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Returnal

30 April 2021
Returnal - cover art
Glitchwave rating
3.86 / 5.0
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310 Ratings / 5 Reviews
#356 All-time
#9 for 2021
Selene Vassos is a space pilot who crashes into an alien planet called Atropos, after trying to locate a mysterious signal she dubs "White Shadow". With her ship, Helios, sustaining critical damage, Selene is forced to explore the hostile environment of Atropos, using whatever equipment or weaponry she can find. Soon enough, however, she realizes that escaping Atropos won't be an easy task, and every death brings her back to the moment she crash-lands into the planet.
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Title
The eternal bullet hell cycle
Returnal is a scifi arcade game thinly disguised as an action roguelite, developed by Housemarque. Its got plenty of strenghts to hold its own, particularly in the gameplay department, but it leaves a lot to be desired if you are looking for a roguelite to replay again and again.

The game looks, sounds and performs incredibly. Its amazing the amount of visual flare and particle effects they were able to put out with the title and deliver smooth 60 fps. The sound design is also excellent and a huge part of the game, as with so many projectiles on screen it becomes important to locate enemies through sound. Its bullet hell particle effects look incredible at the high intense speed that the game is best at. A word must also be said about its gripping bleak atmosphere during its quieter moments, in which the world design and ambient soundtrack really shines. You can see the influences of Alien and HR Giger in its world, but its still very much its own thing.

Returnal presents itself with a mysterious, surrealistic story, that is delivered piece by piece as the player dies on its cycle or reaches certain points. I like its horror elements and mystery, though the actual conclusion feel too soft. If anything its another excuse to keep exploring the story further.

Gameplay is really fantastic on a moment to moment basis, with very satifying gunplay and movement options. Enemies have clear tells and there is a decent variety of them, even if they are to be dispatched in very similar ways. The game really aims to get the player to that flow state, and uses the adrenaline mechanic perfectly to archieve that (you get combat buffs when you get a certain amount of kills without taking damage), rewarding aggressive play since the enemy drops disappear after a few seconds.

Its roguelite elements leave a lot to be desired. The map itself may rearrange its rooms and contents a bit, but after a few cycles you start to recognize the rooms you have been at. Each of the levels is also constructed in a very formulaic manner, which makes the game repetitive, even more due to the fact that a complete run takes upwards of 2 to 3 hours. There are a few weapons available, with randomized traits making them more unique, and also quite a few passive powerups available. But the roguelite potential feels like its on a restritive collar, since there is a limit to the amount of powerups you can take and your weapon level. There is also little synergy between the different powerups, to the point that all builds end up feeling and playing very similarly.

Getting to the end of Returnal took me just a bit over 20 hours, and it was a really satisfying experience on the gameplay side of things. Its weak roguelite elements however dont really encourage me to sink even more time into this one.
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Threntall 2023-06-12T11:50:21Z
2023-06-12T11:50:21Z
4.0
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Great game, took me a lot longer than I had anticipated to complete. As a fan of bullet hells, this felt like a nice, unique approach that both felt fun to play, and also satisfied visually with awesome neon projectiles. Beautiful graphics, and the lack of basically any load time between when you die and respawn made it truly feel "next-gen" to me. I kind of wish there were more permanent upgrades, and a wider variety of weapons, but overall had a blast.
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jerseyscribe 2022-10-28T21:28:45Z
2022-10-28T21:28:45Z
4.0
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Interesting but underwhelming
Returnal is an interesting experiment, combining the FPS, action adventure, and of course roguelite genres. While the developers succeeded in creating exciting gunplay and an intriguing story, the game falls short where all the best roguelites succeed.

My first impressions of Returnal were a bit atypical. It seems that most people hit a wall in the first act, but I managed to beat Phrike on my fourth try, and on the following run sailed through the second and third biomes without a hitch. This was the first warning sign for me, for two reasons. One, I couldn't identify any decisions I had made that contributed to the strength of my build; I simply got lucky. Two, all of the boss fights were all essentially the same. The strategy I learned to defeat Phrike (strafe back and forth while unloading continuously) applied seamlessly to every following boss.

The second act ratchets up the difficulty on room encounters quite significantly. I cleared the Fourth biome in a few tries but have finally hit a wall in the Fifth that is making me consider abandoning the game. Let me explain why.

In my experience, the best roguelites are all about decision points. Sure, they require you to learn how to play well in each encounter, but the real game is in between encounters, when you are asked to make decisions that affect the long-term viability of your run. They present you with a series of escalating encounters that can't be overcome by skill alone. I enjoy roguelites so much because you progress by experimenting and learning how to combine the tools the game gives you (be they cards in Slay the Spire, or boons in Hades) to make something greater than the sum of its parts. A good roguelite is, at its core, an engine building game.

This is where Returnal fails for me. The systems are simply not rich and well balanced enough for you to gain purchase on the game by learning them. Guns have different traits that can combine in powerful ways., but they are randomly generated. Parasites offer an interesting risk-reward mechanic reminiscent of Slay the Spire, but the benefits are virtually never powerful enough to balance the penalties.

The upshot is that runs feel completely random. Encounters in the second act quickly escalate to full-on bullet hell, and if you have not been lucky enough to roll a powerful gun there isn't much to be done. I just saw a comment on Reddit suggesting to strafe-and-unload for the entire game (the strategy that works on all the bosses). I'm almost afraid to try this in case it turns out to be so effective.

Another element that doesn't quite work in this game is the action-adventure style platforming and item collecting. Once you clear a room you have to spend the next minute or so running around collecting heals, keys, guns, currency, etc. I enjoy this kind of thingy-collection in games with interesting environments. In a procedurally generated game, this quickly becomes repetitive and boring. This mindless activity does a lot to pad out the length of runs, and makes death far more psychologically punishing than it should be in any roguelite.

Overall I really do think this game is a wasted opportunity, because the core gameplay can be very fun, and the idea is sound. Remove the platforming elements and add a bit more engine-building elements and this could be something quite special. Hopefully we'll see some games building off and refining this concept in the next few years.
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polarhexagon 2022-10-24T16:39:34Z
2022-10-24T16:39:34Z
2.0
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Returnal is fun enough but I think it fundamentally fails everything that it tries to do.

The difficulty is incredibly uneven with most encounters consisting of a handful of weak enemies thrown out to try and overwhelm you. Until you get to the hard enemies whose melee attacks take a chunky portion of your health bar. But even still, at the point you face these enemies you’ve probably increased your health bar by 75% and have health items at your disposal. It proves itself to be a decent third person shooter but a pretty easy bullet hell and roguelite game.

The implementation of ether, malfunctions, and parasites is entirely baffling to me. 99% of the time the reward isn’t worth the risk of a malfunction so I found myself almost entirely ignoring corrupted items until I had a reservoir of ether to use on them. But these items are typically normal health and currency pickups locked behind a pay/hurtwall which again, isn’t worth it when there’s an abundance of these items that you can pick up for no cost. The upsides and downsides of parasites are hardly ever equivalent and leads to me again, ignoring them. Why would I ever pick up an item that greatly increases my dash cooldown when there’s nothing close to good enough to justify that downgrade.

And that leads to my biggest issues with Returnal— the upgrades and weapons. The make or break of most roguelite/likes is the uniqueness of individual runs. With the same few weapons in rotation (which are also drastically unbalanced) and upgrades that almost entirely consist of invisible stat boosts. Every run feels the same and the feeling of exploration and variation in biomes fades after your first few runs.

Splitting the game into two halves sorta makes sense I guess, but losing all of your progress (guns, parasites, artifacts) between the two sets of zones feels punishing to the player for no reason.

The core gameplay is there, but it’s lacking the same draw that has caused me to sink hundreds of hours into games like Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac. Pretty lackluster and disappointing for the “first AAA roguelite.”
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Matty_G 2022-07-10T05:56:00Z
2022-07-10T05:56:00Z
3.0
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Hades is the king of modern roguelikes, but this might be #1 in my heart. Sci-fi horror speaks more to my tastes, and Returnal just nails it with Lovecraftian influences, harrowing level design, a deep and engrossing mystery and a killer soundtrack by the guy who did Midsommar. All the same thrills of roguelike are here but way ramped up by the budget and scope, with some impressive biome variety and ingenious twists on the game's own formula per level; the final level is ridiculously unsafe and makes any run there harrowing on its own terms, to say nothing of the fear of failure and having to start over.

If Hades has anything to seal the deal as the numero uno roguelike, it's its emotional clarity in its story. On the flipside, Returnal's narrative is abstract, splintered and mired in themes of unreality and madness, but does has touching ties back to themes of mortality and responsibility. I'll concede that I appreciated much more that Returnal's nuggets of plot were interweaved into the game more fluidly than Hades, but it does rob Returnal's emotional core of a clear throughline when Hades gets to stop and breathe in order to tell its story as opposed to Returnal's relentless energy.

But the fact that these two games are the only ones really in the conversation of pushing roguelikes past arcadey games and into real experiences speaks to Returnal's quality that it can even go toe to toe with Hades. Time will smile more fondly on Hades, as it should, but Returnal makes for an excellent, more serious and more brutal experience.
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Lowlander2 2022-01-11T07:54:42Z
2022-01-11T07:54:42Z
4.5
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A Time Looping Creature Shooting Good Time
In a gaming landscape dominated and saturated with time-loop stories and dime-a-dozen rogue-lite titles, Returnal actually manages to deliver something truly unique and worthwhile.

For every great rogue-lite and rogue-like game on the market (and I’ll be generous in saying that there’s quite an assortment), there too is a cavalcade of derivative, complacent, and boring fodder; games that do nothing but attempt to copy the likes of other great rogue-lites, and by extension, other great time loop games. It’s sad to say, since the rogue-lite/rogue-like genres are so interesting and intriguing in the first place, BUT, just like all great things that reach a certain level of popularity, market saturation eventually sweeps in to diminish upon that said thing’s greatness.

With all that said, it makes me happy to say that Housemarque have managed to find a way to make yet another rogue-lite game feel not only fun and enjoyable, but also enthralling and fresh.

Holistically, as a complete package, Returnal isn’t resting on its laurels as a rogue-lite, but rather, like a genre contemporary game like Supergiant’s Hades, it builds upon that rogue-lite foundation in clever and inventive ways.

From the start, Returnal is a game brimming with vision, and it very much seems confident in that vision. As soon as you’ve taken control of the main protagonist, Selene, it’s hard not to become engrossed in Returnal’s rich atmosphere and inspired world design. The alien planet that you find yourself stranded upon is one brimming in mystery and intrigue, and this sense of omnipresent mystery is part of the reason you become so captivated in this game’s world, and in finding out what lurks around the next corner. For as absolutely bonkers good as the gameplay is in Returnal (and I’ll be sure to return to that thought), it also cannot be understated how alluring the game’s story is.

It’s a surreal trip; a story that steadily unravels piece by piece the more you discover about your whereabouts and about yourself. For many players, the surreal narrative style will be a turn-off, but for others, including myself, it’s a welcome surprise (and take it from me, the less you know going into this game story-wise the better your experience will be). But simply having a surreal and (somewhat) non-linear story isn’t simply justification for sheer praise straight out of the gate, no, for a game, or any form of entertainment or art to employ a storytelling style such as this one, it has to feel earned, and it has to complement the rest of the experience. In Returnal’s case, it exceeds on this and then some. It’s one of those games where you realize just minutes into starting it up that you probably won’t get the sort of all-conclusive answers that tie everything up neatly, and that’s part of where the thrill and satisfaction stem from story-wise.

Returnal’s story succeeds because it doesn’t hand you the answers in a straightforward manner, rather it’s up to you to come to your own interpretations (to a certain extent) and if that’s something that excites you, then this game may just be for you. It’s a game that feeds off of the thrill of the chase, the allure of the mystery itself, not so much the answers at the end of the tunnel, and it’s every bit better for it.

But don’t get it twisted, while the story may be an interesting aspect of this game, Returnal also isn’t going to be remembered for a deep or groundbreaking story (which is non-existent in the first place), rather, it’s going to be remembered and lovingly discussed for its gameplay. And boy does this game play.

At its core, Returnal is a third-person action bullet-hell rogue-lite, but it’s really so much more than all those $10 buzz words. Developer Housemarque have expertly taken the best elements from their brilliant past works Resogun and Nex Machina, and took everything they learned from developing those games and have applied it to this new title. In many ways, the bullet-hell shooting mechanics in Returnal feel eerily reminiscent of those older games, but these mechanics also add so much more. Whereas their previous game, Nex Machina, was a twin-stick shooter with bullet-hell elements, Returnal instead takes upon those mechanics and transforms them into a fluid and blazing fast third-person shooter experience.

Above all, the movement and gunplay in Returnal is high stakes, frenetic, and adrenaline I inducing to an absurd degree. Most likely you’ll at first feel overwhelmed by the sheer ridiculous amount of things happening on screen all at once, especially if you’re new to these style of shooters. But after putting in the time to grind and learning the mechanics and enemy attack patterns, you’ll find yourself blowing past threats that once sent you back to boot at your trusty ship. And speaking of the enemies in this game, there are so many, and they are all so distinctly and deliberately designed to kill you in uniquely brutal ways, each one delivering a different manner of suffering for the player.

However, the beauty in this game’s combat comes from the dichotomy of satisfaction v suffering, in failure v achievement, and how the lines often blur between both throughout your play time. If you’ve heard anything about Returnal at this point, then you surely have heard about the game’s difficulty. Death in Returnal is not a matter of if, but simply a matter of a slender window of ‘when,’ and like other legendary games that have a reputation for their difficulty being at the core of their gameplay experience (namely Souls-like games), Returnal understands that, while dying often is most certainly a given, it doesn’t have to mean failure.

Like games like Dark Souls, death in Returnal is much more than just that. It’s a learning experience, and in many of the same ways that Souls-like games have a way of paralleling learning from in-game failures as lessons to learning from real life failures as lessons, so does Returnal accomplish the same feat. The game seems to silently understand the player’s position and the enormous burden that Selene has been appointed with. It’s as if the developers are silently communicating to the player that they understand, and that while the task at hand may seem downright impossible at times, anything is possible once you set your mind to it.

But this feeling of feeling like your facing impossible odds at all times is one that never subsides in Returnal; in a way it’s like the mission statement of the game. There’s this grim, crushing sense of nihilistic foreboding that hangs over every next major encounter in Returnal, and it’s as if it’s almost teasing you with the notion of success at every turn. But failure isn’t everything in Returnal.

You apply yourself and learn the many intricacies to this game’s mechanics and to its even more complex world mechanics and you will succeed. You’ll find yourself taking on smorgasbords of fiendishly nightmarish foes without breaking a sweat; you’ll be evading hundreds of glowing death orbs hurtling towards you all at once and taking the time to stop in awe to be mesmerized by the absolute next-level particle effects in all those glowing death orbs. Moreover, you’ll find yourself taking down downright outrageous bosses, bosses that at one point in time, were the bane of Selene’s existence.

And it’s this other lesson that Returnal instills in the player: as much as your failures matter, your victories matter even more. Arguably heavily difficult games like Returnal make us appreciate our victories more so than in any number or less-difficult games because, once we do succeed, we feel like we’ve done so much to earn it, so it matters more. And with the hellish barrage of a past year and a half we’ve all had, I can’t help but feel like Returnal (and the rare handful of games like it) is doing something truly unique in that it serves as a parallel for how we fail, learn, and eventually overcome in the real world just as we do in this equally engrossing and frustrating video game.

It’s a video game that reminded me of the film Prometheus in the first ten minutes and for some reason that was wasn’t a bad thing, and for that alone, I think it deserves all the praise and accolades it’s getting. Do yourself a favor and play it for yourself. I don’t know man, I’m never good at wrapping these things up.



P.S.: Without spoiling anything I just wanted to briefly say that some of the boss fights in this game are in contention for being among the greatest I’ve ever fought. They’re so, so good.
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When you mention an album, artist, film, game, label, etc - it's recommended to link to the item the first time you mention it. Doing so will make it easier to search for your post and give it more visibility. To link an item, use the search box above, or find the shortcut that appears on the page that you want to link. You can customize the link name of shortcuts by using the format [Artist12345,Custom Name].
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Catalog

karrilho Returnal 2024-06-13T04:18:15Z
2024-06-13T04:18:15Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
deieb Returnal 2024-06-07T20:51:36Z
2024-06-07T20:51:36Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Jcoley19 Returnal 2024-06-07T20:25:16Z
2024-06-07T20:25:16Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Rippeul Returnal 2024-06-04T21:49:50Z
2024-06-04T21:49:50Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
mtvernon Returnal 2024-05-22T16:26:42Z
2024-05-22T16:26:42Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Tk_23 Returnal 2024-05-22T05:07:38Z
2024-05-22T05:07:38Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
yetmoreusernames Returnal 2024-05-22T03:47:33Z
2024-05-22T03:47:33Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Awe
rainstorm Returnal 2024-05-19T23:58:50Z
2024-05-19T23:58:50Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Dr_Manhattan95 Returnal 2024-05-14T20:31:58Z
2024-05-14T20:31:58Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
nobodyburnhole95 Returnal 2024-05-14T05:28:45Z
2024-05-14T05:28:45Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Lost_in_Melancholy Returnal 2024-05-12T21:59:49Z
PS5 • XNA
2024-05-12T21:59:49Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
keyinlock Returnal 2024-05-07T20:00:59Z
2024-05-07T20:00:59Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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Comments

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Note: Unlike reviews, comments are considered temporary and may be deleted/purged without notice.
  • Previous comments (32) Loading...
  • skny 2023-03-17 09:22:26.87119+00
    Yeah played it on PC and it's just OK. Most enemies/bosses feel extremely similar to how you fight them (just strafe left and right lol), not to mention it's piss easy even with a controller (apparently at launch it was harder tho).
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  • Jaxijin 2023-03-18 04:45:13.829428+00
    Haven't played a roguelite this fast and as quickly in years (40 hours in 2 weeks lol). One of the best roguelites I've ever played and a perfect encapsulation of Housemarque's games up to this point. I also didn't find the difficulty as bad as people said, but I've played a lot of their games and knew what to expect (not to mention this game is insanely generous with checkpoints). Really looking forward to what they put out next.
    reply
    • Jaxijin 2023-03-22 19:19:06.467811+00
      I realized I meant to say "shortcuts", not checkpoints.
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  • shrill_yell 2023-09-09 19:35:25.314136+00
    One of the few big boy budget titles I've loved in some time--it's arcade Silent Hill, of course I love it--but as a bullet hell fan I kind of wish it was more viable to weave through the patterns without dash/i-frames.
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  • sosa_ 2023-10-06 01:13:46.853884+00
    immaculate vibes
    reply
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  • Sparlis 2023-11-08 01:03:54.37529+00
    I'm glad I live in a reality where this game exists.
    reply
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  • Shoreward 2024-01-28 05:57:52.48614+00
    Why is the cake so crazy??
    reply
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  • Kevao 2024-02-21 14:32:27.468459+00
    a bill murray away from perfection
    reply
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