Returnal – Game Review


Returnal

(Available for PlayStation 5 only)

Sony has picked a very inconvenient time to release a new PlayStation 5 exclusive after the news of the Shutdown of Sony Japan Studios and the Bloomberg report which implied Sony’s ongoing direction is to move away from their more experimental games like Gravity Rush, Loco Roco and Patapon and be almost exclusively filling their first party line up with Triple A blockbuster games like this one. Certainly not a good look for the company right now to show that the company is almost entirely abandoning the Japanese market because of a lack of major profit for a cookie cutter approach which could backfire in a big way if your core base gets tired of the same repetitive thing something which Ubisoft has been experiencing for some time. Despite that Returnal, which Sony has been hyping for quite some time, has finally come out after a months delay from it’s planned March release though the news that could reflect PlayStations future has kind of put me in a sour mood prior to playing it. The game is developed by Housemarque and is a third person shooter mixed with a Roguelike. The game centres around a space pilot names Selene crashing into an unknown Planet which sticks her in a time loop which sends her back to the beginning of the loop every time she dies, hence the roguelike elements of randomly generated environments. Now that explanation and just the knowledge of it being a Roguelike may put some people off but knowing Sony, while these Blockbuster games they are making are starting to blend into one anther they are at least interesting and the final trailers before release did show that there would be a genuinely interesting story to go with this game. With this being a PlayStation 5 exclusive and the first major one since the Demon Souls remake isn’t just how good is it but how does it work with the PlayStation 5’s improved hardware and prove this is something that couldn’t be done with PlayStation 4 technology, it’s especially necessary given most of Sony’s big releases for the rest of 2021 that are confirmed have both PS5 and PS4 versions and justification in the PlayStation 5 purchase is something Sony really needs to communicate right now.

Pros

  • Use of the PS5 controller: because this game is made exclusively for PS5 it takes full advantage of the haptic triggers to make each gun feel unique as feel as well as the fantastic HD rumble all of which works well for the environment and feels like the best use of the controller’s features since Ratchet and Clank.
  • Aesthetics: while I wouldn’t describe the environments of Returnal as original or unique since they are very clearly inspired by the Alien movies even down to the main protagonist resembling Ripley, but they still look great and suit the gameplay. They also suit the Lovecraftian themes that the game brings narratively and add a sense of atmosphere of isolation the game wants to give off.
  • Gameplay: a good Roguelike has to work well by making you want to go again and again through randomly generated areas. Returnal does this well by having you obtain objectives that will carry over to each run so if you beat an objective like beating a boss it becomes optional on your next run. The game also really encourages you to experiment with several different weapons and weapon abilities to find the combos that suit your style of play and it adds up to a solid experience. There’s also very interesting online components such as avenging a corpse of another player to earn extra rewards which seemed to disappear between updates. The gameplay loop is certainly fun as I did find it addictive doing about 3-4 runs each night trying to improve and the controls are really well handled.

Mixed

  • Story: so the story of Returnal is kind of vague with it kind of having a feeling similar to Dark Souls and other From Software franchises. However unlike those games there also appears to be another narrative going on as well which has a feel of its going to reveal more about it’s main character. At several instances you get a chance to go into a replica of main character, Seline Vasssos house on earth and dives into her past underlining a dark history. These segments are intriguing and along side the nature of the planet everything is rather vague and I wouldn’t be the first person to point out the Lovecraftian themes on display. The downside is after a while it’s not too interesting and you almost forget it’s there
  • Enemy variety: now the variety seems pretty good for the first area and the designs for the enemies are actually really good but as soon as you move into the second area you start to notice that they can feel like pallet swaps with new attacks though that part kept me on my toes so I can’t complain too much
  • Difficulty: it’s a difficult game and at points it feels like to an absurd degree. Most of the time it’s a fair challenge but there were certain points where the difficulty was turned up almost randomly.

Cons

  • Lack of quick saves mid game: this game really suffers from coming out after Hades. Unlike that game which offered quick saves provided you hadn’t got hurt in a chamber this game forces you to keep going no matter what. Returnal has no quick saves whatsoever and putting the PS5 in rest mode has been reported to cause crashes though Housemarque is working on a patch for that. The bottom line is however that at this point each run has to be done from start to finish before you can quit with progress intact.
  • Sessions can be incredibly long for a rougelike: this actually exacerbates the situation previously mentioned. Returnal can have a run go for several hours which without quicksaves feels too long. Now granted a run depends on how much you actually want to do but even without that these runs feel a little too long which when compared with other games in genre makes it feel a bit bloated. Games like Hades and Dead Cells tend to have a maximum run time of 25-30 minutes which feels right compared to potential multi hour runs of Returnal
  • Needs more incentive for repeat playthroughs: one of my big problems was that unlike Hades this game has not too many permanent upgrades or RPG elements which was what made each run in Hades feel important as you could at the bare minimum have some currency for upgrades and items to trade for. In Returnal’s case you don’t even keep the currency so it does make some runs feel entirely pointless with no real success. I get that is designed to fit into the themes of the story to give a sense of hopelessness but I’m not a fan of the choice

Overall thoughts

As far as a good Roguelike goes you can do both better and worse though this one really does a good job taking the genre to the PlayStation 5 and take advantage of the technology. It’s really awesome to see Sony back a game like this and I had a lot of fun doing several cycles but I wish it had taken a lesson from Hades and added some RPG elements to make each run feel worth it even if I fail miserably. It however has really good graphics, good combat and environments and is very good fun for most of the time. If you’re up for long sessions I’d say give it a go and Returnal is a really good game, the positives do outweigh the negatives, though I wouldn’t say this should be your first Roguelike before a game like Hades which is a better example of the genre.

Score: 8.6/10

Given this game is £70 with a sale unlikely any time soon you might want to wait, this isn’t a game you buy a PlayStation 5 for it’s a supplementary game to go with the bigger releases. only buy it now if you have absolutely no intention of buying Ratchet and Clank in the coming weeks since my belief is it will be a better showcase of the PS5 tech
 
Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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