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Returnal Review

by Housemarque 0 text

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Death. Rebirth. Repeat.

"Returnal" transforms the rogue-like genre into a visually stunning, narrative-rich action game that harnesses the full capabilities of the PlayStation 5. Developed by Housemarque, a studio renowned for its expertise in creating intense, arcade-style shooters, "Returnal" offers a blend of fast-paced combat, intricate storytelling, and atmospheric exploration. Players take on the role of Selene, an astronaut stranded on the alien planet Atropos, who finds herself caught in a relentless loop of life, death, and rebirth as she tries to unravel the mysteries of her surroundings and her own existence.

Gameplay 7

The core gameplay of "Returnal" is a masterful fusion of bullet-hell intensity and third-person shooter mechanics, augmented by rogue-like elements. Each death resets Selene's journey, not just narratively but mechanically, as the world reshapes itself with new layouts, challenges, and item placements. This mechanic ensures that no two playthroughs are the same, offering high replayability.

The combat is exhilarating and brutal, requiring quick reflexes and strategic planning. Selene can use a variety of weapons and gadgets that she finds on her journey, each with unique traits and upgrade paths. The game's difficulty is notably high, which can be a double-edged sword: while it offers a satisfying challenge for hardcore gamers, it may feel punishing for casual players.

However, the procedural generation of the game sometimes leads to uneven spikes in difficulty and frustration. This inconsistency can detract from the experience, particularly when poor item drops significantly hamper progression. Moreover, the game's reliance on repetition might not be to everyone's taste, as it can lead to feelings of grind and fatigue.

Graphics 9

"Returnal" is a visual marvel on the PS5, with atmospheric environments, detailed alien landscapes, and beautifully horrifying creature designs that make excellent use of the console’s hardware capabilities. The lighting and particle effects, especially during combat, create a dynamic and immersive experience. The fluidity of the animations adds to the high-octane feel of the gameplay, with seamless transitions that keep you deeply engaged in the action.

The game also utilizes the PS5’s 3D audio capabilities to great effect, heightening the tension and immersion with an auditory landscape that is as rich as it is eerie. This audio-visual combination is pivotal in building the game's oppressive, mysterious atmosphere, which is central to its thematic and narrative success.

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Storyline 8

The narrative of "Returnal" is both its most intriguing and elusive aspect. As Selene delves deeper into Atropos, she uncovers fragments of her past and cryptic clues about the planet's history. The story is delivered through environmental storytelling, audio logs, and surreal visions, demanding players piece together the plot from these scattered remnants.

This fragmented storytelling approach enhances the game's mysterious and unsettling tone but can also lead to confusion and a lack of satisfying resolution for some players. Those who appreciate lore-heavy and interpretive storytelling will find "Returnal"'s narrative deeply compelling, while others might feel lost within its opaque plot twists.

Multiplayer N/A

"Returnal" does not feature traditional multiplayer gameplay but incorporates online elements where players can see echoes of other players’ deaths and choose to avenge them, earning rewards for doing so. This asynchronous interaction adds a layer of connectivity to the otherwise solitary experience, subtly reminding players that they are not alone in their struggles on Atropos.

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Issues and Community Feedback

The community response to "Returnal" has been generally positive, particularly in appreciation of its innovative gameplay and visual execution. However, significant criticism arises around its save system—or the lack thereof—which does not allow for mid-run saves. This design choice has been a major point of contention, as the demanding nature of the game can lead to lengthy sessions without a natural pause point, leading to player fatigue.

Conclusion 8

"Returnal" successfully carves its niche within the rogue-like genre by combining Housemarque's signature arcade action with a dark, compelling narrative and high-fidelity graphics. Despite some gameplay imbalances and the lack of a save feature, the game offers a challenging, immersive experience that pushes the boundaries of narrative and design in video games.

Pros and Cons

  • Stunning visuals
  • Innovative gameplay
  • Deep lore
  • No save feature
  • High difficulty
  • Potential for repetition

Player Quotes

"Finally, a game that truly uses the PS5’s capabilities to the fullest."

"The lack of a save option has turned what could be fun into a chore."

"I love the challenge, but sometimes it feels like the game is just too much."

Explore More

Please note that this review is based on the feedback and sentiments of players on various Reddit threads and does not represent the views of all players.