After being an exclusive title for the PS5, the award-winning third-person shooter is finally available on Steam and has already captivated and frustrated a dozen players. In our Returnal Review, we looked closer at the new hardcore title on PC.
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Returnal was released in the spring of 2021 as an exclusive title for the PS5. Since February 15, 2023, the game is now also been playable on Steam. Since the Returnal release date, huge waves of (feverish) excitement have been unleashed. When you play this game, you go through hell, but the title rewards you for your high commitment.
Returnal offers a deep and well-thought-out roguelike storyline
The developers at Housemarque have combined an exciting story with a genre in which the narrative level doesn’t have it easy. Returnal tells the story of Selene, who, after crash-landing on an alien planet (Atropos), resolutely pursues the origin of a strange, mysterious signal.
In the process, we go through the same scenarios repeatedly, although in different variations. Here and there, we find logs from previous selves, slowly but surely introducing us to the nature of Returnal. Considering the games, Housmarque has released so far, a remarkable next achievement.
Ask every PS5 veteran: It’s fast and merciless but also very rewarding
Besides the surreal and scary story, the game features the bullet-hell action we’re used to from previous games like Nex Machina or Resogun. Returnal comes with crisp gunplay, requiring total concentration and reaction skills. However, this time we play in the third-person perspective. The title features the familiar elements of a typical roguelike: enemies that fire a wall of bullets and countless laser beams, and we must get through them skillfully. And, of course, there is the directional jump-dash again, which gives us damage immunity for a short time.
The enemies in this game are highly varied, and their behavior is always slightly different with each run, making Returnal a challenging and even more unique experience. Studying the enemies’ behavior and movement patterns makes sense because, in this roguelike, it pays not to get hit. We will look at this aspect more closely during our Returnal Review.
A cool feature in the game is the adrenaline meter. It increases with every three enemies defeated and can stack up to five levels. However, as soon as we get hit, all the levels disappear. Besides, we can increase our total health capacity by collecting health items at maximum life. Even though the game is tough, it rewards us for good and intelligent gameplay.
A clever weapon system provides variety
We can fire up to 10 different types of weapons. However, while many have standard features, some are exceptionally innovatively designed. For example, there is a weapon with which we can shoot pylons into the ground, creating red flashes between them. Or guns that we don’t have to reload but can only fire under certain conditions.
However, the most notable weapon feature, which should not be missed in our Returnal Review, is that the ten weapons spawn each time with one of nine weapon-specific properties randomly. This also affects how the gun is used each time. Thus, we can get a shotgun that emits acid clouds or a pump gun that becomes a powerful long-range precision rifle. And there are many more possibilities, which will always make our runs unique.
Risk and thrill are your constant companions
The game always holds risks, no matter how well-considered our decisions are. For example, we open chests or collect life points that have a malignant effect on us, like paralysis. These must be resolved with certain conditions, such as killing several enemies. Parasites can also have debilitating effects on you. To remove them, you need rare items, such as a Parasite Extractor or through using an Extermination Sphere. Fortunately, some parasites can also give you a boost.
It can pay to take a risk. A malicious chest can contain a mighty weapon. But often, the opposite is true, and we only find something weak inside. A point where some work should be done on balancing the game, but with future updates and listening to player criticism, this doesn’t seem out of the question. Returnal is also always about making the best of your misery. It constantly forces you to improvise. Always change your weapons and adapt your strategy depending on the upgrade you get and whether you invest or prefer to save currency. This constant evaluation is one of the essential aspects of Roguelikes, which Returnal delivers par excellence.
Returnal is pretty time-consuming
On the other hand, what distinguishes the game from other roguelikes is the far-too-long duration of a run. We miss the feeling of “just one more run”. Our average time spent on a complete run was around the two-hour mark. A time span that is very exhausting in a game where we can’t save our progress at any time we want. However, the beautiful procedurally generated levels always amaze us, compensate for the long gameplay and give us new courage to want to reach the goal again.
Coop increases your chances of survival
If the game is too tough for you to master on your own, there is a solution with online Coop. So grab a friend and run through the surreal labyrinths together. Teamplay gives you completely new ways to survive and adds a fresh strategic dimension to the gameplay. Using the Chronosis device, available in every biome, you, as the host, can summon a player or connect with a random player online. The host determines the available pool of items when in Co-op.
Returnal Review on PC – Our Verdict
Admittedly, the game demands our total commitment and tests our nerves. Not only is the game anything but easy, but it also takes an incredibly long time for a roguelike. This is a definite damper that reduces motivation or the possibility of trying again. But in the same breath, Returnal is excellent, both in terms of story and gameplay. The variety of weapons, the procedural generation of levels, and the weapon specifications make each run unique and worthwhile. Lastly, the Co-op mode provides the necessary variety and opens many new strategic possibilities. With an ear for player feedback and the right updates, even the last little weaknesses could be ironed out.
We can give you a clear buy recommendation if you’re not only a part-time, casual gamer. Get the game via the PlayStation Store for PS5 and via Steam for PC.
If you’re up for a discount, you can also get it for both platforms via Kinguin (affiliate link).
Keep trying in other awesome Roguelikes and Sci-Fi games
Did our Returnal Review make you hungry for the genre? Then, we invite you to check out our ranking of the Best Roguelike Games.
Less hardcore, but just as much Sci-Fi and horror can be found in the new Dead Space Remake or our Best Metroidvania Games ranking. In the Sons Of The Forest Review, we explain why we wouldn’t want to miss AI companions anymore.
What tough game has ever made you give up? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments below.