Returnal is a third-person shooter game developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It was released in April 2021 exclusively for PlayStation 5. The game features a mix of rogue-lite and bullet-hell gameplay elements, where players take control of Selene, an astronaut who crash-lands on a hostile alien planet called Atropos. The game has received critical acclaim for its stunning visuals, innovative gameplay mechanics, and engaging story.
While it was a grand success, it is also tough as nails. Not a mainstream cash cow if you ask me. Thus, everyone including me never expected this to be released as a PC port. Much to our surprise, Returnal finally did come to PC on 15th February 2022!
Mementos All Over
The game’s narrative follows Selene, who is on a mission to uncover the mystery behind her crash landing on Atropos – an unknown planet riddled with the mysteries of a lost civilization. Selene soon discovers that she is trapped in a never-ending cycle of death and rebirth, and must fight her way through the planet’s dangerous environment to escape. The story is delivered through a combination of in-game dialogue, journal entries, and audio logs, which slowly piece together the events that led to Selene’s arrival on Atropos.
The game’s story is engaging, with a range of plot twists and revelations that keep players invested in the game’s narrative. The game’s use of journal entries and audio logs adds depth to the game’s lore, providing players with a more comprehensive understanding of the lost ancient tech. Unlike other PlayStation exclusive games, it largely tells its story through its evocative use of its environment. The overall mystery only continues to deepen as you uncover answers to this never-ending nightmare.
Die All Over
Gameplay in Returnal is a mix of rogue-lite and bullet-hell mechanics. Selene is equipped with a range of weapons, including pistols, shotguns, and rifles, which can be upgraded with new abilities and enhancements. The game also features a range of power-ups and artifacts, which can be found throughout the environment, providing players with various benefits such as increased health or damage output. As a rogue-lite, the game also features permadeath, meaning that if Selene dies, the player must start the game from the beginning. However, the game also features a range of checkpoints and shortcuts, which help to make progress through the game more manageable.
The game’s bullet-hell mechanics are most evident during boss battles, which are intense and challenging encounters that require quick reflexes and strategic thinking. The game’s bosses are each unique, with their own set of abilities and weaknesses. Each boss fight is a test of the player’s skills, as they must learn the boss’s patterns and attack methods to succeed. You’ll die. You’ll die a lot. What separates a good rogue-lite from a bad one is its ability to keep the player coming back for more. Returnal hits a home run in that regard. You’ll die. You’ll die a lot. But with each run, you’ll understand how the game’s systems work and eventually settle on a build that works for you. I found myself dead awake at 3 AM, repeating to myself, “just one more run”.
Even if you found the game a bit too challenging, you can have a friend hop-on to the run to help you out. More rogue-lites should have a co-op mode, in my opinion. You can complete most of what the game has got to offer in about 15 hours. But, unlike other games of this genre, Returnal is comparatively more story driven. As such, there’s little incentive to going back for another run once you’re done with the game for good. This, combined with a hefty price tag, does make it a tough sell.
On a side note, I am happy to report that if you are using a DualSense controller, the gameplay haptics work just as well as they did on PS5. But much like other titles, it is still limited to the wired mode for now.
Show’s All Over
One of the most impressive aspects of Returnal is its stunning visuals! The game features incredibly detailed environments, filled with intricate alien structures, otherworldly flora, and dangerous creatures. The game also features a dynamic lighting system that creates stunning visual effects, such as the reflection of the player’s weapon on the environment, or the glowing trail left behind by Selene as she sprints through the world. The game’s use of ray tracing technology further enhances the game’s visuals, providing more realistic lighting and reflections. And on PC, these reflections have improved to their truest potential. Despite being a 2021 title, it is undoubtedly among the best-looking titles on PC this year.
Like the visuals, the game holds up a solid performance even on an entry-level GPU like the RTX 3050 Ti. I had no trouble maintaining 60 frames per second at Quality preset (RTX-off). With a few minor tweaks, it can give you substantial RT-goodness at a minimal toll on the overall performance. However, it is highly recommended that you have at least 16 gigs of RAM. It’s no less than a stutter fest if you are below 12 GB of RAM. Also, there are a few crashes here and there.
Returnal on PC is one of the rare blessings of this late generation. It’s challenging, rhythmic bullet-hell shooting, with a satisfying combat loop and an unconventional way of storytelling that make it one of the riskiest yet rewarding experiences in PlayStation’s long line of stellar exclusives. If you like titles like Doom: Eternal, FURI, or Cuphead, then look no further than this. However, for casual beginners, this one can be one hell of a nightmare. Still, if you’ve got the balls to go through its steep learning curve, there’s probably nothing that you can’t handle!
FINAL RATING: RECOMMENDED