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Returnal Review

Returnal Review

Returnal has finally arrived and is the first major first party release that is exclusive for the PS5. Owners of the PS4 or PS4 Pro will have to sit out of this challenging rogue-like game until they manage to snag on of the elusive PS5 consoles. While harnessing the haptic controls and features of the PS5 controller it also offers some unique interpretations of what a rogue style game can be. If you’re unfamiliar, a rogue-lite or rogue-like game is one where death comes with strong consequences. In some games, it merely means a harsh reset while much of what you’ve earned stays with you, and in others, it’s an honest to goodness “go back and start over”. The game genre dynamic has both fans and haters given the punishing nature and how it harkens back to a time where old games got their longevity out from punishing you in brutal ways, creating replay value purely from punishment. As someone who typically finds myself quickly walking away from any rogue style game, Returnal got its hooks in me from very early one. Let’s examine why.

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The Combat

The combat in Returnal is so central to the quality of the game that you are either going to love it and it clicks, or you’ll not mesh with it and quickly want to put the game down. I would strongly encourage players to think less like a traditional boots on the ground 3rd person shooter, and more like a 3-dimensional bullet hell game.

Variety in weaponry, environments, and enemies will remind some players of the pacing and rhythm of Doom, while offering a fresh take on what 3rd person combat can feel like. The first boss fight is built so well that even losing was enjoyable.

My experiences with rogue games are usually “Yeah the content loop is great, but dying keeps me from feeling any hook”. Returnal’s combat is the perfect blend of old school bullet hell games and new school sci-fi third person shooters that I couldn’t put it down. When combined with the haptic feedback and function of the PS5 controller, even the speaker adds to the immersion and fun.

The Story

One of the pleasant surprises for me in Returnal was the level of story telling, lore, and depth to the writing. I was enjoying just reading the item and enemy descriptions, but the cryptic way they slowly reveal elements of the story is superb.

Even with the “reset on death” mechanic, you feel tied to the main character and story as you piece together more and more of what might be going on and what may have lead to everything currently happening on the planet.

I never expected to get invested in the story or narrative of a rogue game because they are usually so punishing that I don’t get invested. Returnal’s method of story telling is original, unique, and beautifully dark and mysterious. I already have some theories about what is going on, and look forward to learning more.

Graphics and Progression

The graphical style of the game is obviously a huge selling point given it’s similarities to movies like Aliens or Prometheus. But the visual quality of this game is insanely high. Not since Ghost of Tsushima on my PS5 have I thought “This holds its own with PC gaming”.

On the topic of progression… some of the systems are “Try it and see what happens” which may rub some players the wrong way. You don’t know if you should invest Ether, a valuable and somewhat scarce currency, or save it for something later. This might leave some feeling a lack of progression sense given so much centers around it.

The daily challenges, however, are a great way to keep things fresh and the Ether flowing. After a rough or frustrating run, it might be a good idea to take a crack at the daily challenge as it creates a fun high score mechanic with modifiers and for my first one, a pretty fun weapon.

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