Our Rating: 9/10
Returnal is the latest bullet hell game from Housemarque. It was published by Sony and released on April 30, 2021, as an exclusive for Playstation 5.
From the Resogun navigator game to the Shooter Top-Down Nex Machina, Housemarque has already proven its expertise in creating Bullet Hell games. The abundance of projectiles on screen and a focus on fast and difficult gameplay are common themes. As a result, Returnal carries on the developer’s tradition, but this time in the form of a third-person Roguelike.
A Strange Planet
In this journey, we take control of Selene, an astronaut. Her mission is to investigate a strange signal emanating from Atropos, a distant planet. Your ship is hit and shot down as you approach the planet. Selene survives the fall, but she quickly realizes she has lost contact with her base. You have no choice but to explore this planet in search of a way to save yourself.
Unfortunately, this is not an uninhabited planet, and alien creatures soon attack and kill the inhabitants. Selene, on the other hand, survives her initial fall and wakes up. She soon realizes she is trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth. Eventually, Selene discovers the bodies of other versions of herself who died in the past.
You can retrieve audio files that provide additional information about the planet and the discoveries made by your previous versions. Selene will learn more about herself. You will investigate the ancient civilization that once inhabited this planet and whose ruins can be found all over.
This planet plays with your psychological state by bringing a replica of your home. You will relive repressed memories from the past, revealing more about yourself while also raising several new questions about the nature of the planet Atropos and Selene’s role in it.
Returning to Hell
The gameplay is at the center of Returnal. Each monster you face as a Bullet Hell has a variety of ranged attacks that follow a different projectile pattern. And, because it’s a roguelike, dying means starting over and losing almost all of your progress.
The key equipment, such as the sword and the teleporter, is only available after you die. This makes this a Hardcore-style roguelike. As a result, no mechanic assists you in improving each run, making the game easier over time. No, in Returnal, only your skill determines whether you succeed or fail.
Because this is such a difficult game, failure will occur frequently. The number of projectiles on the screen is enormous, and each room contains a large horde of enemies; you can only move forward after killing the last monster. A large portion of your concentration will be on avoiding these shots rather than shooting because you will be unable to continue fighting if you die.
Selene has a wide range of weapons at her disposal to combat them. She starts with a pistol and progressing through machine guns and shotguns, and so on. This creates an electrical pattern to stick to and that does damage over time to anyone nearby.
Returnal created the entire story of Selene being trapped in this time loop to justify the game’s Roguelike elements. The game has a variety of random factors. From the monsters found in each room to the items found in chests. The special shot in weapons is where this randomization occurs.
Each weapon has a standard firing pattern as well as a special, devastating pattern that requires a long cooldown time. The weapon’s style is fixed for normal shots, but the alternative is random. Weapons have modifiers that change how they work.
So, even if two pistols are discovered, they can be used in different ways. However, once you reach a certain “Level” with the weapon, they are released and activated in subsequent runs. One of the few tools the game provides for the future.
Choices are a big part of Returnal’s Roguelike. That is because several parasites will attach themselves to your personality. These parasites have a permanent buff and debuff. You can increase your health, but every time you use an item, it will take damage. When your health is low, you gain regeneration, but monsters drop fewer coins.
The same is true of chests, which can be harmed by an Evil status. When you open one of these chests, your character receives a debuff that can be removed by completing a mini-mission. We have no way of knowing what will be in the chest. So you could get only a debuff and nothing else.
Gameplay and Graphics
Returnal is a game that has divided opinions on how it should be played. On the one hand, it’s one of the most addicting action games. Bullet Hell is extremely difficult. The battles leave you with a racing heart, especially considering the high cost of death. Randomness forces you to adapt to various situations and encounters.
Each monster has its shooting pattern and level of aggression. It’s crucial to learn them to avoid being hit. As well as knowing which enemy to target out of so many. It’s a fast-paced, challenging, and entertaining game.
The game appears to be stunning in terms of ambiance and graphics. There are six distinct biomes, each with its color scheme and theme. The jungle, with its dark bluish hue and deep shadows, is the first biome. Then we travel to the scarlet desert, where the orange sands impart a warm hue to everything. It includes Selene’s costume, which becomes soiled over time.
The monsters have a unique design, with almost all of them having a large number of tentacles. Many others are in the same boat. However, each one has its distinct style and silhouette, making it easier to spot enemies among so many tentacles.
The audio plays an important role in the gameplay. Because there are so many enemies and projectiles on the screen, the developers came up with the brilliant idea of using audio to aid you. Even if monsters aren’t visible on the screen, playing with headphones allows you to locate them.
The not so good side
The high cost of death can make the experience frustrating. The game’s size and difficulty add to the frustration. When you die in a Roguelike, you must restart your run. Another common feature is that Roguelikes are usually short games, owing to their high level of difficulty and repetition. Returnal disregarded this last feature, as his matches can easily last more than three hours with no way to save in between. You can even save time by using the map to determine which doors are important. This leads to the next Biome containing challenges and additional items.
However, skipping these rooms can leave you vulnerable in later biomes. So you must choose between a quick run and a slightly easier one. As a result, the Returnal experience is tense. There is no rest in danger during these several hours. When you die in these conditions, you lose a lot of time and don’t have anything to show for it later.
The Bullet Hell aspects of Returnal are spectacular, but the Roguelike elements are lacking. The variety and unpredictability of this genre are one of its most appealing features. The best roguelikes give the player a huge variety of items and skills to choose from as they create a new character with each run.
Things aren’t very random, and the runs are all very similar, with the numbers under the table being the only difference. Your character gains +50% defense in one Run and +20% attack in the other. These are minor adjustments that do not prompt the player to alter his or her behavior.
The weapons have the most variety of builds, but getting weapons with good modifications is entirely dependent on luck. As a result, the Roguelike aspect of Returnal proves to be more frustrating than interesting, leading you to believe that it would have been better as a regular action game, or that a good Roguelike would require more variety.
Fans were also divided by the story told here. It is divided into two parts, similar to the gameplay. The history of the planet Atropos and the history of Selene’s past.
To learn more about the planet, we must search the various rooms for Xenoglyphs, an extinct civilization’s language that contains information about what occurred. The Xenoglyphs, which contain text and image records about the world’s history, can also be found there. It’s a fascinating mystery, with corruption slowly consuming the intelligent beings who once called this place home and even a Lovecraftian-style Ancient God. It’s intriguing, and you keep trying to piece the puzzle together to gain a better understanding.
The first-person sequences of the house, on the other hand, allow us to relive Selene’s memories. On paper, it appears to be a large, disjointed mystery in which the developer scatters small clues in the hopes that the player will piece them together and make sense of what is happening. To obtain all of the pieces, you must first unlock the “true ending”. This entails finding several items after zeroing the game.
Unlike the alien story, however, many claimed to be uninterested in this one. Its jumbled nature should have perplexed and intrigued us, but all it gave a feeling of befuddlement. Despite having all of the pieces in place, the story was not particularly engaging or relevant to the game. In the end, it’s more interesting to learn more about Atropos and Selene’s survival in this hell than learning about some past trauma or justification for the loop she finds herself in.
Overall, there are several advantages, but they are accompanied by many disadvantages. This is one of the most enjoyable shooters. Employing the Bullet Hell style to create breathtaking and extremely difficult combat scenarios.
However, its roguelike elements cause more frustration than enjoyment. It is a very long game for this genre, with very similar runs because the upgrades are only numerical. Moreover, it has no or little aesthetic and gameplay changes.
While learning more about the history of the planet Atropos and the civilization that built these ruins is a fun activity, visiting the house and learning more about Selene’s past and investigating her time loop turns out to be uninteresting and unexciting.
Nonetheless, you will surely have a great time with Returnal. It is a fantastic PS5 exclusive that is well worth checking out. That is if you don’t get frustrated by Roguelike kills and have a high level of shooting skill. As well as quick fingers to avoid so many shots.