The PlayStation 5 may have been on the market for almost six months, but games that showcase its capabilities are still scarce. With Returnal, the Finnish studio Housemarque offers a rogue-like atmospheric which arises in superb showcase for the new console from Sony.
Returnal tells the story of scout astronaut Selene Vassos. After crashing into a mysterious planet named Atropos, Selene very quickly discovers that she is in an unsettling mess: she’s stuck in an endless loop that, every time she dies, brings her back to the scene of the world. crush to start all over again. Each new life brings the player to explore to learn a little more about Atropos and Selene, as well as the mechanics of the game, always in the hope of advancing a little further.
Yes Returnal It is initially presented as a third person shooter, it is in fact a mixture of several genres. Its premise structured in loops comes to contextualize in a skilful way its side rogue-like. In the purest tradition of the genre, each “loop” (run) is different. Atropos is made up of six biomes which are themselves divided into “rooms”, much like dungeons, whose composition varies with each new life. This means that a piece that was present in a previous life may not be present in the future. The enemies in these rooms also change and become more hostile over turns.
This procedural generation of environments and opponents ensures that the challenge is constantly renewed, preventing the game from becoming too predictable. Switching from one biome to another is done after defeating a boss. We also recognize “metroid” elements, such as the unavoidable obstacles that block certain sections as long as the player does not have in his possession the right item or the necessary ability to pass through.
Important fact to note: Returnal is a very difficult game, to the point where the experience can be overwhelming at times. One bad decision can, in a matter of seconds, waste hours of progress by bringing us back to square one. The player must accept to learn from his mistakes and adapt his strategies for the following turns. There is no option to change the difficulty level. In any case, an “easy” mode would make no sense, it would kill the very interest in playing it. Genre rogue-like relies on the player’s ability to overcome his many failures until final victory. Death, intentionally recurring, is part of the experience and, here, it even drives the plot.
Each death is useful, as it gradually reveals elements of the story, like pieces of a large puzzle to be reconstructed in order to understand the situation.
One of the key aspects of rogue-likes – we think in particular of Hades – is that they provide this stubborn desire to continue playing, if only “just one more turn”. This is where the shoe pinches for Returnal, which cannot reproduce this dynamic for the simple reason that a tour – a life – can last several hours, which requires a huge investment of time and energy. Additionally, there is no official way to save a game in the middle of a turn. Housemarque proposes – for the moment – to put his PS5 in “rest mode” when it is time to stop playing. A “solution” that many have received like a slap in the face.
That said, the great strength of Returnal is its atmospheric shooter side. Its nightmarish atmosphere, which arouses a constant feeling of fear, captivates and arouses wonder.
Atropos’ sets are rendered with a remarkable level of detail. The clashes with the creatures that inhabit it become intoxicating choreographies in the midst of games of light and almost hypnotic colors. What sets it apart even more, a good exclusive to the PS5, is its sound design and the use it makes of the new DualSense controller. 3D sound allows enemies to be detected and positioned by the disturbing noises they make, which is very useful when there is a lot of action on the screen, as well as adding to the tension.
But it was the haptic feedback from the DualSense controller that impressed us the most. Its subtle vibrations allow us to feel the world around us, like the crackle of raindrops, in the palms of our hands. A tactile dimension whose positive effect on immersion is undeniable. All these elements ensure that the exploration of the world of Returnal is a sheer delight and makes Housemarque’s game the best showcase for Sony’s new console to date.