Review for return. Game for PlayStation 5, the video game was released on 30/04/2021
Like when various misfortunes hit your life all together, one after the other, to form an infinite cycle from which there are no escape routes: this is how you will feel playing Returnal. The desire to escape from something in which, however, you love to find yourself, memories of a stormy past that cyclically return to torment you, the oppression due to the awareness of being powerless, forced into something that destroys you physically and mentally.
The title of Housemarque is a trap, but not one you would do anything to escape from, Returnal holds you tight in its grip of pleasant anxiety that you would like to be trapped in forever.
Break the cycle
Housemarque's latest effort is not for everyone, a challenging - not to say difficult - roguelike that lets the player himself discover and interpret the story thanks to lore elements such as audio tracks, visions, writings and settings. The basic incipit, however, is quite clear: Selene during a journey into space is shipwrecked on Atropos, an unknown and apparently deserted planet. Unfortunately for her, this will soon prove to be the most dangerous place in the universe, with alien races chasing her, deadly traps, and an endless loop that won't allow her to escape. The issue of the cycle, which after each death will make us restart from the moment before the crash, is what makes the title a real roguelike, with all the mechanics typical of the genre. Our goal will be to reach a signal that should allow us to escape from the trap. During the journey Selene will meet other versions of herself that in previous cycles have not made it and will be able to take audio tracks from the corpses that tell parts of a previous attempt (not experienced by the player) and make us perceive the desperation of the protagonist leaving us in a constant state of distress. Thanks to a excellent “Show, don't tell” narration what happened on Atropos is also told, where the remnants of a total war are immediately perceived (and materially seen).
Selene's past will also be explored thanks to first-person (and sometimes horror) sections set in a projection of the protagonist's old house, here the woman will relive traumas that she seems not to have completely overcome yet, letting us discover them as the story progresses. The narration always happens in a very enigmatic way, which will only increase the player's curiosity, but also anxiety and fear.
Surrounded by dangers
From the very first minutes the feeling with the controls and with the movement and shooting systems is exceptional, you will feel like you have played with it for hours when in reality you are still taking your first steps on Atropo. Despite this, Returnal is not a simple game and it will not be difficult to die over and over again in the same place without being able to advance in the various rooms. These rooms, like the whole environment, will change with our every attempt in a casual way leaving us, especially at the beginning, disoriented and confused just like Selene. The gunplay is responsive and rewarding, giving not a few satisfactions for every shot fired (also thanks to the DualSense), in addition these sensations are amplified by the excellent level design that with the progress of the game will also develop an important verticality. In fact, some bosses will leave us, once defeated, permanent objects (melee weapons, grappling hook ...) that will allow us to explore the old areas in a completely different way, making us discover new objects and new shortcuts.
Contrary to what one could imagine, Returnal makes exploration one of the cornerstones of the adventure: the way to follow will always be clearly marked through the map, but we will very often find ourselves having to decide whether to deviate the route to explore secondary rooms that could give us substantial bonuses but also terrible malus. Housemarque has decided to play a lot on the risk / reward factor, and not only as regards the secondary rooms; in fact, many objects or crates will contain a certain degree of "malice" that could cause us a more or less serious damage if collected, it will be up to us to decide if it is worth the risk or if it is better to leave that resource behind.
The creatures that we will have to face are also of excellent workmanship, different for each biome, and all with a different moveset to study and learn. During the first fights we are introduced to the "Adrenaline" system, a counter that will load every three kills up to the maximum level of five, and that for each level will make us get a statistical bonus or a weapon upgrade. However, we will have to be careful because as soon as we are hit the counter will return to zero making us lose all the benefits obtained. The weapons are quite varied (pistol, rifle, machine gun, rocket launcher ...) and will be discovered and disguised as you advance in the various biomes, but Selene will be able to carry only one at a time. These will be enhanced based on a level of "competence" that will increase with the use of them or with objects scattered around the planet. Each weapon will have a random secondary fire that will be triggered by pressing the L2 button all the way down, while pressing the trigger to the first block of its stroke the weapon will fire with standard fire. This mechanic may initially seem unintuitive and perhaps a bit forced to maximize the use of the PlayStation 5 controller, but it will take very little practice to get used to it. Always the secondary fire is the protagonist this time of a small flaw: when we are taken by the action and by the countless lights and lasers to dodge, it will not be easy to keep an eye on its loading, with the indicator that changes for each weapon. and it is never clearly visible. This can lead to several problems given the power of the secondary fire (often solves the toughest fights), but the problem is partially fixed by the audio (when it will not be covered by the sounds of the battle) which will make us understand with a specific sound when we will be of new able to use it.
Once the story is over, it will be possible to return to explore Atropos to search for every secret place and every collectible or curiosity regarding the history of the planet. There are also daily challenges accessible from Helios, the wreck of Selene's spaceship, via the onboard computer. These challenges consist of courses to be completed with a weapon decided by the game by scoring as many points as possible and then placing themselves in the online rankings. The online is also exploited, asynchronously, when the corpses of other players are found that can be looted by paying the Aether (one of the most precious resources) or avenged by facing a mini boss to earn Aether.
Finally, the DualSense!
Returnal is a feast for the eyes, the various biomes (six in all) are built with incredible care, and give an extraordinary impact. The first time you visit a new environment it is impossible not to be amazed. This effect is facilitated by a technical sector that finally shows some glimmers of next gen, Returnal could hardly run on PlayStation 4 without problems. On PS5 the title tries to go to dynamic 4K, 60 FPS with ray-tracing but, in fact, even here you can see some small stability problems (which will probably be fixed with the Day1 Patch arriving on April 30th). We happened, from time to time, to run into quite conspicuous frame drops, especially in sequences with many enemies. In any case, Returnal remains a visually stunning title, and these frame drops only superficially stain a creepy technical sector, between explosions, breathtaking views and an impressive number of particles on the screen. The sound also deserves to be mentioned, which with the 3D Audio technology envelops the player making him perceive the danger from every direction, as if the planet were whispering an infinite melody of death to him.
But what surprised us most of all is the DualSense: finally the new Sony controller is exploited properly, reaching the levels of Astro's Playroom. In addition to the aforementioned L2 for secondary fire, the right trigger also does its job by changing resistance according to the weapon we are holding and locking itself when this is unloaded. Even more impressive is the haptic feedback which manages to return any kind of sensation directly into the player's hands. Rain, mud, lasers, jumps and dodges, Selene's every action will produce a unique vibration on the controller that will make the player's immersion on Atropos even deeper.
Returnal is the game we needed, a fresh PlayStation exclusive, not yet another chapter in a successful series, and above all the first truly next gen title. Housemarque has dared with what is its most ambitious and complex project, and we can say with certainty that an exceptional title has come out, from history to gameplay, from the technical to the artistic to the sound sector. A game that will trap you in its tireless repetitiveness, and will drag you to the end thanks to a story that intertwines the protagonist's past, present and future without ever being too didactic. Returnal is certainly not a game for everyone, but anyone should give it a chance and let themselves be captured by Atropos and his dangerous, terrifying, but at the same time breathtakingly beautiful places. A world from which it will be difficult to break away and which will overwhelm you just as it overwhelmed Selene. It is certainly not the perfect game, but despite its small flaws it undoubtedly succeeds in its intentions: to entertain, fascinate and disturb. Like when various misfortunes hit your life all together, one after the other, to form an infinite cycle from which there are no escape routes: this is how you will feel playing Returnal.
► Returnal is a Shooter type game developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment for PlayStation 5, the video game was released on 30/04/2021