While a few cryptic early videos teased Returnal’s atmosphere and visual potential, Housemarque’s new game has largely remained a mystery since its announcement. But after a recent hands-on demo, I was fortunate enough to see, and its appearance at today’s State of Play event, my anticipation for the project exploded.
An action game like Returnal lives or dies because of the precision of the controller’s play, and of course, that’s something I can’t speak authoritatively until I get my hands dirty. . As such, I’m not yet ready to top the game off as a new shooting obsession until I play it in full on PlayStation 5 for the April 30 release. But regardless of the gameplay feel, Returnal has a lot going for it as it nears release in a few months.
Housemarque has been around for a long time and the team has the experience and talent to pull off high level action. Not everyone is familiar with the team’s games, as over the last few generations of games they have mostly focused on downloadable arcade-style action games, including titles like Resogun, Nex Machina, and Alienation. These were fast-paced games that didn’t immediately reveal their depth, but any player who dug found a rich well of complexity and immense replayability, thanks to pristine balance, very tight action controls and a constant ramp of challenge which allowed constant improvement of the players.
The comeback changes the outlook for a third-person shooter, but the start of the game features many of the same focal points of replayability and smooth, fast-paced action. And that bodes very well for the luck of some engaging combat scenarios.
Returnal explores the vanity of an astronaut named Selene who crashes on a strange alien planet called Atropos, filled with monstrous creatures. As she explores, her limited knowledge and weaponry inevitably lead to death. But after encountering her disappearance, she inevitably wakes up on her crashing spaceship, destined to experience a time loop inducing insanity.
From a gameplay perspective, that means Returnal follows the familiar structure of a roguelike, albeit with a few twists and turns. Selene can gain new powers and avenues of exploration that permanently unlock, including a melee attack, hook swing, and even changes in world geography, like a bridge or a door that opens for the following races. During this time, other buffs can be acquired with each run, but subsequently disappear, such as weapons and mods, maximum health, and attack power.
As such, there is the promise that players can gradually unlock entirely new areas and biomes, as well as basic powers, but also expect each race to bring a sense of discovery and newness.
The content randomly created for each race can be a blessing or a curse for roguelikes, but based on my time watching the game in action, the team focused on a number of systems that get the most out of it. party of both handcrafted and organized products. content, while simultaneously presenting it creatively with each runthrough.
Among 10 weapon archetypes, like machine guns and shotguns, there is huge variance that changes the basic behaviors of the weaponry you find. Plus, the weapons have even more game-changing stats like armor-piercing bullets, sniper rifle bullets, or explosive bullets – all of which can stack. On top of that, the weapons also come with some unique alternate fire options like the addition of a lightning rifle hit or tentacle attacks that entangle enemies. Add random specs and players can look forward to all kinds of weird and wonderful weapons. In addition to weapons, players also encounter Parasites, which graft onto Selene, and offer a random selection of positive and negative effects, leading to a choice of risk / reward for their use. For example, you could carry a parasite that attracts revenge bullets from enemies you kill, but simultaneously creates explosions every time you critically reload.
Likewise, the level design is designed to maximize variability while not ignoring the need for thoughtful construction and progression. The individual parts are made by hand, but their orientation with the other parts changes. And the contents of the rooms also change, from the monsters that spawn there, to the secret rooms or passages you can find, to the loot you can pick up. On a larger level, Returnal also features several unique biomes that you’ll come across as you gradually come across – with entirely new color palettes, environmental effects, and geography to explore.
A mysterious story
While the filming and the action are certainly the focus, Returnal also has big storytelling ambitions. Selene’s exploration of the planet Atropos is shrouded in mystery and secrets, including the very nature of the time loop itself and why it happens. Sometimes Selene encounters manifestations of her own dead self, sometimes stemming from past lives she has lived exploring the planet, but also sometimes encountering dead selves from future races that she has not yet taken.
Players learn that a strange signal has drawn Selene to Atropos, called “White Shadow,” and she desperately searches for its origin and meaning.
But strangest of all, during Selene’s journey, she occasionally encounters what appears to be an Earth house hidden in the midst of alien growth – a place that clearly has ties to her own past. As players approach the house, the view changes to first person and Selene can wander the house, although there are doors that she will not initially open, apparently due to related trauma. to his stay there.
The storyline is designed to unfold gradually over many races and many lifetimes across the game, which has the potential to tie together the many parts players may inevitably face on their journey to answers.
Soft PS5 exclusive action
While there are plenty of compelling traps that add intrigue and replayability to Returnal’s appeal, all will be in vain if the shot, speed, and overall action aren’t up to par. The full image won’t be crisp until I get a chance to play it myself, but the combat I saw in the demo without intervention looks very promising.
In keeping with Housemarque’s history of arcade games, many battles draw heavily on the tradition of “hell bullets” of constant attacks spilling onto the screen, requiring the player to dodge, run. and to get to safety, even when launching counter-attacks. There is a edgy, fast-paced quality to the action that is sure to remind players of the team’s other work on titles like Resogun.
Beyond that, the quality of the action is particularly high, thanks to the exclusive appearance of the game on PS5. One of the few games to date that has been exclusively designed to meet the potential of the PS5, the on-screen visuals (and especially the particle and weapon effects) are a sight to behold. Housemarque told me that their team is also investing heavily in harnessing the PS5’s 3D audio technology to create increased atmospheric immersion; plan to play with headphones if you can. Additionally, the team is also exploring ways to capitalize on the PS5’s impressive DualSense controller; for example, the adaptive trigger feature will be used on the L2 aim button, allowing you to get a focused zoom by pressing the trigger halfway, but also allowing you to override resistance to make the weapon go into focus. alternative fire.
We don’t have to wait long to be able to all try Returnal for ourselves. The game is aiming for a full release on April 30, exclusively on PlayStation 5. In the meantime, if the idea of Housemarque’s big eye for action got you excited, the team’s previous games, including Resogun, stay as fun as the day they were released – go check them out!