Finnish studio Housemarque has been going for too long to their big project, for years dealing with simple arcades and top-down action games. The long-awaited Returnal for PlayStation 5 , sponsored by Sony Interactive Entertainment , not only plays on the fashionable roguelite field, but also swings into a large sci-fi canvas with intricate plot and action-packed.
In the center of the story is a member of the “ASTRA” unit, the cosmonaut Selena, in distress on the unfamiliar planet Atropos. Here, in the depths of the constantly changing configuration of the labyrinth, there is a mysterious source of the signal, better known as the “White Shadow”. But besides the wrecked ship and the inability to send a request for help, Selena is faced with another oddity – in the vastness of a hostile world, dead copies of herself are lying everywhere. It turns out that she can not only leave Atropos but also die. Following the mechanics of death and rebirth familiar to fans of the genre, the developers propose to find out the fate of a lost civilization, go through five biomes and finally get out of this endless cycle. The plot is served through cutscenes and audio diaries – it is very interesting to follow the story,
On the one hand, Returnal follows the beaten path of the Dark Souls series , while on the other, it offers its own findings and solutions. Similar to games from FromSoftwareyou collect valuable resources from killed enemies, in this case, they are duped, which can be exchanged for important items in the fabricators scattered around the map. Also, at the levels in special places or after the death of strong opponents, you will find improvements and new weapons. True, the game immediately limits the looting excitement, offering in the first hours for use only one active type of weapon, one special single-action item and a laser sword. Moreover, things available for use can range from a first aid kit to quick teleportation and a protective barrier. At locations, you come across special rooms where you need to pick up a healing sylph or other valuable elements, dodging traps and lasers. Weapons in the game range from pistols to melee shotguns and are classified according to your skill level. If your skill level has become one, then the next chest will have a +1 weapon. If you used an artifact and reached the 5th skill class, then all new weapons will already be of the 5th class, although this effect does not apply to the already collected one.
As the story progresses and the exploration of new areas, you will unlock additional improvements and abilities, but if the heroine dies and a new cycle begins, they, along with all the collected fools, will disappear – with the exception of plot items such as a sword or house key, as well as ether units. In Returnal, Housemarque uses mechanics and ideas from its arcade projects. Of course, the found sword, teleportation tool, or pistol does not need to be collected after each new revival, but all amplifiers and bonus effects, such as damage multipliers, parasites that strengthen armor, or a weapon class, are reset to zero. In this case, the game can be saved only after resetting the cycle, and if you just pause it and a power surge occurs, then all your progress will be lost. Moreover,
Since the configuration of the map changes when you start the cycle again, you will have to start over each next exploration. Of course, you can use the teleporters open along the way and return to the recovery chamber if you are lucky enough to get it in this level configuration, but in most cases, you can only restore health with rare first aid kits with sylph, a randomly found regeneration parasite, or by buying a large first aid kit in the fabricator. Returning to the ship and sleeping in bed will change nothing but the passage of time.
Although the levels in Returnal are randomly formed from pre-rendered rooms along with random items and artifacts, some of the rooms do not change. This is an archive with alien information, a zone of transfer to another part of the map, some locations-bridges, as well as numerous rooms with fabricators and caches. While researching, you can open bonus doors with secrets and powerful weapons by collecting the required keys. But not all of the things you find are useful. For example, an alien regenerator, instead of restoring health, can eat half a strip of life, and an alien parasite will not only strengthen the spacesuit, but also make it more fragile. And this is not to mention the cursed objects that need to be cleaned – otherwise they are capable of imposing restrictions on you with varying probability.
Notable disadvantages include the fact that all this knowledge and understanding of the world around you comes during the game only thanks to personal experience and tests. Also, a model of random generation of levels should be written down as disadvantages, in which in one case you can get a lot of bonuses, and on another call – first-aid kits crowded in one room or sometimes teleporters located a couple of meters from each other, while the next one can be found only after a dozen rooms. The same applies to enemies – in the early stages and in narrow spaces, there are sometimes too many of them.
A lot in the world of Returnal depends on the most ordinary luck. If you managed to meet a parasite that partially regenerates health, strengthens your spacesuit, gets various bonuses and get hold of a spare first-aid kit, bonus life, and at the same time greatly improves your skills and weapon power, then you can easily overcome even several strong bosses in a row. But the game is also capable of throwing strong opponents at you and leaving them with a starting pistol or imposing negative effects on Selena, and then you will die for many hours in the first locations – simply because this is how the random die fell.
And yet, Returnal is a highly addictive game. More precisely, as such, it may seem to hardcore players. Even after a few losses, you want to quickly return to the atmospheric alien fields of Atropos and try to break through to the desired point again and again – this is a huge plus. However, it should be understood that not everyone will experience such feelings since the brainchild of Housemarque also deserves the title of a very difficult and exhausting adventure. We would not be surprised if it turns out that more than 2/3 of buyers will not be able to complete even the first biome. Each is distinguished by enemies, architecture, surroundings, bosses, and difficulty levels. The developers have rolled out a kind of Resogun in the Dark Souls format.
The combat system involves the use of the main fire mode and a special one, which requires reloading. When using the main weapon, it can overheat, and the adrenaline level increases damage. But once you take damage, the adrenaline will drop to zero. You can also jump, and a few hours after the start of the game, you can melee with a sword.
Opponents attack with bunches of energy, from which you can often dodge or hide behind cover. But with each new biome, the level of their aggression and sophistication of attacks grows. Mini-bosses know how to teleport and do serious melee damage. All this again reminds of the arcade action games Housemarque and the first NieR.
Naturally, the path to victory involves the active use of dodges and side artifacts, such as shields and armor. Almost all levels have cliffs and bottomless chasms, but, fortunately, in the event of a fall, you are revived on a solid surface with a slight loss of health. Full-fledged bosses have three health bars, and fights with them resemble bullet-hell-shooters. A hurricane flies to Selena from spheres and laser beams, from which you need to dodge in time and successfully or just run away.
Bright and rich graphics have always been one of the main features of Housemarque products. And Returnal is no exception here. Flashes of teleporters, explosions from falling grenades, and neon rays of alien attacks, together with the effects of DualSense, create an indescribable atmosphere. Part of the environment, like statues and pillars, collapses, disintegrating into small grains of fragments. The controller uniquely reacts to drops of falling rain, the roar of monsters, and even the usual fall of Selena from a great height. Returnal is also one of the few games that are best played with the Pulse 3D headphones. In any case, the difference in sound quality from the soundbar, ordinary headphones, and Sony’s solution is more than noticeable here.
Returnal is a daring sci-fi adventure where the plot and the dynamically created world complement each other well, and the dangerous alien universe is perfectly recreated using Sony technologies, including the DualSense controller and Pulse 3D headphones. Of course, the inability to restore your health at safe points, which are not there as such, numerous crashes on the menu, missing experience and equipment after death and sometimes dishonest situations can make you mad, but the plot is about an ancient civilization and an atmosphere filled with adrenaline and unusual opponents the alien environment is clearly worth it.