In the unrelentingly challenging Returnal, Housemarque‘s immersive PlayStation 5 roguelike exclusive, astronaut Selene Vassos crash lands her single-pilot ship on a mysterious planet called Atropos. There she encounters the remains of her own corpse and swiftly dies after she is attacked by a hostile tentacled space creature. Time resets and Selene wakes up at the crash site again. She is destined to repeat the same journey again.
And so begins an endless loop of death and resurrection in this absorbing and cryptic bullet-hell science-fiction nightmare.
What is this strange world? Why are there corpses of Selene scattered across this alien planet? And why does time keep resetting itself? These are some of the many questions you are forced to ask as you explore the surroundings.
Granted, this might not be a great time for a game about being stuck in a loop, especially since the pandemic has most people feeling that way already. However, Returnal does an amazing job of making each death and playthrough feel unique and special. Even after dying multiple times (which means losing everything you’ve accumulated), going out and exploring the planet feels like a breath of fresh air.
In fact, of all the PlayStation 5 exclusives released so far, Returnal definitely feels like the first game to really full make use of the console’s capabilities – especially when it comes to the DualSense controller.
The game comes alive through the haptic feedback. You feel the weather elements. You feel blasts from your weapons. You feel each step on the terrain. The tiny thuds and rumbles from the controller make the game incredibly immersive.
As expected, it’s also lightning fast. There are no loading times whatsoever.
While the idea of playing a continuous loop might sound annoying to some, the good news is that the maps keep changing – meaning you cannot memorise and repeat your previous gameplay each time. This, along with the large variety of enemies, helps keep the live-die-repeat idea of the title interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be really frustrating too. Returnal can be brutal, especially when you consider that it might be around 5 to 6 hours until you get to the only continue point in the game. What’s worse is that if you switch off your console or die before that, you have to restart the entire thing from over again…
But if that doesn’t deter you (and you have the time and patience for it), it’s a beautiful game. With the amazing surroundings, the fast and frantic gameplay, the glorious graphics, the eerie music and the dazzling sound design, everything is top-notch.
Returnal is sublime when you remember to forget about trying to complete the game. Just sit back and enjoy the moment.
This feels like the first true PS5 exclusive. Returnal makes good use of the PlayStation's power to deliver a gripping story and amazing gameplay. Recommended!