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Game review: Returnal (PS5)

05 May 2021

Sony is slowly but surely releasing many new exclusives launching this year for the recently released PS5 console. While it may be hard to get a PS5 at the moment, you will want to check out Returnal if you have the console. 

Returnal has been made by developer Housemarque. You may know this developer best as the studio that made other PS4 games such as Resogun and Matterfall. Returnal is quite different though as it’s a fully fledged third-person shooter game as opposed to being a side-scrolling shooting game. 
 
Returnal is more than just an average third-person shooter though because this game plays vastly different to the likes of Uncharted or the Xbox’s Gears of War franchise. This is because the game falls into the rogue-like genre. 

The fact that Returnal is rogue-like might sound awesome to some, but some other casual gamers might be intimidated. There are many rogue-like elements incorporated into this game that will test the patience and skill of all gamers alike. 

Before I begin talking about the game’s features, let’s discuss the story first. In this game you play as a space pilot named Selene. Selene crash lands her spaceship called the Helios into a strange alien planet named Atropos. 

Atropos is not a friendly planet because Selene will have to fight her away through many different biomes, killing hard bosses as well as many other enemy aliens. She has some high-tech weapons such as a pistol, shotgun and assault rifle though so she’s not entirely vulnerable. Still, staying alive on this planet is going to be a hard task for her to achieve. 

The thing that makes this game more unique than other modern AAA titles is the fact that there aren’t that many checkpoints for you to attain. When you die in this game, you have to start at the very beginning all over again. 

Selene is stuck in a time loop and only some items and events are locked in your possession. For example, I found a laser sword in the game and Selene can keep that weapon forever. However, the shotgun and assault rifle will disappear every time you die. The default weapon Selene has is just a small pistol. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to pick up ammo in this game. The ammo is infinite, although there is a cooldown meter you have to look out for. Once the cool down has finished, you can start shooting out bullets like crazy again. You also don’t have a stamina bar in Returnal which is helpful when you need to dodge enemy fire all of the time. 

Another unorthodox feature of this game is the fact that the level design keeps changing every time you enter a new time loop. I remember getting to the game’s first boss and dying a lot of times. When I died in the game, the level layout is different every time Selene gets resurrected. 

The constant level layout changing means each playthrough will be different for everyone. It’s not a game where you can watch YouTube to find out where to go because your experience changes. Thankfully, the map in this game is really helpful though so you will rarely not know where to go all of time. 

The only thing you may want to get help from is how to beat the bosses in this game. The first boss is called Phrike and he has three life bars and likes to spam a lot of attacks. You can read his patterns, although avoiding his projectiles isn’t easy because there are no additional health packs that you can collect in this boss area!

Dying during the boss fights can be a big pain because you need to go through the first level all over again to continue the fight. This is easier said than done thanks to the level being generated procedurally. 

Even if you turn off your PS5 console, you will start off at the very beginning. If you need to take a break or go to sleep, it’s advised you set your PS5 to Rest Mode if you want to continue where you exactly left off. 

While the game might be difficult to play, I’m glad to say the controls feel smooth and very responsive. The guns pack a lot of punch and Selene has a cool dashing ability to avoid enemy fire. The DualSense is also cool to use because you can feel the raindrops falling in the game and the triggers respond to every bullet you fire. 

Visually, Returnal might be arguably the best looking PS5 game I have played so far. The bright lasers really stand out when you are playing the game at 4K at 60fps. The environments are also nice and creepy looking as you feel like you’re playing inside of an Alien movie directed by Ridley Scott.

While this game has great visuals and controls, the only thing that might stop people from loving this game is its aforementioned difficulty level. There are no Easy or Normal modes for you to choose as this game has only one default difficulty setting. 

The steep learning curve is going to scare away some casual gamers because the constant loop of dying over and over again will frustrate many people. I found this game to be arguably harder than the likes of the Nioh series and Sekiro just to name a few. 

However, Returnal will be a nice challenge for those that love playing difficult video games. I can see many expert gamers playing through this game without dying once. For everyone else though, you should expect to die lots and lots of times during your playthrough. 

Overall, Returnal is a decent new IP that is both unique and enjoyable in parts. The only thing that will scare some gamers is the lack of accessibility thanks to its high level of difficulty. If you can avoid dying over and over again, you will like this game more than others. 

Verdict:  8.5/10