Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The tagline for the 2014 Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow was Live Die Repeat. You could use the same lines to describe Returnal, first-party Sony exclusive developed by Housemarque who are known for their smaller indie games like Resogun and Nex Machina, which is a game where you will live, die, and repeat. With Returnal being their first big-budget game but does it stand up to Sony’s other big titles?
Returnal tells the story of Selene who crash lands on an alien planet while following a white shadow signal. Selene sets out from her busted ship to find this signal but along the way, you will die and then you learn that the planet changes and you have to start over from your ship. You also learn that there used to be sentient life forms that inhabit this planet. You will see statues and bodies of these “xenotypes” and now Selene not only is trying to make her way to the signal she now tries to figure out what happened to these aliens and why when you die you start over and the world changes. This makes the story a science fiction thriller with a tiny bit of horror mixed in mostly in the atmosphere the game gives but I would be lying if I said I didn’t jump at least once.
Returnal’s gameplay is a mix of third-person shooter, roguelike, and bullet hell. The shooting feels good and even pressing the L2 trigger halfway to aim feels right thanks to the adaptive triggers. Pressing the L2 button all the way ready the alt-fire. All the guns you find will have an alt-fire and each time you find a gun even if it is the same you are already carrying could have a different alt-fire. While talking about the Dual Sense control the Haptic feedback in this game is amazing I could feel pretty much everything Selene does from running to getting hit. Now the roguelike comes in from the world-changing every time you die. You will always start in the same place but the layout will be different every time. You also lose everything you have collected in your last run only starting with your handgun.
Guns do not have to be reloaded but they can overheat after firing so many shots without a rest. Each gun has varying numbers of shots. When you overheat a gun you can press the trigger at the right time to overload the gun and you can use it faster. It’s much like when you reload a gun in Gears of War with pressing at the right time for a quicker reload. As you use your gun you will gain proficiency making any new gun you find have better stats. And finally, we have bullet hell for a third-person shooter there can be a ton of enemy fire coming at you at one time making combat hectic and fun.
The boss fights are hard and will have you running from a ton of colorful shots coming at you. Even with having to start over so many times I never got tired of playing Returnal on each run you never know what you may find in the way of upgrades, items, and parasites. Parasites are well parasites you can attach to yourself for one buff and one debuff you can only have five at one time before it will randomly detach one of them for a new one. You can get rid of them only with a certain item or a machine that I rarely see. You can find items from chests and defeated enemies you can also find fabricators that use Obolites that you collect from enemies and find around the environment to buy items and or upgrades.
The other type of currency in the game is Ether, Ether is a permanent currency that you keep even after dying. You can use these at Reconstructors that let you respawn once without starting over and at a Cthonos that shows up near the crash site shortly in the game the Cthonos makes a random item that you have yet to discover. Ether also can be used to cleanse malignant items and chests. Malignant items and chests can be picked up without being cleansed but will cause a suit malfunction. Suit malfunction will add a random debuff and a condition to get rid of the malfunction like opening so many chests or doing so many Melee kills. getting three malfunctions will cause a critical malfunction where you will not trigger another ill effect but will destroy a random item you have.
As you explore the planet you will find other dead Selene’s and you will find a voice recording slowly telling the story of what is going on on this strange planet. You will also find Selene’s house that you can enter once in a while and tells more backstory on Selene. These segments are short but are played in first-person giving you an emersion that seems right at home in a horror game. The game was is also best played with headphones on. I have a 3D audio set that sounds amazing. The rain hitting Selene’s helmet, the enemies, sounds in the environment are all so well done.
The game being a PS5 game is beautiful there can be so much going on at one time on the screen with no slow down or lag. The enemy designs are cool to look and the xeno lifeforms that lived there before have a unique design. I liked finding the Xenoglyph Ciphers that let you translate Xenoglyphs. Xenoglyphs are writings the Xeno’s left long ago that tells what happened to them.
There is real satisfaction when you can finally beat a boss and advance. It’s like a souls game but with lots of shooting and running. There is some mild platforming but nothing too hard you will find a much harder time in the enemies than anything.