- Story And Setting
- Visuals And Performance
Now that Returnal is out in all its glory for the PC, a plethora of new players can experience this masterpiece, albeit with some minor hiccups along the way.
- Developers: Housemarque and Climax Studios
- Publishers: Sony Interactive Entertainment
- Release Date: April 30, 2021
- Platforms: PlayStation 5 and PC
- Tested On: PC with RTX 3060TI
- Rich Lore And Atmosphere
- Dynamic Gameplay Elements
- The Excellently Crafted Gunplay
- Immersive Audio And Imposing OST
- Jaw-Dropping Visuals And Fidelity
- Slightly Convoluted Narrative
- Minor Performance Issues And Bugs
The Roguelike format has had a cult following since the dawn of the genre, but as of late, more and more gamers are starting to realize its appeal. So with our Returnal Review, we will discuss everything that you need to know about this incredibly overlooked title, which has finally made its way to PC via Steam and Epic Games.
Housemarque’s fresh new IP after Resogun certainly landed on my list of all-time favorites, and I had the pleasure of replaying the game on PC from start to finish again after grabbing the Platinum Trophy on the PS5. As I fan of games like these, I reveled in the chance to jump back into this phenomenal title.
But if you’re someone who’s new to the genre, it’s understandable why you might be hesitant to approach it. So with our review, I intend to convince you all to give Returnal a fair shot.
Story And Setting
Returnal’s storytelling can certainly be a hit-or-miss because although it is shrouded in a convoluted mystery that requires you to self-interpret a few things, the fact remains that it can be extremely intriguing to say the least.
Moreover, the complex layers of this mystery on top of the entire cosmic horror theme of the game are sure to leave you with more questions than answers.
The intro starts off by giving us a glimpse of a ship engulfed in flames. Inside it, we are introduced to our protagonist, Selene, who crash lands on an unknown planet which we soon learn is called Atropos. Hoping to learn more about what caused her to crash her,e and how to escape, she tries to get in contact with her employers at Astra, and receives no response in return.
So Selene sets off to find a way to escape the planet and soon comes to the realization that it is unlike anything she has ever seen, as she regains consciousness after experiencing death for the first time. We learn that Atropos has a continuously interchanging atmosphere, with different biomes that may just be meant to trap us in a never-ending cycle of death, what with the various abominations that inhabit it.
As you explore the planet, players will come across several collectibles, such as the scout logs, which are essentially audio messages left behind by Selene in her previous life cycles on the planet, giving us more and more clues on what’s to expect as we journey across this malicious world.
Additionally, various alien writing can be found scattered around each biome, and these add more context to the story. As you progress through the game and unlock more translation tiers, more of this text becomes readable to you, and more lore is also revealed.
However, the question still remains; Is the storytelling any good? Well, that can undoubtedly be a complicated question to answer, even for someone like me who has spent dozens of hours in the game, as many plot threads are left extremely open to interpretation.
Personally, Returnal’s storytelling is one that makes you ask questions but doesn’t give you many answers. To this day, there are countless theories by fans across forums and other social platforms where they present their own wild takes about the story, some of which are completely off the rails.
At the same time, some actually make sense in correlation with the game’s lore. Whatever the case may be, I strongly encourage you to explore every part of Selene’s journey, whether it’s the house events or even tackling the secret ending for a clearer conclusion to the game.
While Returnal’s gameplay might seem reminiscent of the likes of other roguelikes like Risk Of Rain, what the former does differently here is combine the traditional “Bullet Hell” style of gameplay with a robust and grounded third-person shooter. This, of course, is filled with a unique variety of arsenal, tools, and other abilities which help make it stand out on its own amongst others in the genre.
There are six different Biomes in the game, each one drastically different than the previous one. To help ease the pacing of the game, it breaks them down into two halves, meaning players will explore and complete the first 3 biomes first, and only then will they get access to the next three in the second half.
The general flow of combat revolves around navigating each of these biomes, clearing various rooms that house hordes of enemies or mini-bosses waiting to take you down aggressively.
There are over ten different weapons that players can use to take down enemies, which gradually unlock as you progress throughout the game. Each of these is uniquely crafted in the sense that they can offer largely different playstyles.
Weapons like the Thermogenic Launcher and the Hollowseeker play well at long distances. Meanwhile, the Dreadbound is totally special in its own right as it fires 3-4 projectiles that then travel back to the gun, making it highly effective at close-range combat like a shotgun.
As you explore each of the biomes, you will unlock new permanent equipment for Selene, which will allow you to access restricted areas, such as being able to breathe underwater freely or the ability to use a grappling hook, which becomes an essential tool to use for survivability in certain sections of the game.
Aside from that, expect the traditional roguelike flow of progression, as you can grab several items and traits along the way to boost your weapon damage, increase Selene’s total HP, as well as upgrade her defense or attack parameters.
But it is worth stating that a few of these unique items, more specifically the Parasites, will tend to offer a risk-reward balance to using them, as they use RNG to either grant buffs or debuffs as you pick them up in the world.
The boss fights of the game are easily a highlight of mine, and I’m sure many other players will feel the same way. They leave almost no breathing room whatsoever and keep you on edge as you try to overcome them in battles where a single slip-up can mean death. But once you finally defeat them for the first time, the intense dopamine rush through your body is easily an indication that the game doesn’t pull any punches in rewarding you for your efforts.
Lastly, it is also worth discussing the Tower of Sisyphus, an endless horde mode tower for Returnal, which was released as a free update for the game on PS5. It is the ultimate challenge for any experienced player, and for someone who absolutely adores the mechanically perfect gameplay, we strongly suggest tackling it once you’re done with the main game.
It has a dedicated scoring system that incentivizes fast completion of each floor, making your total score that much more prone to stand out in the leaderboards. Unfortunately, it only has a single boss; Argos, who will only become stronger and stronger with extra HP bars, There is also the inclusion of a subtle story here that can flesh out more of Selene’s past.
Visuals And Performance
Right from the get-go, you will be amazed by the depth of visual flair that went into the production of the game. Each of the environments in the Biomes is incredibly detailed, with a unique sense of art direction in every one of them. Whether it’s your first glance at the peak of the summit in the Crimson Wastes, or the rural architecture in the Derelict Citadel, there’s not a single moment that won’t cease to impress you.
The game is a defining example of the Bullet Hell aspect, as enemies and bosses will bombard you with several different kinds of neon projectile attacks, which, despite the chaos, you can’t help but visually admire. It truly becomes a spectacle once you reach the climax of each boss fight, and your screen is just filled with this unique presentation of colors via the incoming attacks.
Now we will touch base on the performance of Returnal. I’m happy to report that the game ran smoothly on my RTX 3060Ti at High settings, and this was without me enabling Nvidia DLSS, which of course, helped with performance a lot more when I did enable it. The issue so far is that despite compiling shaders in the initial bootup, the game tends to stutter a majority of the time, thus also causing FPS drops too.
There are also other problems here, such as the Dualsense controller not working, as well as the Steam Deck failing to optimize the game properly. It is worth noting that these issues might not last too long and can be easily fixed in a patch or two later down the road.
Lastly, it pains me that the game forces you to install Epic Games on the startup sequence (despite playing it on Steam), another annoyance that I hope gets resolved later down the line.
I vividly remember seeing a few debates prior to Returnal’s release on the PS5 about whether it would become a success due to the roguelike genre being an acquired taste, especially on console. Thankfully that didn’t prove to be of any problem whatsoever, as despite the slight controversy of not having any auto-save or checkpoints in the game, players of all calibers flocked to try it out, as it became one of the most talked about titles of 2021.
The game combines a dreaded cosmic horror atmosphere alongside a masterfully implemented combat system that can engage almost any type of player. The boss fights are insanely spectacular with how they project their neon attack patterns, and how players will be pushed to the edge of their seats to take them down in each consecutive run.
Housemarque is a developer that deserves so much praise for this game, as they strived to provide an unparalleled experience no gamer has seen before. Now that the title is out in all its glory for the PC, a plethora of new players can experience this masterpiece, albeit with some minor hiccups along the way.
This has been our Returnal Review. While you’re here, consider checking out some of our other articles.
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