Returnal: The Unfinished Review

Note: Whenever possible we do like to finish a game before writing the review. But as the days and weeks drag on past launch day, and we’re not getting any nearer to finishing Returnal, and don’t expect to finish it any time soon, this will be our first “unfinished review”.

After crash-landing on an alien world, Astra scout Selene must search through the barren landscape of an ancient civilization for her escape. Isolated and alone, she finds herself fighting tooth and nail for survival. Again and again, she’s defeated – forced to restart her journey every time she dies.

Returnal is the latest game from the studio Housemarque. this type of game is commonly known as a Rogue-lite (or Roguelike). In short, this means that if you die at any point in the game, you are brought right back to the start. Yes, you could be hours into the game, and be at the final boss, and if you die, it is back to the very start again and you lose all your progress. Due to the controversial lack of the save option, this is also true if you turn off the PS5. If you have a power outage. If the kids put on a different game. Or even if the studio releases a patch.

There is a certain amount of progress that carries through each death. Not only do you learn a little more about the planet, the enemies and their patterns of attack. You can also unlock permanent upgrades to skills and weapons to help you along. You can also carry over Ether, a type of currency that is hard to come by and can be spent in-game.

There is a small bit of help. The game is set over six Biomes, each with its own very distinct visual styling. Once you get to Biome 3, you are given a path from your ship directly to Biome 3. This is a double-edged sword as you will arrive underpowered. You have to weigh up the risk of skipping to save time and skipping the upgrading.

Gameplay-wise the game is immense, it is fast and frantic, the controls are near perfect. Rooms quickly become filled with stunning, visually striking, enemies, bullets and particle effects.

While on the surface of it, playing the same level over and over sounds repetitive. But the way to map totally changes for every loop keeps it incredibly fresh. Rooms completely change so you have no idea where weapons are, where the upgrades are or where the enemies are hiding. The story is also mysterious and one of the driving factors in sending you back into the meat grinder.

Housemarque make great use of the Next Gen PS5 features.

This is the first game to really make use of the 3D Audio on the PS5. It is so accurate you can hear individual raindrops hitting the ground around you. The Haptic feedback through the Dual Sense controller is incredible, it really is an extension of the game and not just a marketing gimmick. The fast loading times thanks to the SSD make fast travel actually fast. It does feel like a next-gen game.

The one negative, and one that can’t be overlooked, is the price tag. While we fully expected games to jump from 60 to €70. €80 just feels like a jump too far. That is a significant amount of money to be expected to hand over, especially in the current crisis with many out of work.

Overall: Returnal is beautiful and brutal, everything about it is polished and refined and it is hard not to recommend it to everyone, but I simply can’t. It is let down by the price tag and the lack of a save option.

Not everyone has that kind of money or time to spare. There is no real good reason to not have two modes. The original without a save, and a second mode that lets you save and restart from certain locations throughout.

Hopefully the dev team take on this feedback and we get an update to make this stunning game more accessible to more players.

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