finding yourself dead in returnal

I’ve had my PS5 a few months now. While the console is as amazing as Alex says it is, my personal experience has been disappointing. Sure, I’m enjoying PS4 games and the superior online experience versus Xbox, but the game selection is still very slim. That’s why I was excited to see a review code for Returnal land from Sony. I’ve logged a couple of nights of gamete and I’m going to weigh in with what I think of this first big PS5-only release. It’s good.

What Is Returnal About?

When Returnal starts, you’re largely in the dark about what’s going on. You assume the role of Selene Vassos, space pilot. After detecting a mysterious “White Shadow” signal coming from the planet Atropos, Vassos crash lands on martian soil. The game begins. Your goal is to explore, work out why you are finding your own corpse everywhere and, above all else, survive. As you adventure through Atropos, you’ll encounter a range of enemies, gather weapons and die. You’ll die a lot. And that’s part and parcel of the whole experience. Let’s talk about the gameplay.

Returnal Gameplay

Honestly, Returnal is like nothing I’ve ever played before. Some of the mechanisms in the game are just genius. There are about ten weapons for you to play with but no ammo for you to worry about. Instead, after some sustained trigger-happy gunfire, your weapon will pause to recharge. Like the classic Gears of War “perfect reload”, a well-timed tap of a button speeds up your recharge getting you back into battle.

There are loads of consumables to find on Atropos too and this is where things get really cool. Of all the things you can pick up, parasites are the coolest. These alien beings latch onto you giving you benefits while also costing you something. For example you’ll lose some health every time you pick up something.

Beyond these on-going mechanisms in the game, Returnal rather intimidatingly combines the two gameplay genres of rogue-like and bullet hell. Let me explain.

Rogue-like Games

This genre literally relates to another game called Rogue. In this game, once you died, you lost all of your items and progress and start over. Levels are typically generated from scratch on every restart too and this is exactly what Returnal does too. You’ve crashed landed on Atropos and your ship is thrashed. You leave and explore until you die. Every time you die, you wake up back at your downed ship as if you’ve just crashed.

The difference with Returnal is that you do keep some of your gained strengths or items. Dying is an important part of the progression within the game. Many times during my runs I wasn’t sure if I was dying over and over in the same spot of making ground. But something small would usually be gained to make the next run easier.

Bullet Hell

Is another popular genre to emerge in the mid-nineties gaming scene. If the genre doesn’t sound familiar it would almost certainly look familiar. In these games you’re often dodging multiple points of fire from multiple enemies. It’s not unusual for the entire screen to been full of enemy fire.

In Returnal, you’re immediately taking on alien enemies capable of firing rows of energy orbs at you. Your job is to dodge and return fire. It starts out fairly easy to handle, but the enemy fire keeps growing and eventually, you’ll be taking on bosses and screens of death balls.

Is Returnal Fun To Play?

After the first few minutes of gameplay, I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be spending on this review. It was tough and I wasn’t sure how much I could mentally handle dying over and over again. Was I making any progress at all?

Practice Makes Perfect

But then I pushed through and the rewards started to roll in. It’s sometimes really hard to know if you’re making progress. While it’s really difficult to actually get lost, thanks to a great map system, it’s really easy to feel lost. I’ve had runs in the game where I live for 5 minutes and runs where I lasted well over an hour before dying.

On paper, I just didn’t think a game like this could be fun but then I realised I couldn’t stop myself going back for more. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Returnal so much fun, but it a great way to pass a couple of hours every evening.

Life Returnal Each Run Eternal

Returnal has come in for some criticism since launch. Mainly, this surrounds the lack of both difficulty settings and any kind of traditional save option. Yes. By playing return, you’re playing the same difficulty as everyone else in the world. And, when you choose to play Returnal, you need to commit a fair bit of time for your runs in between deaths. The reason is very practical. You cannot save progress.

If you need to stop and take a break, the only way to do so is to pop your console into rest mode. If you load something else, like I’ve already done a few times, you lose your run. The next time you load Returnal, you’re back at the ship starting a new run from scratch.

I personally don’t get why people are criticising the game so heavily for this. The runs get somewhat faster with certain elements remaining unlocked and skills or items retained after death. At least enough is retained to ensure the game doesn’t become monotonous. Quite the contrary. At certain points I welcomed death.

This isn’t like Cyberpunk. By that I mean this is a great game. It’s not a rushed and incomplete game. It’s a fantastic game that’s brought some features to the table that some people don’t really like. While I thought I would hate this type of game I can’t wait to get this review published so I can wake up next to my ship and get going again.

The Verdict: Is Returnal Worth Buying?

At €80, return surely isn’t cheap. If you’re going to hand over that kind of money, it’s important you know that Returnal will likely leave you frustrated and wondering if you’ve made a mistake is parting with that kind of cash. The true rewards come as you push through the early doubts and learn the finer details of the in-game mechanisms that help you win key gunfights. Once you start to nail these aspects, Returnal quickly became one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had on a games console. Well worth a try.

Some Other Returnal Questions Answered

I’ve scoured the internet looking for questions on Returnal and I’ve gone and pulled together some answers too.

Will Returnal come to PlayStation 4

No. Returnal is a PlayStation 5 Exclusive. As of right now, there are no plans to bring Returnal to PlayStation 4, PC or any other platform.

Can you play Returnal online?

No. Returnal doesn’t have a multiplayer mode. There is an online mode that connects your game to a wider network in the game, but there is no multiplayer.

Does Returnal have a photo mode?

No. While visually stunning, there is unfortunately no photo mode.

When does Returnal come out?

Returnal is already available to download on PlayStation 5 or purchase from stores like GameStop.

How long does it take to beat Returnal?

You can expect to complete Returnal within 30 to 40 hours.

How big is Returnal?

Returnal will take up 56.101GB of your PlayStation 5 hard drive.

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Founding Editor of Goosed, Martin is a massive tech fan, into movies and will talk about anything to anyone. He's also the founder of King Street SEO, a consultancy helping Irish SMEs harness the power of organic search. Read more by Martin.