Returnal is an unforgiving Roguelike AAA game developed by Housemarque and is their very first PS5 only game made with a bigger budget, thanks to Sony. Housemarque is known for its previous games such as Resogun, Matterfall, Nex Machina, Super Stardust HD, and more. Returnal has all these indie elements clubbed into its veins which pushes the imagination even further thanks to having a bigger budget for this project.
In Returnal, you play as an astronaut known as Selene whose spaceship crash lands on the planet of Atropos where she visits to discover a mysterious alien-like signal transmitting from the world. On her first experience with the world, she discovers new things including the dead body of another astronaut. Upon further investigation, she realizes that it’s her own dead body and that after the very first death from an alien entity, the plane crash lands again and she realizes that she is stuck on a time loop here on the planet of Atropos.
She finds multiple audio logs of her deceased self and realizes that she must do everything in her power to find the source of the white signal to somehow break this endless cycle of life and death. Since this is a spoiler-free review, I will refrain from mentioning certain parts of the story, which is best when it is played and experienced personally.
Returnal, as a base is a complete roguelike. If you die, you will restart from the crash-landing zone once again, repeating the vicious cycle. However, things change a bit after the 1st few levels, which I won’t spoil as it’s best to play and be surprised, just like I was. You will explore the planet of Atropos and come across different alien life and multiple upgrades for your spacesuit. There is also a big arsenal of weapons to choose from and all of them have unlimited ammo, another feature of a roguelike genre.
You can dash and jump with minimal cooldown which makes the gameplay feel really smooth. Its tight controls make sure that you are always on you’re A-game and that you are willing to find out the cause just as much as Selene is. Game is unforgiving from the very first level, as it teaches you to become even tougher for the upcoming challenges that lie ahead in new biomes. Every area has different health and skill pickups that you can use to maintain your suit’s integrity which is the core and the most important part of your gameplay. You get obolites by destroying enemies and is the in-game currency that can be used later to construct health items or utilities in safe rooms. Collecting a ton of obolites is the key to survival as it helps to buy more items and health packs or increase your suit’s integrity/raise HP bars. Collecting 3 such HP resins increases the total Health bar by a minimal amount.
Tutorials will start showing up when you encounter something new for the very first time and you can access them by pausing the game. Tutorials will give you full in-depth info on the new skill you just acquired and help ease your gameplay experience. Returnal also runs at a solid 60 frames per second at dynamic 4K resolution with Raytracing.
You will find multiple upgrades to not only your suit but also various other consumables which provide health, new skills which repair your suit’s integrity (health), and some parasites which have both positive and negative impacts on your suit. These buffs and nerfs are different in every run and each run randomizes enemy and consumable locations which make each playthrough unique and fun to play and explore. Every playthrough has altered locations with rearranged enemies and bonus locations scattered throughout the biome. These randomized cycles start repeating themselves after a while now that you have died several times, you start noticing some similarities in the alteration.
Different parasites offer different buffs and nerfs. Some self-healing parasites are very rare to find but often help a lot during boss encounters as you start self-healing when you are low on health(integrity). However these come at a cost, while some leave acid on the floor after you finish off an enemy, others have higher nerfs to weapon damage, suit self-repair systems, and much more thus having different playthrough experience each time you die and repeat.
Your destroyed ship, has a lot of things inside as well, including a small bed where you can sleep, two computer terminals where one showcases the amount of data you gathered across various playthroughs, and the other having a social option for doing daily challenges which have leaderboards as well.
Containers are spread out on all areas of the biome which contain good weapons/items that can be picked up. Each of these containers may contain a malignant(an alien virus that damages or depletes your suit’s integrity) and unlocking them and not getting hit depends entirely on your luck as it’s a game of probability. You can also remove the malignancy by ether that you collect in your playthrough by picking it up from the regular enemies or exploring the areas. The same goes for unlocking some of the locked red color doors which can be unlocked by using Atropian keys, inside which you may find bonus loot, health, consumable, or even something as powerful as a second life item that resurrects you giving you a second chance on the battlefield.
There are traps everywhere in each biome especially those areas which have the best loot in the game including weapons or consumables. Each of these traps is unique and set in different ways which makes your gameplay experience unique from the others.
Let’s talk about the enemies for a second because there are a lot ranging from small ground tentacle enemies to flying aliens with single Eye vision shooting you with red big orbs, the first moment they encounter you. There are turrets as well, some of them are even shielded to block bullets which you will have to use your melee attack to destroy the shield. Even some bigger enemies come shielded as well which can be destroyed by melee-ing them making them vulnerable to your attacks.
There are a total of 6 biome/levels to this game but do not be fooled by the numbers. You will spend countless hours fighting and dying and repeating the time loop over and over again before realizing how you want to fight and survive them. Having a ton of consumables and health upgrades will definitely help your gameplay experience.
You can also remove the parasites for obolites if you wish by using this machine which gives it a dead space vibe where you enter inside one of these to upgrade your suit. However, make sure to only use this if you arent feeling powerful enough with those parasites, cause this will also remove a self-repairing suit integrity parasite as well which is more helpful when it is with you attached than not. You can check the buffs and nerfs of each of the attached parasites by going into the options menu.
Weapons and Items:
Speaking of weapons, we have tons of them. I am happy to report, that using different weapons in different biomes feels absolutely amazing. Apart from the usual handgun and assault rifle, we get rocket launchers, laser-like projectile weapon, Ice blast weapon, and shotgun which is my least favorite of them all. All of these weapons come with their own, alt-fire or alternate firing capabilities, which can be used to deal heavy damage and range from AOE abilities to single target ones and have a decent cooldown so it doesn’t get abused by the player.
Each weapon has its own unique abilities and talents, few of them stay locked and can be unlocked by using them for a short period of time. These abilities range from enemy-seeking missiles to high beam laser or big blades that do heavy damage to the enemies on top of what the player is already dealing with them. The damage scales with the weapon’s proficiency which keeps improving as you kill more enemies and bonus areas and challenging rooms. After a successful boss fight, reaching a new biome will grand you with even more weapon proficiency which would help you get better level weapons from the next pickup you do from either the containers or other ground loots.
You can also find fabricators all across the biome especially in bonus areas where you can buy items using obolites such as health pickup, increasing overall suit integrity, or defensive items to help protect you from enemy attacks for a short time.
Each and every weapon is best suited to their own environments, just like Doom Eternal. You will need to figure out which weapons suit you the best cause you can only carry one weapon at a time, but do not worry. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to swap weapons throughout your journey, so make sure you pick up the best weapon for the current encounter.
DualSense at its Peak:
Housemarque has done an amazing job with the DualSense Controller. You can hear rainfall dripping down on the ground via your DualSense controller, the dynamic vibrations make sure you are able to feel everything that Selene is feeling in the game. You get fully immersed in your surrounding environment. Even when you are opening locked doors, the unlock animation is felt via the controller as well. Dashing, jumping, and shooting are all felt via the DualSense controller. Alt-firing also has positive feedback on the controller giving the player a feel of the weapon’s talent.
Sony has put their own PS5 console as well inside Selene’s house, which you will come across once every biome which helps with the game’s story progression and which I wouldn’t be going in detail as to preserve the no-spoiler reading experience.
Returnal is probably the best-looking PS5 game ever made. Demon Souls comes close but Returnal is on another level. The flora and fauna in the game, environmental effects, enemy attack patterns, weapon hit registry, and animation when the bullet hits the enemies from different weapons is just pure eye candy. Every playthrough of the game as I mentioned, is different. This means you will see different environmental variations in the game which look absolutely beautiful with their raytraced lighting and shadows. Each biome is different with its own distinct characteristics and offers players its own visual effects and scenes. One of my favorite biomes, the 3rd biome, has big landscapes and alien-like buildings which showcase a futuristic city that is way ahead of its time full of technological advancements and breathtaking set pieces.
Returnal’s FOV (Field of View) and LOD ( Level of detail) have no compromises at all when it comes to visuals. You will be able to clearly see every detail in every texture, enemies, and even your own character and weapons as well. The environment around you reacts to you being there and feels lively which makes exploration fun.
Audio and Narration:
Every fast-paced game must have a soundtrack that suits its gameplay style and also does not obstruct your gameplay progression. Returnal with its futuristic sci-fi soundtrack blends in completely with your gameplay in the background offering heart-pumping beats during boss fights or the fast-paced sub-bass field music during regular combat. The music ends when you come out of combat or when you are out of the enemy’s vision temporarily helping you assist in combat with such info.
There are very few cutscenes in this game since gunplay and action are the main and the most important factors of Returnal. Nothing in this game hampers your gameplay experience. Selene keeps talking to herself when she finds new clues as to why she is here via the audio logs scattered all across biomes.
I have clocked in around 34-35 hrs and I am nowhere near completion, even after credits roll, the game won’t really end there as you can explore and go deep even after. So make sure to not put the controller down after the last biome.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Sony India for sending us a Review Code for Returnal
For Videos and Playthroughs:
Check out my youtube channel for No Commentary playthroughs and boss-fights :
AwperXPlays – YouTube
Returnal PS5 Review
Overall, Returnal is one of the best roguelike games I have ever played especially coming from an indie studio which shows that Sony’s experimentation with newer ideas and games can fully work if given the time and resources needed by the studio. Those thinking of spending 4999 INR (70$) on this game is worth it or not then let me tell you this if you like action games in general or loved playing DOOM/Control then you are certainly going to love playing Returnal. Your constant deaths will not irritate you because every run makes sure you are having tons of fun collecting loot even if the game is unforgiving on your entire journey. The Risk and Rewards are worth it in the end.