Returnal opens with the words: “When you die or close Returnal, you will always be returned to the crash site, and all non-permanent progression will be lost.”
What is touted as Returnal’s main draw is both its greatest feature and biggest setback.
Returnal is a hard game to define. It incorporates elements from third-person looter-shooters, rogue-lites, bullet-hells and Metroidvanias to create one gloriously unique package.
The game puts players in the shoes of Selene Vassos, a reconnaissance scout for a company called Astra. She crashes onto a planet called Atropos after receiving a broadcast from an entity known only as the White Shadow.
After encountering dangerous flora and fauna, she is killed and resurrected to a point moments before her ship crashes, only to find that the entire planet has rearranged itself.
Such is the cycle of the game.
Players travel as far as they can within the world before dying, but when they do, they lose all the progress they have made on Atropos, as well as most of their collected items.
While this can be frustrating at times, it’s equally rewarding when things go just right and players complete a near-perfect run.
The game is an absolute blast to play, with dynamic combat scenes that flow well thanks to the large variety of weapons at the player’s disposal.
Many luck-based elements keep players on edge, but never make gameplay feel unfair.
Various items within the game are affected with “malignancy”, which can add malfunctions to Selene’s suit.
These malfunctions can have various effects, such as not allowing players to heal or reducing melee damage by 50 per cent. Performing various in-game tasks can remove malfunctions.
Returnal utilises every aspect of the PlayStation 5’s new features, from the innovative use of controller vibrations to the 3D audio that lets players know exactly where a shot has been fired.
However, there are some downsides to the game that warrant a pause.
Players cannot save in the middle of a run, which is problematic since runs can last for hours at a time.
The game doesn’t reset in rest mode, but this also means the disk cannot be removed. If there is an update for the game, it will close, completely wiping the progress of a run.
There is also the issue of cost. Returnal is $110, at its cheapest, a price that many potential players will baulk at, ultimately missing out on the experience.
Returnal is an experience like no other and, while not perfect, is tremendously fun to play.