Release Date: 2021.
Console (played on): PlayStation 5.
Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Director(s): Harry Krueger.
Writer(s): Luke Maulding.
Composer(s): Bobby Krlic.
Voice Actor(s): Jane Perry, Nicholas Parris, Anne Beyer, Elijah Maximus, Nigel Whitmey, and Tuija Mabragaña!
My Overall Rating:
The unknown has often been the bane of humankind. It has ravaged through countless lives, sending many straight into a whirlwind of unconceivable thoughts, of unexplainable phenomenon, of abandonment of rationality. It is during these trying instances of life, that some raise to the challenge and seek answers where no other would dare visit. For some, such a journey is not a choice but an unforgiving trial that rests upon their very desire to live. Exclusively released for the PlayStation 5 on April 30th 2021, Returnal is a roguelike third-person shooter developed by Housemarque that challenges gamers to venture into a horrifying universe where death is an unpleasant outcome that sends you into a never-ending loop offering little to no hope for the cautious and irresolute lot.
What is Returnal about? Crash-landing onto an off limits planet of Atropos, Selene is unable to get in contact with ASTRA Corporation and paces her way into a mysterious and ever-changing environment to investigate the “White Shadow” signal that initially caught her attention. As she wonders about the odd familiarity that echoes from this disturbing planet, she discovers a dead body. Upon further investigation, she realizes that the cadaver is none other than herself. Unable to comprehend the madness she now faces, it is only upon death by the hand of terrifying hostile alien creatures that she finds herself back to her crash without, however, forgetting what she had just discovered. With no hint of an exit, the only way out is forward but will she understand this strange world before it consumes her mind?
As a die-hard fan of the Souls series, known for its unforgiving difficulty, it was a pleasure to discover this latest new title that offers an incredibly stunning universe with a touch of horror to accompany the challenging levels you discover along the way. Unlike other games, this one also randomly generates the environment upon each death, introducing an added level of complexity to the already arduous adventure. Using unique weaponry, agile movement mechanics, and tactical high-tech abilities/equipment, players rarely have a moment of respite as they encounter a strange mosaic of hostile creatures with patterned attacks that require strategic dodging reflexes and consistent offensive maneuvers if they are to come out alive. With the world divided up in biomes, marking key progression moments with a couple of bosses in each of these environments, it is definitely not everyone who will succeed in reaching the end without countless hours of perseverance and determination.
At the heart of this game is a story that slowly develops according to the player’s ability to progress through levels and come out victorious against bosses. Gradually, they are thus offered breadcrumbs about the world of Atropos, the mystery behind the looped reality of Selene, and the reason why everything seems so familiar to the protagonist. Although these subtle details and abstract revelations are for from being entirely straightforward, players will slowly realize that there’s a metaphoric interpretation to this world centered around loss, grief, and regret that will give this experience an unprecedented story-telling edge that will either make or break the game for them. After all, as brutal as this psychologically-terrifying world is, it will be hard for players to not distinguish the gameplay from the story in their ultimate appreciation due to how significantly contrasting they are in terms of prominence to the experience.
Like most PlayStation 5 titles, this exclusive brilliantly supports haptic feedback, real-time ray tracing effects, and 3D spatial audio to fully immerse players into this vibrant, grim, and soul-sucking world. The fluid gameplay coupled with the gorgeous dynamic environment makes for an addictive masochistic experience where vanquished bosses and conquered biomes mark unparalleled comfort, pleasure, and a sense of accomplishment. While there are a couple of gameplay hiccups and a purposefully nebulous story that might ultimately feel a bit anticlimactic, there is just too much to appreciate in this daunting and ambitious game that doesn’t shy away from offering gamers an opportunity to go beyond their comfort zone to discover Selene’s nightmare.
Returnal (2021) is an immersive roguelike psychological horror adventure sending Selene into uncharted hostile alien territory to discover a terrifying truth upon getting trapped in a time loop.