Review: Returnal takes roguelikes to a whole new level


Roguelikes are a dime a dozen nowadays, so it takes a special kind of game to really stand out among the rest. Finnish developer Housemarque’s Returnal is among those. Released in early 2021 for the PlayStation 5, it’s one of the system’s best games, and it’s now finally out on PC.

Stuck in a hostile planet after crash-landing her spaceship, an astronaut must face an infinite loop of constantly changing combat scenarios in order to find a way out, and discover what the hell is going on. 

At its core, the way Returnal works is pretty much like any roguelike: you start off at the very beginning of the game, in your crashed ship, and move from room to room until you get to the boss in order to reach the next biome. In a way, Returnal is very traditional, with a heavy emphasis on challenge and having you acquire muscle memory instead of traditional power-ups or unlocks. 

Oh. Pretty. Dangerous.

Then again, its approach to having you repeat your runs is what sets it apart from the pack, and not only because there’s a story behind it all. Returnal offers the usual array of bullet hell mechanics you might be familiar with if you’ve played any of Housemarque’ previous games, but it’s unique in how it gives you much more movement than its otherwise camera-locked brethren.

Progression works well, too. Even when just starting up a run after dying, after repeated runs, it becomes second nature to power back up to a decent state to face the boss. Returnal’s power-ups are especially cool in the way they work as symbiotes who stick to the main character and give her both buffs and nerfs that interestingly interact with one another once you start piling them up.

Then there are the permanent ones that you keep even after death. The sword is the very first one you’ll find, and it’s deeply satisfying to use in conjunction with your bread ‘n butter gun. Mine’s the automatic rifle, and popping up to enemies just to slash them to bits gets to be immensely satisfying later on.

Local fauna is definitely hostile.

This port is in the same technical quality as Sony’s previous efforts at bringing PlayStation games to PC. I’m running an admittedly older system at this point, with an upgraded Phoenix 3060ti graphics card, and Returnal defaulted to medium quality when I first booted it up. Upon tweaking some settings, I was able to raise it a bit and get the game to look incredibly good overall, in my mind on the same level as what I recall playing on PlayStation 5.

That’s not to say things are perfect. There have been reports of hiccups in performance on higher end systems running the game on ultra, but in my time playing on the gray space between medium and high, Returnal’s been quite stable and a whole lot of fun. And oh yeah, don’t forget about grabbing an SSD to play this – you’ll thank me later. Dual Sense support is also present and replicates the PS5 version’s brilliant haptics.

I’m ecstatic for the chance of playing Returnal further after the five or so hours I spend with the PlayStation 5 version. It’s a great port, and it didn’t take me long at all to get back to exactly the same spot I was when I stopped playing it before, proving that the muscle memory and skill built in by the game’s difficulty is indeed there. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me further on and for the journey to get there.   

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