Returnal PC Review

One of the first true PlayStation 5 exclusive games was Housemarque’s Returnal, a tough-as-nails third-person shooter with bleeding-edge graphics, roguelike mechanics, and an intriguing sci-fi twist on a Groundhog Day-style mystery driving it all. The game was a hit with PlayStation gamers who could stomach its high difficulty level, and now PC gamers can finally see what the fuss with Returnal is all about thanks to a new port from Climax Studios.

Returnal is the latest PlayStation exclusive to make the jump to PC, and it does so with all the expected bells and whistles. While Returnal is certainly no slouch on PS5, the PC port offers some additional enhancements so the game looks and runs even better, assuming one has the hardware to support it. We tested the game with an AMD Ryzen 9 and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, and it ran like a dream. Players with beefy PCs will be wowed by Returnal’s pure visual spectacle while exploring planet Atropos as unlucky protagonist Selene.

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Returnal is filled with strange alien creatures that bombard Selene with multicolored, brilliantly bright energy beams that really pop in the game’s darker environments. As Selene destroys these enemies with whatever weapons she manages to find while exploring Atropos’ procedurally generated world, she also needs to be careful to avoid all incoming attacks. Dying means restarting the entire “cycle” over, so there’s always a great deal of tension during Returnal’s battles.

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Fights against standard Returnal enemies are nerve-wracking enough, but things are cranked up considerably when players find themselves squaring off against one of the game’s bosses. Returnal boss fights are incredibly challenging and a real highlight of the experience, pushing players’ skill to their limit and forcing them to come in prepared with the best upgrades possible. Conquering a boss in Returnal feels like a major accomplishment because it comes with genuine progression. Players may die and have to repeat Returnal’s cycle from the beginning, but they do not have to repeat any boss fights.

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Since Returnal uses procedurally generated environments, mastering the game isn’t about memorization. It’s all about skill and reaction time. Those that take the time to become truly good at Returnal will find it to be one of the most rewarding experiences there is, though the game certainly isn’t for everyone. Returnal’s high level of difficulty will likely frustrate some players, especially when they realize that the game itself would be fairly short if it weren’t for all the times they were dying and coming back to life.

Those that enjoy challenging games and roguelike mechanics will likely have a lot of fun with Returnal, and so PC gamers that never played the PS5 version should consider picking it up as soon as possible. But anyone that does may also want to consider buying a PS5 DualSense controller as well. Returnal’s mouse and keyboard controls are great for the most part, but some of the game’s soul is lost when playing it with anything other than a DualSense.

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Luckily, PS5 DualSense controllers work on PC, so it’s still possible for PC gamers to get the “true” Returnal experience on their platform of choice. Returnal’s punchy combat is significantly enhanced by the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, with all that completely lost when playing the game on a standard mouse and keyboard. It’s also somewhat more difficult to dodge incoming attacks on mouse and keyboard compared to a controller, so those planning on playing the game on PC should keep in mind that they might need to invest in a PS5 controller for the game to live up to its full potential.

If one has a DualSense controller handy, Returnal on PC delivers the same experience as the PS5 version, complete with all the extra content that was added in post-launch updates. This allows Returnal players on PC to check out everything that came with the big Ascension update, including online co-op, right out of the gate. We were unable to test Returnal’s co-op mode on PC, but it presumably functions the same as it does on PS5, allowing two players to team up and attempt to get through the campaign together.

Besides adding co-op, Returnal’s Ascension update also introduced the Tower of Sisyphus, which players can access fairly early on in their playthrough. The Tower of Sisyphus is a wave-based mode that’s really geared to those that have already mastered the game and are looking for more to do. It’s nice that the Tower of Sisyphus and online co-op are available to Returnal PC players at launch, as it means the game is more fully-featured than when it made its debut on PS5.

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Along with all this content, the Returnal PC port also includes the quality-of-life features that were introduced to the original game post-launch. Most notably, this includes the option to suspend one’s current cycle. Originally, Returnal lacked a proper save system, leading to some inconveniences whenever someone needed to stop playing in the middle of a run. Housemarque eventually listened to fan feedback about the lack of a save option in Returnal and introduced the ability to suspend one’s cycle, with that option available to PC gamers out of the box.

Returnal on PC has all the content on day one that was released for the original game in the year after its launch, meaning that it’s debuting on PC in a better state than it was in when it first came to PS5. Developer Climax Studios has hit it out of the park with this port, so any PC gamers curious about Returnal can feel confident picking it up, but they might want to consider getting a DualSense to go with their purchase.

Returnal is out now on PC and PS5. Today Technology was provided with a PC code for this review.

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