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Returnal Review


Developer: Housemarque

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Reviewed on: PS5

Release: 30th April 2021

Rating: M


Returnal is the latest release from developers Housemarque and is the first real next gen game available for PS5. Whilst there have been a fair few games released on the PS5 since launch, most were remasters or cross gen launches and none of them feel quite as next gen as Returnal.


If you have a PS5, and you enjoy punishment, then Returnal is a game for you. If you prefer more slow paced, easy and relaxed gameplay, you would still have a blast in the early stages of Returnal but I don't see you progressing very deep into this tormenting 'rogue like' game.

Off the bat, you'll notice just how gorgeous Returnal is (being the first real, original next gen release), in fact, gorgeous is a terrible word to describe how this game looks. It's dark, ominous and mysterious and plays host to some of the most punishing and devastating enemies you'll ever face in just about any other game; so gorgeous isn't quite an accurate descriptor. That being said, it does look fantastic and really plays a big part in keeping you enthralled in what's going on around you.

Returnal is the first game that really takes advantage of the DualSense controller and all of its new features. The haptic feedback allows you to really feel something like weather; raindrops are pulsated through your hands in a very real and accurate way. This gives you a 6th sense and really immerses you into what is truly a very daunting experience. Another way in which the game takes advantage of the Dualsense, is through the adaptive triggers. The left trigger has 2 levels of resistance, a half pull on the trigger enables normal firing mode and with a full press, you can fire your weapons special firing mode. This includes a whole range of special firing modes and ammo types that have different effects on the game's huge range of different enemies.

I'm not usually one for these roguelike games, I prefer games that don't cause me to want and pull my hair out or throw my controller at my expensive TV, however, Returnal is different. It has opened my eyes to a whole new world of punishing gameplay. Managing to be extremely frustrating and yet somehow enjoyable and moments of sheer jubilation. When you manage to take down one of the game's bosses you get a real sense of achievement. I'm not going to pretend this was something I managed to do quickly. There was a lot of hair pulling happening before I ever really had a good run, but when I did, WOW! You honestly would have thought my football team had won a grand final the way I celebrated. That is a moment, and a feeling I don't know I’ve ever really experienced before in a video game and it's the reason I'm somewhat hooked on Returnal.

Whenever you die, and trust me you will A LOT, you start again from the beginning; losing all weapons, power-ups and progress in the meantime. There are some permanent upgrades that you do get to keep, I won't go into too much detail to avoid any potential spoilers, but things like weapon traits that you unlock as you go, are kept for later playthroughs. It's for this reason that I recommend only sitting down if you can dedicate a considerable amount of time into your session. Each time you start from scratch your playthrough will be very different, largely due to the fact that the map is randomly generated on each try. This means that while each area will be the same, with quite often the same enemies, they will be placed in a different layout and have different secrets to unlock in each.

Returnal gives players a lot to learn and that learning curve is one of the steepest I've ever experienced. The story is sort of drip fed to you as you go, meaning the more you explore, the more you'll learn about the story. That quite frankly is another one of the reasons I enjoyed Returnal over some other roguelike titles. Again, I won't go into any real detail about the story, but basically the game starts with you watching a cutscene of a spaceship crashing into an alien world, it is here that we are introduced to our main character Selene. Selene is an Astra Scout and it was her space ship, 'the Helios' that crash lands. It's then that we take control of Selene in this mysterious world of unknown. One of the first things we see is a corpse, this corpse is dressed in the same uniform as Selene and is our first of many twists in the Returnal plot. This corpse isn't just dressed like Selene, but is in fact Selene herself, which raises more questions than it provides answers for.

My biggest and to be honest only gripe with the game, is the lack of a save feature. As a new dad, I struggled to sit and dedicate too much time to it in one sitting, so a save function would have been nice so I could come back and revisit my current run through another time. It is possible to simply put your PS5 into rest mode to continue your run through next time you get a chance, however when I did this the first time, I had put about 90 minutes into my current run and putting the PS5 into rest mode automatically updated my game. This of course then required a restart, meaning my progress was gone. This was a sad, sad day in my household. I understand that not everyone is not in my current position and the lack of save function was almost definitely added to increase that level of difficulty just that little bit more.

Another area in which Housemarque have done a fantastic job is in the audio design. Combining a good set of noise cancelling headphones such as the JBL Quantum 800 with those Dualsense features, I was truly immersed into this world in a way I don't think I ever have been before. Being able to hear the rain falling all around you and feeling the sensation of rain through your controller blew me away. It's just one of the ways that Returnal gave me a glimpse of just what the PS5 and next gen consoles in general are capable of.

Returnal is fantastic, it's punishing, it's dark and most importantly it still manages to be enjoyable. It's highly addictive cycle of fast paced shooter mechanics (somewhat reminiscent of Doom Eternal) combined with the sense of foreboding throughout will have you hooked from the moment you step out of the Helios until you put it down. A save feature would have been nice to allow you to pick up where you left off, but I somewhat understand why they didn't include this. Not only is Returnal a great game, but it's a great advertisement for next gen consoles and particularly the power of the PS5 and it's Dualsense controller. It's a must have for anyone looking for a challenging PS5 experience, and will be a consideration for our PlayStation Exclusive of 2021 award later in the year


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