Returnal (Review)

It’s about time to get the ball rolling on the PS5’s big exclusives, and Returnal seems to be the first entirely new game that’s not a remake or an upgraded extension.  But does my itch for futuristic, spacefaring, alien-stuff get scratched in this rogue-like subgenre 3rd person shooter?


GAMEPLAY

…the game is literally lined with gameplay roses all along the way.

The first thing you should know is that you will get a sore forefinger from all the trigger-pulling.  The game is a LOT of shooting.  Fortunately, this doesn’t turn monotonous: the game is rife with exploration which has a lot to do with debating pickup pros and cons, swapping weapons, and making limited resource choices… just to find all your choices come crashing down when you die.  While some things like suit augments (all-but-one required for progression) and weapon trait upgrades are permanent, pretty much everything except ether is wiped out when you die and start another cycle.  And therein leads to the most interesting part: at first this will frustrate you.  But over time as your skill develops, you start to find that balance between just how much you want to build yourself up versus push forward.  I both applaud the devs for testing my skills this way and am impressed: I slowly found the right amount of buildup without feeling major loss upon dying which indicates core gameplay balance.  The exploration also further breaks up monotony with actual platforming that is reminiscent of ReCore, and most importantly: world building lore.  Despite the inevitability of dying (unless you’re into no-death challenges or like to cheat with that restart cycle button), one simply needs to press on and persevere to see that the game is literally lined with gameplay roses all along the way.  This includes some seriously neat haptic feedback you can’t see but will feel when you first stand in one of the teleporters.  Then come the bosses, and that’s when things really heat up and all your skills are put to the test, though you’ll eventually learn their patterns and move forward.  If there’s one gameplay problem this game has, it’s that they do not have a “save and quit” save-state system that deletes itself upon reload.  Unless you’ve just started a cycle, you basically can’t turn off your PS5 or it’s just like dying.


CONTENT

…the majority of people will only play through this game a single time…

Or at least you won’t get to turn off your PS5 for about 15 hours.  That’s the time it took for me to see the credits roll, but the game hinted that it had more for me, and in doing a little research, I found that there is a secret ending.  I then proceeded for about 7 more hours and about half a dozen more deaths to see this secret ending, but because the secret fragment is random, this additional time is variable and some praying to RNGesus might be in order.  Other than that, though, the game has minimal replayability and makes it’s full $70 price tag hard to justify: the majority of people will only play through this game a single time, secret ending included.


PRESENTATION

…the effects work on display is both mind-blowingly colorful and signature HouseMarque…

If there ever was a dev that understands Metroid and what it would look and feel like in the modern day, this is them.  From the excellent aesthetic world design to the map layouts, I can’t help but feel like I’ve finally gotten a glimpse of a higher budget effort to create an alien world designed around shooting, platforming, and exploration.  However, it isn’t without flaws: this game was built using Unreal Engine 4, and clearly started out as a PS4 target, later receiving upgrades moving to a PS5 title.  Even with the upgrades, you’ll still see last gen issues, and that includes the framerate dipping regularly and inexplicable stuttering.  That doesn’t change the fact that the game’s world is impressively designed, and that the effects work on display is both mind-blowingly colorful and signature HouseMarque with particle-effects up the wazoo.  It all comes together beautifully, albeit flawed.  Moving onto the story is a far more interesting tidbit.  While I won’t post any major spoilers, let’s just say that the story is entirely analogous but without a reference point.  Thus, analogies without a reference point are ambiguous.  Enjoy discussion threads on the ending and that all of this is not as it may seem.  Also, fair warning: the house is a bit more horror than it looks.


CONCLUSION

…it’s undeniable Metroid influence reigns supreme.

I’m impressed, but not because it successfully scratches my itch for futuristic alien stuff, but because they somehow found just the right amount of challenge to balance out the punishment, a proper 50/50 if you will.  And while it does feel like a hybrid between ReCore and Everspace, it’s undeniable Metroid influence reigns supreme.  What I was left with was a slightly short but sweet adventure, full of shooting, learning, and challenges wrapped in an artistically well-crafted but slightly imperfect world.  Is this a must-buy?  Yes.  Is this a must-buy at $70?  No: wait for it to drop in price or be on sale; but then absolutely do yourself a favor and buy this game, even moreso if you love Metroid.

I give Returnal

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