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Returnal – Review

Returnal is a third-person shooter developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Returnal, in my opinion, is the first real Playstation 5 first-party release. Yes, there have been others but none were a full story-driven game, more so just a bit of fun to gear us up for the real releases. Now don’t get me wrong games like Valhalla and Miles Morales were great but Returnal is pure PS5 only, using all of the PS5 functions.

The Story follows an Astra scout, Selene, who crash lands her ship Helios on a planet called Atropos, where after a short time exploring this strange planet searching for the “White Signal” Selene encounters a creature and in a short inevitably doomed fight, you are killed. Instead of being The End, you get memory flashes of some strange tentacles, the crash, and finally, you reawaken by your ship. This is where the true story begins again and again and probably again.

A compelling story with multiple endings that feels incomplete in a way, Returnal makes you interpret the stories ending with different people having vastly different opinions on it and no clear straightforward ‘this is what its means’ ending. This leaves you unsatiated and satisfied at the same time.

This is a tough game; not only is it challenging, but it can also be soul-shattering in that when you die and awaken again everything you did and collect previously is like it never happened. This sounds like it can be a turn-off but surprisingly it wasn’t. Every time you start again the areas change and shift creating a new experience. Luckily, story items stay with you, items, relics, and weapons you discover, and you remember and keep the information collected. Depending on how many times you die, though the stages seem less and less new, which can make it start to feel like a grind.

The gameplay is really enjoyable, from your jetpack boosted jumps and dashes, to the unique gunplay. By unique I mean it uses the new controls adaptive trigger functions to its fullest, using the standard L2 as the aim but only holding it halfway to aim then pushing past the triggers back pressure to hold it down fully to use the gun’s special fire mode. This took a short time to get used to but once I did though, man I want this used in other shooters it makes things so much easier and frees up other buttons for other uses. The haptic feedback lets you feel what’s going on around you from the feel of your footsteps to the vibrations from enemies and environments. This must be one of the best uses of the new functions I have seen so far, making easy and fluent controls to make one less thing to worry about while trying to survive.

The action in this can be quite fast-paced however it is the damage you take that is challenging. If you get cornered or place yourself in harm’s way you can easily find yourself starting over. This is especially true in certain areas where you get locked into the area and waves of monsters’ spawn. I quickly found out that in the beginning stages of the game you only carry one item but you can have multiples of that one item. Another big thing is you can only have one weapon at the start; a choice of a pistol, a shotgun, or an assault carbine. Some items known as ‘Artifacts’ are obtained and give you buffs which you can absorb as many as you can find.

There are also Parasites. Parasites give you a buff of sorts but can also be a hindrance if you have it attached. The only way to get rid of them is a machine you find later, with other certain items, or dying. You collect orbs from enemies as well as from ore you find laying around or by using keys that open doors and chests. Again, some items are corrupted and if you take the risk it will cause your suit to malfunction. These malfunctions come with a de-buff until a certain requirement is fulfilled. The last things to look out for are log entries from previous versions of you, collectibles, and Ethers that you use to dispel corruption from chests and ore and are used in certain machines.

The look of the game was a little hit and miss for me, most of the time it was stunning from the different biomes environments to the spectacular monster roaming them. Then I would catch a reflection of myself that just looked terrible or I would see random plants that have been rendered into the air or sticking out of walls and structures. This was a frequent occurrence that made the game hard to look at but was noticeable. Something very impressive is the atmosphere of this game. The music is great and intense like it should be but what takes the cake is the environmental sounds. These include the sounds of your footsteps shifting sand, swaying branches, and the growls of monsters to name a few. It really makes you feel like you are encircled by the game like you are in it, and helps you get lost in the game.

I only had one major issue with the title. Hours of grinding, beating the first boss, progressing to a new biome, finding a new particularly good weapon, and having great items and artifacts… boom error with the application, the game closes. Now, I know what you are saying, the autosave has got you and you will not go back too far. Nope. The only thing that saves is information you gather and story items meaning when you die and wake up you lose all your items, artifacts, and weapon. This goes for the game as well if the game closes for any reason that is a restart, so if you play this game, it is the only game you can play unless you die in-game because you restarted anyway. If not and you want to keep your gear no other game can be played and you must put the PS5 in rest mode only. Unfortunately, for me because of this error, I lost everything, it… was …shattering. If it had been monsters that is fine that’s part of the game but because it was not meant to happen, it was very annoying.

Aside from that one incident, Returnal is amazing and if this is the kind of game we will be seeing from now on with the first-party releases, I am excited for the future of PlayStation and the games to come. I highly recommend those who have a PS5 to get this game as well as those still waiting, I truly hope you can get a PS5 soon and play.

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The Good

  • Enjoyable gameplay
  • Immersive landscape and sounds.
  • Great designs of creatures and the ancient alien civilization.
  • Thrilling risk/reward character building.
  • Fast-paced combat with awesome weapon variety.

The Bad

  • Minor rendering issues.
  • Need a backup in case something out of your control shuts down the game.

Written by: Adam Brasher


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