change is that the camera moves to first person mode, leading to a particular intimate experience. You’ll discover clues here to what happened to Selene, but it will take some time to figure out why Selene’s life is so difficult.
Learning along with Selene
As in many games of the same genre, there are many interesting mechanics. The order of the rooms is shuffled randomly each time you die, the opponents (as well as the loot) change each time. In some rogue-like games, your progress is saved after each death. In Returnal, however, this is not the case. At least not until you kill the boss, which gives you some conveniences such as a shortcut to the next area. But again, the next journey to the new region begins on an unknown planet, with nothing but the original, weak, pistol.
Selene comments on each new phenomenon as if she is seeing it “in this life” for the first time. Slowly, you start to pay more attention to the intricacies of the game. For example, there is a consumable called silphium that heals you and can repair your armour. But if you loot three silphium while you have full life, you can increase the maximum durability. Or the adrenaline bar, for every three kills without getting damage, levels up giving you different bonuses. Like an improved melee attack or ability to see enemies even behind obstacles.
It all depends on you
Every time a new room appears, you learn to run in case of danger and your reflexes stay on full alert. You set priorities for which enemy you must kill first and become selective with how you use your Overload. It is the understanding of acting and reacting better in specific circumstances and what you need to do to achieve the best result. And so, slowly but steady, you train yourself to do better in every try.
The game uses an automatic difficulty adjustment system. This means that as you progress and acquire new equipment, the game becomes more difficult without changing significantly. You will just have more opportunities to gear up. You can find a more powerful weapon (shotgun, machine gun, etc.) and upgrade it by adding stars to it. This does not mean that all enemies will now die “one-shot”. Along with your equipment, the enemies get stronger the longer you stay alive. By collecting resources you can buy consumables and other items that will make the game more accessible. For example: the artifact that resurrects you in case of dying, is a real game changer.
The types and variety of items as well as their bonuses are plentiful. For example, there is an artifact that increases weapon damage based on adrenaline levels. Since the adrenaline resets every time Selene gets hit, you have to be very careful when you find this artifact. Another will increase the defence rate in proportion to the amount of Ether in your inventory. This is a good reason to spend your Ether sparingly. You have to balance if you want to hoard your Ether for the bonus or use it for future “spoiled” items that will be in your way. In which case Ether will be a lifesaver.
Some items you loot will be infected. By looting them, your spacesuit will malfunction, and you will face a random penalty. For example, you can simply lose some of your health. Or perhaps the cost of buying consumables will increase. Possibly your mobility is hampered, with the regeneration of your dash (which is especially useful to avoid attacks) increasing.
So generally speaking, the game will become more annoying. The good thing is that this effect is not permanent. You can repair it by performing some tasks. Evidently, this is not always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you will need to open some chests. Easy, right? But what if you have already opened all the chests? Another time it will ask you to kill some enemies. Except you’ve already committed room genocide on everyone except the boss. For this reason, you can remove these effects simply by using your precious ether.
Facing parasites is something different entirely. These small creatures, found randomly on the planet, are living extraterrestrial organisms. By looting one of them, it becomes part of your body and causes positive and negative effects at the same time. Some will offer 50% better items drop from the enemies, but the tasks to restore the suit malfunctions will require more work. Or perhaps the cost of items in the store will be reduced, but opponents will leave behind poisonous paths. It’s yet another balancing act.
It is hard but not impossible
It adds up to hundreds of combinations and every time you pass by the same room after a death, everything will be different. And I have not yet mentioned all the types of weapons characteristics. Homing bullets, bullets that heal on hit, and other abilities that can make your life easier are mercifully present. There are many weapons on the planet, but they always have different combos. The same machine guns, for example, can slowly fire individual bullets or be something like a machine gun that fires bullets faster and faster. And that completely changes the approach to every battle.
Even before its release, Returnal, was called a hard game. Some have described it as the Dark Souls of space. The truth is that some runs will be much more difficult than others, since it is completely random. Even if you manage to have the perfect build, the game will not be easy. Opponents are ruthless. Some fly and fire five rockets at a time. Others launch energy cycles on the ground and others generate new enemies until you will kill them. The further you go in the game, the more dangerous the monsters become. The two final biomes are a really difficult test.
No brakes on the Returnal train
You can not stop the game or pause the loop. It is not possible to save in Returnal. To finish the game you have to go through all the biomes of Atropos at once. This means slogging through The jungle, the desert and the underwater world without dying. This will last anywhere from 5 to 7 hours. Some say the game has a “real” ending. To achieve this, you must finish the game repeatedly increasing the difficulty. This is something I wouldn’t ever try personally, but might appeal to those looking for a real completionist challenge.
At the same time, even when you die (if you take for granted that you just lost what you had collected), you will see that this run has taught you something new. The next time this room appears, you will be armed with knowledge on where you have to fight your enemies and where you can hide. The structure of each room does not change. It will just appear in a different order. Therefore, each run will offer you something for your next battle. The difficulty of the game is manageable if you have the skill set to tackle difficult enemies.
It is a pity that the final bosses of each biome are quite weak, and you can likely beat them with the first attempt. Your way to the bosses feels much more daunting than the final fight itself. You will encounter quick swordsmen, fat panthers charging you, flying reptiles. Worse even, if their missiles hit you, your suit will start to malfunction. And the bosses will just keep shooting at you. If you follow their pattern, you will easily be able to jump over them or avoid them with a dash while continuing to shoot the boss.
If Returnal followed the classic roguelike game recipe, the opposite should have happened. The journey to the boss would be a little easier and the battle with the boss would have different phases and mechanics that will make it very difficult to win. Of course, there are some people who have a problem with bosses being unbeatable and prefer them that way. Everyone has their own taste.
In any case, Returnal makes you want to go back to it again and again. The gameplay and atmosphere of the game are amazing. The shooting is spectacular with the ability to destroy the surrounding environment. Statues will collapse from bullets and enemies come with perfect animation. I will not hide that in every room I always destroy everything. But that’s just the terrorist in me.
On top of that, the way the plot unfolds makes the mysterious story fascinating. As you explore the planet, you collect dozens of audio diaries left behind by the previous Selenes (what would you say to your future self?) and learn about their research and conclusions. However, in the first biome you encounter for the first time your earth house, the keys for which can be found randomly, where the game changes completely. The game just offers you the puzzle pieces. You have to put them in the right place to see the whole picture. This certainly excites some but not everyone is a fan of this concept. Some prefer the story to be clear from the beginning.
Another thing I noticed is that the DualSense is sick in this game. The vibrations offer you an unprecedented experience. Even when it rains and raindrops fall on Selene, the control vibrates gently as if the drops are falling on your body. When the weapon overloads, the controller notifies you with sound and vibration, just like the overload of the weapon itself, in the game. Finally, the game distinguishes between half trigger pressure (normal shooting mode) and full press (alternate shooting mode). These sound like small things, but they really enhance the gaming experience.
Returnal is not only the best PS5 exclusive to date, but also the best Housemarque game. It combines genres of gaming known to all of us, with some original and fresh ideas and all this in high quality and performance. It takes a lot of talent to be able to combine all these genres without creating confusion and not losing your game’s character. This is not the first time that the Finnish studio has done that. They just took it to another level with Returnal.
The graphics are almost perfect. With beautiful areas, well-designed animation and special effects. Frame rates remain stable even when the screen is clogged with bursts and other effects. It may not have the best graphics we would expect from a next-gen console, but I think it’s too early for them to reveal a title that will take full advantage of the console.
The music is atmospheric, and the sound effects are on point. Even the sounds from the controller are well taken care of to the maximum and become part of the game without ending up being annoying.
For with all roguelike games, also for Returnal, the duration of the game depends on many factors. Luck, adaptability and reflexes, I consider to be among the most basic. Of course, if one intends to make it to platinum, then you better count tens of hours and endless deaths.
In general, it is a game that keeps you interested and never ceases to amaze with the interesting modes and plot of the game.
|Why you should buy it:||What can make you sad:|
|Interesting story and unique way of narration|
|The mix of different game genres is successful||The bosses could be harder to keep up with the rest of the game|
|Great gameplay with beautiful environment|
|Each run is unique which makes the game not boring|
|It shows you the capabilities of your Dualsense controller|
At this point I would like to thank PlayStation Greece for providing the review unit.
In case you want your game to be more kawai and easier, take a look at our review for the Atelier Mysterious Trilogy DX.
|Astronaut Figurine||It will not let you go. (it will resurrect you after death)|
|Blown Nightlight||Being at Full or Low Integrity increases weapon damage by 10%.|
|Two-Way Radio||It seems to create a positive relation between Ether and Protection|
|Broken Calibrator||Grants a small amount of Weapon Profiency|
|Worn Calibrator||Grants some Weapon Profiency|
|Pristine Calibrator||Grants a large amount of Weapon Proficiency|
|Enhanced Calibrator||Grants a huge amount of Weapon Proficiency|
|Pulsating Mass||Attaching or detaching Parasites improves your Max Integrity|
|Recharging Response||Getting hit reduces Alt-Fire Cooldown by five seconds|
|Recharging Overload||Successful Overloads reduce Alt-Fire Cooldown by three seconds|
|Wound Seekers||Deal 30% more damage to low health targets|
|Unfed Pod||Grants +20% Stagger Power for each attached Parasite|
|Blade Balancer||Enables a more powerful melee attack|
|Energy Manipulator||Using a Consumable briefly increases Protection by 20%|
|Fractal Nail||Grants +10% Weapon Damage while you have a Malfunction|
|Modular Calibrator||Grants a varying amount of Weapon Proficiency|
|Music Box||Personal item. Plays a sound when near secret locations|
|Phantom Limb||Eliminating hostiles has a 10% chance to repair Integrity|
|Golden Coil||Grants +5% Weapon Damage for every 200 Obolite carried (Maximum bonus: 20%)|
|Murmuring Cocoon||Increases the positive effects of all Parasites|
|Resin Enhancer||Reduces the amount of Resins needed to upgrade Max Integrity|
|Progenitor Egg||Attaching or detaching Parasites repairs Integrity|
|Visceral Knot||+20% for hostiles to explode upon death|
|Obolite Stabilizer||Dropped Obolites last 3 seconds longer|
|Resinous Shield||Picking up a Resin gives you a Shield against the next hit|
|Spaceship Model||It seems to have a positive effect on Dash (it increases the length of your dash)|
|Xeno-Tech Sight||Slows down time when aiming with Alt-Fire|
|Destabilizing Wiretail||Reduces Malfunction probability, but dropped Obolites disappear one second faster|
|Distracting Oddkeeper||25% chance to not lose a Consumable on use, but reduces Proficiency Rate by 15%|
|Atrophying Rotstench||Find Salvage from Hostiles more often, but it reduces Melee Damage by 50%|
|Caustic Goldstalker||Doubles Obolite collection radius, but hostiles leave behind a pool of acid upon death|
|Jolting Silverskin||Discounts one item by 30% (detaches afterwards), but triggers 2 Malfunctions on detach|
|50% chance to find better Salvage from hostile, but upcoming Malfunctions have harder fix requirements|
|Brittle Needletooth||Increased Repair Efficiency by 20%, but suffer damage from long falls|
|Festering Lockfeeder||Allows a Key to be reused (detaches after first use), but you’ll suffer damage to Integrity on detach|