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Returnal
Game Reviews

Returnal

Live, die, live again and again in one of the first must-have PlayStation 5 exclusives.

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You know how there’s new next-gen consoles available? They do exist, we promise! You probably just don’t have one. That’s unfortunate, especially when it comes to the PlayStation 5, which is definitely establishing itself as a high-quality machine that’s worth checking out when it’s possible to do so. If you didn’t buy one for Dark Souls, you might want to think about it for Returnal, the latest hardcore shooter from gun-blasting artisans Housemarque of Nex Machina fame.

While searching for a mysterious signal known as White Shadow, space scout Selene crashes and burns on the planet Atropos. She goes out to explore and find the signal, but suffice to say she doesn’t make it…but then it happens again. And again. And again. Death is no way out of Atropos, and Selene’s going to hope that she learns enough between the cycles of death and rebirth to complete her mission. Hopefully it’ll be enough to save her. If not, well, she’s not going anywhere…plus it seems like Atropos has a few personal twists waiting for her.

Selene’s got a few tools to help keep herself alive between cycles, though it’s hard to say if they’re enough. You’ll start each run with a basic pistol, but more exotic and powerful weapons are readily available throughout Atropos. These range from shotguns to assault rifles to stranger tools like an energy-web launcher and a boomerang gun whose bullets have to impact a target before returning to the chamber.

Weapons have infinite ammunition but most need to be reloaded between magazines, with an active reload mechanic allowing you to quickly slam a new mag in if you’ve got good timing. They’ve also got several unlockable variations and numerous alt-fire options like seeking bullets and energy beams.

There’s also suit upgrades, consumable items, and the double-edged buff and debuff combo offered by parasites. Aside from the odd store here and there, your options tend to come down to whether or not you want to use the stuff you find – some of it is Malignant and can damage your suit, offering performance decreases that can only be removed by completing mini-challenges. Learning to make do with what you find is central to doing well in Returnal.

Of course, you probably won’t be doing well immediately. If you’ve ever played a Housemarque game before you probably don’t need to be told this, but newcomers beware: Returnal is no joke.  You can’t take many hits, healing and health-boosting items are rare at best and you’re swarmed by nasty hordes of enemies in most battles. Especially early on, you can expect Selene’s adventure to be a struggle. That’s kind of the point, though, and by continuing to die you’ll learn more and become better able to manage combat and exploration without getting murdered.

This is a pretty great way of integrating the classic Roguelike and Souls-style “meta-knowledge” concept into a game and it works well in making the experience feel cohesive.

As one of the heavy-hitting exclusives for the still-fresh PS5, it’s no surprise that Returnal looks, sounds and plays like a dream. This is, in particular, one of the highest-quality examples of the haptic feedback mechanism in the PS5 controller that we’ve seen in quite some time. Raindrops pitter-patter against the controller, guns use a two-stage aiming feature to swap between primary and alternate fire shots…it’s probably the aspect of the PS5 experience that best exemplifies what it means to play a next-gen game.

Naturally, the graphics and sound are top notch as well and the PS5’s super-speedy SSD means that load times are basically nonexistent. From a presentation standpoint Returnal is visually spectacular, which is befitting a marquee game for the console.

It’s also top notch from pretty much every other standpoint as well. Players need to come in with the right frame of mind here; Returnal is mean and it’s not inclined to go easy on you. Still, it’s also very rewarding, offering a unique gameplay experience and intriguing plot if you’re willing to stick with it. Really, the only issue with Returnal at the moment is the continued difficulty of finding a PS5, but if you’ve got one then this game is a must-have.

About the Author: Cory Galliher