There’s a new level of difficulty in video games, and unlike the masochists who enjoy Souls-like video games, rogue-like games offer a special kind of difficulty. Last year Hades set a new bar for rogue-likes. It was a rogue-like game for people who have never played or enjoyed rogue-likes before, and even if you set aside the genre debate, Hades managed to beat expectations. It was almost faultless! The fact that it blends narrative and gameplay structure so seamlessly makes Hades one of our top recommendations. But unlike Hades, I am not sure if Returnal will entice everyone. That doesn’t mean Returnal is bad? Not one bit! It’s great. The only thing keeping you from grabbing the controller is understanding that is Returnal’s rogue-like and time-consuming structure for you or not?

On the surface, Returnal is similar to Hades, the premise is simple at first and least bit daunting. The story slowly expands after every run. Giving you breadcrumbs of information and almost always pulling you back for another round. 

Selene doesn’t quite stick the landing after receiving a distress call from an unknown planet. She’s part of an intergalactic space exploration team called Astra. Your job is to find the source of the distress call and also, figure out why you’re able to come back to life at the crash site (beginning of the game) every time you die. Its procedurally generated world and the almost perma-death situation will challenge you in ways only the best of gamers can come through. So repetition is key and dying is part of the job.

Dying repeatedly is also part of the game’s rogue-like design, but it also extends to its story elements. It’s also a bit creepy in that regard. Unlike Hades where you’re the son of the Underworld God so rebirth is acceptable. Dying in Returnal feels more punishing and often creepy. It’s also done with the fantastic level design, the PlayStation 5 controller’s impeccable haptics and the eerie sound design. Nearly all your senses are pulled into Serene’s distressing situation. It’s safe to say that Returnal feels like a fleshed-out game as we expect from Sony’s exclusives, and that’s why this rogue-like deserves attention, even from folks who are not into it.

The procedurally generated level is divided into biomes, each biome has a boss after which it’s a bit easier to get to the next biome without confronting the boss of the previous biome again. 

Returnal can quickly become a tiresome venture after you die more than the usual amount and the fact that permanent unlocks/items are far and few, doesn’t make Selene’s life any easy. So GetGud because it can get very challenging and frustrating for casual gamers to sit through the many levels at a stretch. There are no checkpoints and taking any damage can severely impact your health. So if you’re not careful, death can come easily, even when you’re looking to avoid a fight. 

Returnal is best at training you to pick and choose your items. Going in guns blazing is probably a bad idea, but the reward is worth the grind if you’re bold enough. This third-person twin-stick shooter is made for gamers who thrive under bullet hell situations. To carefully dodge and avoid incoming bullets while shooting at the enemy at the same time takes experience and precise hand-eye coordination. It also makes Returnal such a fun game to play for seasoned gamers, meanwhile, casual players might find it bothersome. 

You also have to manage health, items, malignant items, keys and artefacts. All of which is lost after you die and the only thing you can carry from one run to the other is a substance called Ether. That too is rare, almost as rare as finding a waterfall in the middle of the desert. Of course, all these items have their uses and once you figure out which items are needed for your next boss battle, things tend to clear up but it’s not guaranteed that you’ll find the same thing again. That’s why some successful runs feel lucky. In my first-ever run, I was able to reach the third biome in a total of three to four hours of continuous gaming. 

Items can also be Malignant. Laced in bad juju so to speak and picking them up will induce a sort of debuff till you clear the specified malfunctions. For example, You get health but your dash cooldown will last longer until you kill three enemies with a melee attack. That sorta stuff. There are also parasites that have pros and cons as long as they’re attached to your body. 

Enemies drop Obilites upon death which can be traded for upgrades/items using Xeno tech devices. Much of the utilities you need to continue to your next boss battle can be found in the first biome. The first biome is also connected to the other ones, so it’s easier for you to access the latest biome without going through the previous ones again!

Returnal verdict

The world of Returnal is creepy. Enemies look odd and everything wants to kill you. The aesthetic is almost similar to some horror/thriller movies, think of Prometheus from the Alien movie franchise and you’re almost there. The PS5 controller also adds to another level of immersion, something I knew would be possible during my time with the PS5 but wasn’t sure until I played Returnal. The haptic feedback is downright fantastic! The shooting mechanics are built right into the controller. When you half-press the left trigger, the weapon only scopes in for normal fire but when you push the left trigger all the way in, it activates an alt-fire mode. Even the smaller details like raindrops on Selene’s spacesuit is felt with such precision that it blew my mind, again! The first time was when I played Astro’s Playroom.

Returnal promises many of PS5’s amazing features. The rapid load times after death and smooth gameplay are quite on top of that list but the immersive experience that the PS5 controller brings simply breathes life into Selene’s gruesome adventure.

You have to do your best to avoid enemy fire which always comes at you in simple yet deadly patterns. Dashing and running around the many levels and biomes while shooting enemies with various weapons and a lightsaber-esque sword is all part of what makes this third-person shooter so much fun. It’s almost like Doom at some point, maybe soon after you unlock a permanent grapple hook mod to reach higher sections of the level. 

It’s a fluid third-person shooter where bullet hell and rogue-like mechanics are thrown into the blender along with some superbly scripted narrative to keep you coming back for another run. The PS5 controller haptics and its audio add a certain level of immersion that is otherwise not available anywhere but the PlayStation 5!

Stuff says... 

Returnal review

Returnal has all the ingredients for an enjoyable, tough and fluid rogue-like game, and the PS5 controller elevates this experience further!
Good Stuff 
Intriguing story and plot
Creepy enemies and world
PS5 controller haptics are something else!
Selene is interesting and complex
Bad Stuff 
Extremely difficult for some
No checkpoints or a way to tone down the difficulty
Get gud!