Review Return

It’s not often that a game successfully combines a compelling story, tight combat, and gorgeous environments in one package, but anyone who doubted Housemarque’s ability to pull it off with Returnal can rest easy. While a roguelike game may seem antithetical to PlayStation’s blockbuster focus, it’s one of the standout experiences of the past five years. Returnal follows space-faring ASTRA scout Selene after she crashes on the mysterious planet Atropos, which is host to all kinds of evil life forms. Each time Selene dies, she falls back into the wreckage of her ship, most of her items and progress are reset and the planet’s layout changes. It’s the perfect setup for a roguelike game, and Housemarque absolutely nails the follow-through. Laser-focused on crafting tight gameplay mechanics, Returnal boasts the same “one more run” appeal typically found in the upper echelons of video game design. With extremely well-received roguelikes like Hades released last year, fans could be forgiven for wondering if Returnal feels derivative, but Housemarque’s creation is as fresh as anyone could ask for. Selene is sitting in the spaceship There is a strong emphasis on making players try new things in order to succeed, whether it’s changing tactics or trying new equipment. While not every weapon in the game is a winner – the fast-firing but low-damage Hollowseeker is the clearest example – most of Returnal’s arsenal is fun to use. The carbine and shotgun, which players unlock early on, are standouts, but there are also unique options, like the Rotgland Lobber, which fires poison globs at enemies and deals damage over time. As players progress through the run, they develop weapon proficiency, which in turn leads to more powerful weapon drops. Finding powerful weapons is key to making it into the later stages, as lesser weapons will start to feel ineffective quickly. However, each gun has a powerful alt-fire mode, which often presents a satisfying burst that depletes an enemy’s health bar with gusto. Those alt-fire modes are life-savers during runs where good weapons just don’t seem to go down, even if those times are few and far between. It would be criminal not to stress how well the stellar Returnal’s DualSense controller is used, as it sets the bar for all PlayStation exclusives moving forward. It’s not the constant vibration that players experienced in Astro’s Playroom, but Returnal uses the controller in a more practical and compelling way. Returnal’s opening cutscene is as good a showcase as one could ask for, with players feeling every bump and scrape the ship experiences. It’s something that legitimately needs to be felt to be fully understood, because words can’t quite do it justice. In fact, the only downside of Returnal is that there is no option to replay the entire intro. Aside from the cutscenes, players will also feel the soft tap of rain against the controller, the burst of their dash move, the bursts of gunfire, and much more. All of that is accompanied by an engaging sound design, further highlighted by the 3D audio of the PlayStation Pulse Headset. Those components add up to a game that looks, sounds, and is fun to play – a killer combination for anyone who needs to sleep at a reasonable hour. Selene is running through a forest Returning can be a brutally difficult experience, with runs often ending in the first biome. That’s in part because it doesn’t force players forward like other roguelikes do, allowing them to backtrack and explore the map to find more powerful gear. That exploration is often necessary, as items are an important part of making progress. However, Reutrnal makes players gamble more than its contemporaries through Malignancy and Parasites, two top-tier gameplay mechanics that can significantly change how a run progresses, for better or for even worse. Malignancy is a type of space curse that players take from certain items. Each item with Malignancy is clearly marked, with players forced to choose whether or not the negative effects of obtaining the item are worth it. In general, Malignancy has a variety of randomized drawbacks, from increasing the cooldown timer for alt-fire modes to adding fall damage. To cure the Malignancy, players must complete mini-challenges, which add an interesting layer to each run. Parasites work the same way but there is a clearer cost-benefit tradeoff when it comes to their use, with their effects labeled before the player picks them up. Returnal incorporates elements from far beyond the roguelike genre though. It’s a successful blend of bullet hell, Metroidvania, and even some horror segments. A large part of the game’s narrative takes place in a mysterious house that, at times, seems to be partially inspired by the bad horror demo PT. The house sequences are some of the game’s shining moments and by far the biggest drive to solve the game’s other mysteries. Selene approaches the Citadel However, Returnal’s narrative isn’t necessarily the focus. That’s not a bad thing, but most of what players learn comes from environmental storytelling. Basically, players are trying to figure out what caused the planet to spin, what happened to the race inhabiting the planet, and slowly piecing together the pieces of Selene’s past. Audio logs are scattered across the planet – usually of a previous Selene corpse – detailing some of what happened on Atropos. Returnal also sees players deciphering some of the languages ​​of the extinct species to read obelisks that give insight into the events that took place there. The whole planet has a vibe similar to Alien or Prometheus, which works well for it. There are also some interesting online elements for Returnal players to take part in. A leaderboard system for special, single-run challenges will show how players stack up around the world or against their friends in single-run, score attack challenges – something that with Housemarque in the previous titles, although it was repeated and tweaked for Returnal. Players will also happen upon the corpses of other fallen players from time to time, where they can take revenge or scavenge them for additional items. Revenge on a player will lead to a tough fight, but it’s a fantastic challenge. Returnal is a great video game that flirts with perfection. It has the most satisfying gameplay loop Housemarque has produced to date, which is saying a lot considering the studio’s pedigree. If PlayStation’s other PS5 exclusives feel even half as enjoyable as Returnal does, fans are in for one hell of a console generation. Returnal launches on April 30 for PS5. Today Technology was provided with a PS5 code for this review. MORE: Everything You Need to Know Before Casting a Returnal

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