Returnal is a rogue-lite. A rogue-lite game has some elements of a roguelike game but not all. Rogue-lite adds some new abilities like carrying over some abilities or making some permanent changes to player abilities which will be carried forward with each run. You can learn the difference between roguelike and rogue-lite here. Returnal is a rogue-lite game and let’s get the obvious out of the way - if you love games like Hades or Control (review) then you will definitely find appeal in what Returnal has to offer. For me, Returnal has been an adventure. I don't remember the last time I leapt off my seat to rejoice in a victorious boss battle or felt so immersed in a game thanks to the controller. Returnal is one of the first games to show us what the PS5 (review) can do and it looks like it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The story of Returnal sounds straightforward when you start. But it’s only when you progress far enough that the plot truly starts to unfold. You don the role of a Space Scout, Selene who has crash-landed on a hostile alien planet Atropos. You must explore the planet to “Locate the ‘White Shadow’ Broadcast. In the first minute of the game, you come across yourself lying dead on the ground and in the next 10 minutes you will face a foe who kills you in a matter of seconds and you awaken at the crash site once again. This live-die-repeat formula feels a lot like the movie Edge of Tomorrow. Not only because of the time loop but because the foes in the game look a lot like the aliens from the movie.
Throughout your journey, you will find Scout Logs left behind by Selene probably from a previous run. It is these scout logs that not only give you a hint as to what’s coming next but also highlight the mental state of the protagonist. Some of it feels contradictory to what the Selene you are playing feels and it is in these moments of Selene talking to herself that you understand some of the depth the story brings. For the first couple of hours, the story feels like a slow burn and that's ok as the game is helping you come to grips with the various mechanics and it's only once you’ve endured through the time loop a bunch of times that the story starts to unfold.
Once in a while, you will visit a house where the perspective changes to first-person view and this is where you have some of the more intimate story moments.
Returnal is a third-person action game with a lot of frantic fast-paced gunplay, and before we get into the details of the gameplay, I’d like to highlight some of the features on the DualSense. Returnal really shows off the potential of the DualSense. From the opening cinematic where the ship is crashing, you can feel every rumble shift from one corner of the controller to the other. Even when you are in the first-person view and standing in the rain, you can feel the droplets fall on you thanks to the soft haptic feedback. Not to mention the different intensities you feel when jumping, dashing and taking damage.
The Adaptive Triggers on the DualSense feel like there is a new button on the controller. Half pull the L2 trigger to focus your aim and pull it completely to use the weapon's alt-fire. It’s incredible how the halfway resistance is just tight enough for you to not pull it completely by accident in a heated battle.
If you have played Control, you will feel right at home with the action in Returnal. It is fast-paced with you dashing to avoid getting hit, using your melee weapon to attack at close range and more. You will acquire different abilities that you can use. Some are the standard health regeneration, while others let you disable turrets and some let you shoot projectiles from your suit every time you get shot. Even though there are a number of guns in the game you can only carry one at a time. You have the standard pistol, assault rifle, shotgun and even one gun that shoots venom. Each weapon has its own alt-fire and these are not standard. So, each time you get a shotgun, for example, the alt-fire could be different. The alt-fire includes homing shots, sniper shots, blasts of energy, grenades and more. The weapons also come with different stats so you might want to choose one depending on your playstyle.
In addition to the weapons, there are Parasites that can be found throughout the game. These have both a positive and/or a negative effect. Some of them offer very useful abilities like regenerating health, the ability to use a key twice to open a door, reduce the cooldown time of your alt-fire and more. On the other hand, they could have negative effects as well like reduce your health every time you pick up an item, increase the cooldown time of your alt-fire, reduce the melee damage effect and more. There are ways for you to remove a Parasite as well. Some of them will detach after their function is over while others will require you to kill a certain number of enemies or craft an item or open a locked gate, so on and so forth.
You also have Obolites that you collect when you kill enemies or find them lying around in the game. You can consider them to be the game’s currency. Collecting Obolites lets you craft items like a health pack or interact with machines that increase your maximum health.
Developer Housemarque is known for frantic shooting in their games and Returnal is no different. Some of the combat encounters kept me at the edge of my seat.
Speaking of enemies, they are quite varied. You have the standard Edge of Tomorrow like alien creatures that throw projectiles at you and get close for a melee attack. You have turrets. You also have flying enemies and enemies shaped like trees that shoot gunk on the ground that slows your movement. There are some larger flying enemies, a crab-like enemy with an indestructible shell and some larger enemies that remind me of the Marauder from Doom Eternal (review). There are some more enemies you encounter that I will not spoil here including the bosses in the game.
Speaking of the bosses once they are defeated, you don't have to face them again. In Hades, you had to face each boss during each run. In Returnal, once the boss has been defeated, you don't need to encounter him again.
Returnal’s rogue-lite structure ensures you don't face the same set of areas back-to-back in each run. These levels are procedurally generated until you need to hit a specific story beat in which case, you visit very specific areas.
Overall, the gameplay in Returnal is frantic, fun and most definitely enjoyable. However, I think the developers need to put in a little bit of effort to balance the loot on each run. Some runs of mine were too easy as the loot I picked up gave me some truly invincible abilities. At other times I felt quite underpowered.
Returnal runs in a dynamic 4K at 60FPS. Throughout my 20 odd hours with this game, I noticed the framerate dip twice. That’s it. The game looks stunning with its dark and dingy forest to the vastly open red desert and other environments I would rather not spoil here. If you have a high-end TV with HDR then you will definitely enjoy this game. From the animation of creatures, you encounter to the design of Selene herself, the game looks stunning.
The load times in the game deserve special attention too. When you die, the game plays out the opening crash animation but you can skip it. This means you can start the game after a death in a matter of seconds. Even when you fast travel, it takes no more than a few seconds. It’s brilliant how fast the load times are.
Moving over to the sound, each gun in the game has its own unique thud and the screeching of the alien life forms can give you a chill. While the game shows off the 3D audio potential of the PS5 I found the surround sound experience to be good. While the background score in the game is sombre, it’s the heat of the action and Selene’s own audio logs that dominate the soundtrack and it suits the theme of the game perfectly. The action can get quite frantic, especially in the latter half of the game and playing with a pair of headphones, you can definitely identify the direction you are being attacked from, but I'm still waiting on some more "wow" 3D audio effects from PlayStation exclusives.
Like I said in the beginning, if you love games like Hades or Control then you will definitely enjoy what Housemarque has to offer with Returnal. Its rogue-lite formula mixed with an interesting Sci-fi story, and fast-paced combat will ensure you enjoy every time you live die repeat. If you live the rogue-lite formula then Returnal will keep you coming back for more. For the rest of you, who feel an asking price of Rs 5,000 is high for the game, can wait for a price drop before dipping your toes into a game that is extremely challenging but rewarding for those that endure.
Tested on: PS5
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Price: Rs 4,999
We played a review copy of Returnal on a PS5.
|Release Date:||02 Feb 2021|
Sameer Mitha lives for gaming and technology is his muse. When he isn’t busy playing with gadgets or video games he delves into the world of fantasy novels.
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