Returnal was one of several games announced at Sony’s PS5 showcase last summer, along with Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Horizon: Forbidden Dawn. Developed by Housemarque, the sci-fi horror video game has earned praise for its gameplay, visuals, and story, but is Returnal worth it?
Read through our article here to discover everything you need to know about the game, including how Returnal’s gameplay loop works, and work out whether you think it’s worth it.
Returnal follows ASTRA scout Selene Vassos who, while searching for the source of the mysterious White Shadow signal, crash lands on a dangerous planet known as Atropos and finds herself caught in a time loop. Selene continues her search for the White Shadow signal and must survive the planet and face hostile alien lifeforms while recalling details of her traumatic past and uncovering information on an extinct alien civilisation that had lived on Atropos.
While exploring the planet’s various biomes and trying to survive Atropos, Selene encounters chilling recorded scout logs, corpses of alternate versions of herself, and must relive memories of her time back on Earth. Across her journey, the time loop, hostile aliens, scout logs, memories, and corpses all force Selene to question her sanity, and whether everything really is as it seems.
The story is told through several vague cutscenes, as well as through enemy descriptions, scout logs, and Zenoglyphs. Even after completing the game, Returnal’s story remains somewhat vague, which may frustrate players who prefer having a complete or simple story told to them. However, this has allowed players to create and share numerous theories and thoughts on social media about what the game’s meaning truly is.
Returnal is one of the best-looking games on the PlayStation 5 console. Atropos consists of six uniquely designed biomes; a tropical rainforest, a dense forest, a desert, and more. Each biome has unique design elements, including towering statues of the extinct alien civilisation and dense alien flora. Atropos’ alien inhabitants are neon-lit, along with the enemy and player’s projectile attacks.
The game, which runs at 4K in 60 frames-per-second, and the gloomy planet of Atropos is gorgeous, filled with plenty of small details, including light particles from attacks, and dust particles when opening ancient doors. Despite its influence from horror, the game and its biomes is a pleasure to look at, even when the game gets tough.
Returnal is a third-person shooter, so you’ll be shooting enemies and challenging bosses, dashing and jumping to avoid attacks, and meleeing enemies too. Since the game is roguelike, gameplay consists of runs through three biomes; one to three and then four to six. Saving occurs only when you die, which means quitting the game will force you to restart from either biome one or four on your next playthrough. However, there are artefacts and parasites to help you by increasing your damage output, health, protection, and even giving you resurrections before permadeath.
The planet of Atropos and its enemies, items, and weapons are all procedurally generated, which means every time you die or restart a run, the layout and rooms of each biome is randomised, giving you a different experience with each death. This helps keep the game fresh after dying over and over again, which you will experience a lot.
On each death, you will lose all weapons, artefacts (Perks), and obolites (The in-game currency) gained through runs, and you’ll be required to restart with your basic weapon. Despite this, there is some progression between runs as you’ll retain a sword for melee combat and breaking blockades, as well as items that will help you cut through biomes for speedier runs. Finally, items you unlock, like guns and artefacts, will remain unlocked.
Length: How Long Is Returnal?
Returnal’s length will greatly depend on your skill and luck in running through the game. Many people face roadblocks early on, particularly in biome one, while others are able to speed through most of the game with ease. Bosses will also prove to be a challenge and can slow you down, particularly as you’ll need to run through biomes to reach them again.
The game is split into three acts; Act One, which will arguably take the longest to get through as you learn the basics, Act Two, which features the game’s first ending, and finally, Act Three, which is the shortest and features the game’s true or final ending. As a general estimate, completing all three acts will take around 20 hours, while achieving the platinum can take well over 50 hours, as it’ll require you to collect all alien glyphs and complete biome surveys, and since everything is procedurally generated, it’ll take several runs to complete.
Difficulty: Is Returnal Hard?
Returnal is a challenging game, but how challenging it is will depend on your luck; what enemies are generated, which weapons you find, how common health items are, and which parasites and artefacts you obtain. If you’re lucky, you’ll find you can zoom through biomes without a problem, but in most cases, you’ll need to run through biomes multiple times.
Bosses can also be challenging, as you’ll be required to memorise patterns and survive three progressively harder phases, and if you fail, you’ll need to run through biomes once again to reach the said boss. This has proven to be too much for many players, but those who persevere can enjoy a wonderful and unique game.
Summary: Our Review
Returnal is a difficult but rewarding experience. The game, as we’ve already stated, is gorgeous to look at out, and the 3D audio system heightens the experience, particularly if you’re using a headset that supports 3D sound. Throughout our playthrough, we came up to numerous brick walls, but pushed on and found that, despite the challenge and obscure story, we thoroughly enjoyed the game. The £70 price tag is a lot, so if you’re unsure about the title, it may be better to wait for a sale.
We’ll also add that if enjoyed games like Control and Bloodborne, you will most likely enjoy Returnal. It’s unique, it’s challenging, it’s at times chilling, but it’s an experience you will remember months after completing the game.
Is Returnal scary?
Returnal is deeply influenced by horror. Several of the game’s enemies and bosses can be quite terrifying, along with the entirety of the first biome. If you’d like to check how scary the game might be to you, we suggest watching some videos of the first biome to get a feel for the game before buying it.
Does Returnal get harder as you die?
No. Returnal does not get harder as you die. Each time you die, you are forced to restart from either biome one or four with your basic weapon, but the biome along with its enemies, artefacts, parasites, and weapons are randomly generated, so the difficulty will vary.
How does dying work in Returnal?
When you die in Returnal you are forced to restart from either biome one or four with your basic weapon. Unlocked consumables, artefacts, parasites, and weapons remain unlocked, but you’ll need to find them while running through the biome. There are also special items and technology that will provide you with resurrections before permadeath, but they can be rare.
Is Returnal co-op?
No. Returnal is a single-player game, but you can find deceases scouts based on other players if playing online, and you can either scavenge or avenge them to earn additional loot and take on mini-bosses.
Is Returnal worth getting?
This is a question you’re going to need to answer yourself. As we’ve explained in our review, Returnal is a challenging game, but a fun one. It’s horrifying, thrilling, frustrating, rewarding, and entertaining. If you’re looking for something that will test your abilities, this might be the game for you.