Over the years, with putting great effort into each title they developed, Housemarque has earned the respect of all those who enjoy the most arcade action, a genre that they dominate like no one in its different variants. This is precisely why we were eager to play Returnal and see how this talented team would be able to cope with the production of an ambitious high-budget title, a new challenge that we can confirm that it has overcome with an excellent note—offering us a great game as intense as it is fun and original.
A cryptic nightmare
PlayStation 5 exclusive Returnal puts us in the shoes of Selene, an astronaut. She one day decides to disobey the orders of her superiors to travel to a mysterious planet. Unfortunately, when their ship arrives, it ends up having an accident, which leaves our heroine trapped in a hostile world full of bloodthirsty alien creatures. In addition, if all this was not enough, it will not take long to discover that she is also stuck within a time loop, so all her deaths end up returning Selene at the time of the accident.
From here, a straightforward plot begins to develop that finds its great appeal in the complex and cryptic way in which it is narrated as if it were a great puzzle. If we want to discover what is happening and what truth the protagonist’s past hides, we will have no choice but to look very closely at her comments, at the audio messages that we will find, at the small narrative sequences that have been introduced, in the files that we will decrypt and in the small details. All this makes up pieces of a twisted puzzle that we will have to put together and in which no shortage of allegories and metaphors leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The good thing about having such an environmental narrative is that it allows the game to work just as well regardless of our interest in its story so that whoever simply wants to explore its settings and hit shots will be able to do so without anything hindering the flow of the action, while those who do want to delve into what we are told they will have as an incentive a great mystery to solve.
A great mix of ideas and genres
In the purely playable, we find a very peculiar title that combines the advanced structure of a roguelite, the progression and exploration of a Metroidvania and the frenzy and fun of a third-person action-adventure with mechanics typical of a shmup bullet hell. Thus, we will have to make our way through a series of randomly generated scenarios in each game. At the same time, we fight against all kinds of creatures, improve our character with many different power-ups, find new weapons, and unlock skills and shortcuts that will remain even after we die.
Its development will be very familiar to you since we will have to advance through a series of changing rooms in which we will never know with which enemies, traps or treasures we will run into, although unlike other similar games here, our objective will not be only to go down or up floors to get to the final boss of the shift, pass the game and start again. Instead, what we have is an adventure in which we will be asked to complete a series of missions to advance, such as finding the keys to a door and finding a permanent ability to access new places or defeat a boss. As in all roguelite, dying means returning to the starting box and losing our weapons and power-ups, but all the progress we make while completing these missions will continue, enriching our next games by allowing us to use the shortcuts that we had opened, as well as reaching rooms with new rewards than before we were banned for not having the necessary skill.
Thanks to this, the feeling of progress has been constant and that we never feel like we are wasting time since each goal achieved is a small step forward in our journey towards the end of the game. Here, you will not see yourself or the need to repeat bosses, and if you want, you can go directly to the new places you have unlocked. Stopping to explore is rewarded in many different ways, be it discovering new rooms, improving our character or more information to decipher the story. In the end, we have some freedom to decide how we face each of our attempts to break the loop.
In this way, we have an adventure that is always surprising and encourages us to keep playing to discover new things. The goals that he sets for us are very well designed, affordable and provide a great incentive to try again and again. Reflecting in an obvious way our progression throughout this space nightmare.
Despite all these virtues, we have the true star of Returnal in his shootings. Suppose there is something clear to us when we get to the controls. In that case, it is that this is, above all, a Housemarque game, something that is noticeable in precise controls until saying enough, in a heated and intense development of the action, in some weapons that are a great pleasure when shooting with them and in very varied enemy mechanics and routines that, in general, will end up filling the screen with all kinds of projectiles and laser rays that we will have to avoid, forcing us to always be on the move to survive. It is one of those few titles that make the simple act of pulling the trigger a fantastic experience, something that is reinforced by the very vertical design that the stages usually have and the high mobility of Selene, which ends up shaping some Battles as spectacular as they are fun in which we will not have a single second of respite while “platform” and liquidate everything that moves, something that reaches its maximum splendour when facing bosses with a multitude of phases and mechanics different. Regarding its difficulty, You should know that it is a challenging game that does not hesitate to punish mistakes. Still, at the same time, it is also very affordable, since it is relatively easy to strengthen ourselves a lot by little that we explore all the rooms in each region, we make decisions head-on and let’s have a fraction of luck with the weapons and artifacts we find, so you shouldn’t die too much if you take it easy.
A somewhat short roguelite
Despite how much we liked it, we have to admit that the title has fallen a bit short in content for it to be a roguelite, something that is especially evident after its credits. While struggling to reach the end the first time is an incredibly addictive journey that is always rewarding us with new surprises and discoveries, the incentives to keep playing after defeating the last boss crumble at an alarming rate, as it is incapable of giving us compelling reasons why we want to continue investing hours in it beyond meeting a series of tedious requirements to be able to see an additional ending.
There aren’t even rewards for replaying the game or match modifiers, so all that’s left is to explore each region over and over again to finish unlocking trophies and completing our research files. We must add that the number of possible rooms that each biome has is not exceptionally high. The games end up being too similar, especially if we consider that each world always maintains a more or less fixed structure.
In our case, we have completed it in about 12 hours with just over a dozen deaths, while for the true ending, we have needed more than 25 without a guide of any kind. However, after him, we must admit that we hardly had any desire to continue playing, which does not exactly speak well of his replayable values as a roguelite. A real shame since he is so good at playable that we would have liked them to give us great incentives to continue enjoying his shootouts.
Interestingly, after finishing the main adventure, what has most hooked us has been its daily challenges, a series of challenges scored with online markers under a series of specific conditions, where Housemarque brings out its more arcade, direct and furious side. It is not that they offer us great rewards, but they know how to “sting” us so that we want to exceed our marks for pure personal pleasure.
Taking advantage of DualSense
On the other hand, we cannot forget to mention the excellent use that it makes of the characteristics of the DualSense, being the console game that best takes advantage of it together with Astro’s Playroom. The number of things that it can transmit to our hands’ thanks to haptic feedback, is fantastic, from the raindrops to the different power of each weapon. However, it stands out above all the other titles with the adaptive triggers adapted. Resistance varies depending on our arsenal and allows us to alternate between aiming and launching our secondary shot depending on how much we press L2. They even simulate the effect of when a weapon jams on us because we have reloaded it wrong, one pass.
On a graphic level, it also stands out thanks to its good modelling, detailed settings and incredible effects that constantly fill the screen with all kinds of elements. It is not that it is the game that most squeezes the hardware of the console since some textures have not finished convincing us, but what has fallen in love with us is its artistic section, a delight for any lover of science fiction darker, which translates into a fascinating enemy design and a world that manages to absorb us with its meticulous and twisted setting. Of course, everything works at 60 excellent and stable images, something essential in a title with these characteristics, and loading times are non-existent.
Finally, about the sound, we could tell you about a tremendous ambient soundtrack that, without needing to claim prominence, is capable of creating a unique atmosphere; it is very varied effects but here what we want to highlight is The way it takes advantage of the console’s 3D audio technology – simply spectacular. Right now, there is no other PS5 game that takes such great advantage of it, and the precision with which it can let us know where the aliens are coming from through our ears dramatically enhances the experience, so we strongly recommend that you play with some good headphones.
Returnal is an excellent game that knows how to combine many ingredients with great success to create something unique, fresh, and personality. It may not be as replayable or as extensive as other roguelites, but the experience it offers us. At the same time, it lasts is fantastic and highly recommended for any fan of science fiction and the most frantic, unbridled and arcade action. If what he proposes catches your attention, do not hesitate to give the new Housemarque a try.
We prepared this review on PlayStation 5 with a digital review code provided by Sony PlayStation PR.