Returnal Review – A Good Start For Next Gen Console Games
Designed for extreme replayability, the procedural world of Returnal invites you to dust yourself off in the face of defeat and take on new, evolving challenges with every rebirth.
RM299 / USD $69.99 (Standard Edition)
RM339 / USD $79.99 (Digital Deluxe Edition)
+ Visually appealing, especially for a next gen game
+ Highly replayable
+ Beginner-friendly but doesn't cut down on challenges
+ Packed with plenty of hours worth of gameplay
+ The storyline will keep you hooked after clearing the first biome
+ Has an online challenge mode with a leaderboard for challenge-seekers
+ Game works great already even without the Day 1 Patch
- Needs a bigger variety of weapons
- Melee combat could be further fleshed out
- Co-op multiplayer would make the game more enjoyable
- Takes a bit of time to get invested in the game
What is Returnal About?
Developed by Housemarque, Returnal is a 3rd person psychological horror game with a futuristic sci-fi setting. Players take on the role of Selene, a space pilot geared up with high-tech equipment and weaponry. She crash landed in an alien planet known as Atropos and finds herself all alone in this barren land.
With no choice in the matter, Selene has to venture through the remnants of an ancient civilization and fight against hordes of aliens in order to find a way to escape. It’s not an easy task as she gets killed in the process time after time again but for some odd reason, she wakes up again in her ship with a strong sense of déjà vu.
She is stuck in an endless timeloop but interestingly, the environment also changes with every cycle. The items and the enemies she come across are also different, giving players a fresh new experience every time while also forcing them push their boundaries with new strategies as they approach the game once more. Can she find a way to escape this nightmare?
Lock and Load, Rinse and Repeat, It’s That Simple
If you didn’t get the idea yet by now, Returnal is essentially a bullet hell with Roguelike elements, making sure that every playthrough is different. Well, technically that’s only mostly true as the game needs to have some areas that are set in order to provide a proper game balance and story-telling experience.
Every time you revive, you will start out at your ship, that much is true. However, the further you progress into the game, the more upgrades / equipment you’ll have permanently. For instance, collecting Datacubes can yield permanent new items for you to use if you manage to process it before you die. Furthermore, the game does provide you some options to essentially let you return to the point you died in the previous run, such as translocators to teleport you to specific locations. In other words, the game isn’t as unforgiving as you might think.
So what do you do in Returnal? Simply put, you just have to run and gun your way through hordes of alien creatures, scan for artifacts / points of interests, progress through the story, and collect items along the way. There are also optional areas which you can explore, which can yield items, equipment, upgrades, and more.
There is a catch however as some of them may be Malignant and can cause a malfunction, which is a random negative status effect. To overcome it, you have two choices; cleanse it with Ether or tank it and complete the objective to remove it. The objectives are usually simple, such as collecting Obolites and using a consumable item so I would just go for it and save my Ethers. However, it’s worth noting that having three malfunctions simultaneously is fatal, so there are limits to it.
Looking for another game to play on the PS5? Check out our review of Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales by clicking right here.
Run and Gun
When it comes to fights, you will start off with a simple handgun called the Sidearm SD-M8. This gun has a decent balance between damage and firing rate as it can shoot as fast as you tap R2. Shortly after, you’ll come across the Tachyomatic Carbine, an assault rifle that does less damage than the handgun but can fire a lot more bullets at a higher rate.
Next up is the Spitmaw Blaster, which is the shotgun for the game. It can deal an insane amount of damage but the only downside here is that the range is lacking. While the weapons are generally more than adequate, I wished that the game had a bigger variety of them, but perhaps it’s something they would add in a future update, hopefully for free.
As you go through the game, you’ll find a variety of these weapons with different parameters so you will have be switching out often enough. Another important point is the alternate fire, which is a powerful attack that can only be used occasionally as it takes time to charge. Depending on the equipment, this could be as simple as firing a large bolt of electricity to a grenade launcher.
As I suspected in my first impressions, holding down ADS (L2 button) all the way could have a specific function due to the adaptive trigger locking it halfway, and it was a nice touch when you finally unlock it.
At this point, you may be wondering if guns are the only way to go about in combat. As it turns out, you will come across an Atropian Blade at some point in your journey, and it certainly reminds me of a lightsaber from Star Wars given the flashy light as you slash. Its function is to destroy energy barriers, cut down vines, and provide a measure of crowd-control / keeping distance from enemies. There isn’t much to it unfortunately, but it’s still satisfying to have especially to nail down enemies for the last hit.
When I first started out in the game, I wasn’t too sure where the story would lead me as I was completely clueless. There are bits and pieces of it you can catch as you play through the game, such as artifact descriptions and voice clips but it didn’t feel enough. It wasn’t until you see the first “House” that the story takes a big turn and catches your interest. Without spoiling it, it gives you a much deeper context of what’s going on in a very eerie, unsettling manner. The more you find these things, the more you’ll find out, and it’s worth the dive.
Personally, I believe that the game is rather beginner-friendly for a few reasons; there is a tutorial section that can guide and remind you of every single element in the game, it starts out easy and slowly ramps up in difficulty as you go through the game, and dying doesn’t feel like you’re being punished, at least not severely.
Returnal is a single player game. However, there are things you can do that will make you feel like a part of a community, and that’s with the Daily Challenge terminal, which is unlocked after completing the first biome. This allows you to compete with other gamers in a score attack and be placed in a leaderboard.
While it does at least provide you with an alternative to just playing the game directly, I would have personally preferred to have a multiplayer co-op experience instead. Given how the game works, it would be more entertaining to play with friends and it will certainly keep gamers hooked on to it for far longer.
It’s worth noting that when you reach the end credits scene, the game doesn’t end there. There is actually plenty more to discover if you take the time to explore even further, with more insights into the story and discover new secrets. Couple that with the roguelike elements, it certainly enhances replayability to a very high degree, which I’m honestly amazed by.
As I played an early copy of Returnal, the game will not be as polished as the final retail version, at least until the Day 1 patch is out. However, the game is plenty polished as is and it works great already with the exception of a few odd enemy AI behaviour.
The graphics is amazing, it’s very highly replayable, it’s beginner-friendly but doesn’t skimp out on challenges, packed with quite a bit of content (although not to the standard of a typical JRPG), randomly-generated areas make it less likely to get stale, and the storyline will certainly keep you hooked when you reach your first major milestone.
My only complaints is that the game should have a wider variety of weapons, melee combat could be further fleshed out, it’s missing a much-needed multiplayer co-op experience, and that it will take a bit of time before you can get truly invested in the game. Regardless, it’s still a solid game if you’re looking to only play solo, and it’s definitely worthy of a next generation console game, especially given how fast and seamless the game loads. At the end of our Returnal review, I award this game with our Silver Pokdeward.
Big thanks to PlayStation Asia for sending us an early copy for the purposes of this review.