Returnal is simply a challenging game. Not made for the faint of heart. Full with enemies, bosses, biomes and extreme moments that will push you to your limits. This review will cover some of the main moments and key parts of this new PS5 exclusive games that give you a great, but difficult experience. There are no spoilers in this blog.
We are going to jump straight in with the biomes with this game. There are numerous different biomes throughout the game, each serving as sort of a level. With the world made up of six biomes, you fight your way through the biomes and environments to face a boss at the end, to get the key or item you need and move on.
The biomes are very distinct and unique, with each having their own powerful atmosphere and themes. Some do have some similar architecture, but does not stop them from feeling very different. With different biomes having different weather, open spaces, lighting, vegetation, colours and layout all combining to make each area feel special.
Different biomes also offer a greatly different combat approach. Obviously when you go from the very enclosed and close quarter start ruins to the massively open Crimson Waste biome, the way you approach combat will have to change to adapt to new areas and more powerful enemies. And this carries throughout the game.
With each biome you will get different and more unique approaches to exploration, combat and even just traversing the areas as a whole. It does not at all feel like the areas are similar or reskinned.
Throughout the whole game the map will guide you on exactly where to, but it will also display secret and optional areas and objectives that you can explore. In these areas you can find combat challenges, different weapons, gear and customisation options, massive puzzle rooms and timed events.
I am also going to mention the map a little bit here. It is extremely useful and great, guiding you to exactly what you are looking for (so that you do not have to spend ages looking for it). And with such a massive world this is such a great addition.
With the areas though it does begin to feel somewhat repetitive, especially as you get later into the game. You will find that there is not much of a reason to return back to previous areas other than gathering some new gear.
The enemies are simply brilliant. But also devastating. It is great to see that the AI of the enemies are made really well, to give you more of a challenge. Enemies do not hold back; they will use different powerful attacks and abilities that will push you to the edge.
You will often find some enemies that do not challenge you to much, but as you move along, they gradually get more and more lethal.
Each biome has its own unique enemies that are super powerful and use different destructive attacks. You will have enemies that float around the room that attempt to break you with rapid projectile attacks, and you will have enemies that savagely chase you down and get right in your face in order to crush you. And some of these enemies are like tanks, so you need to strategize and move quickly to avoid their wrath.
The enemy design upon that is so menacing and great as well. They look super powerful, and feel super powerful. Each enemy looks so unique, and that really helps you remember their towering strength. And you can’t just sit back and take them down slowly, that won’t work, you have to face them directly and right in their face.
After all those challenging enemies you will find yourself face-to-face with bone-breaking bosses. And these bosses are brutal. Completely devastating you with constant barrages of extreme attacks.
You will have to use precise movement and weaponry to overcome them, anything less and you will be left dominated. The designs and abilities of these bosses are seriously wicked, offering an experience you will not forget.
One nick picky complaint I do have though is use of orb-based attack. They do look cool and offer for some challenging moments, but they are used extremely regularly. It would be nice to see some other different focused attacks, but it is not a big issue.
Returnal is a game that really escalates in terms of difficulty. Off the start of the game, most players will not have much of an issue facing enemies or making their way through biomes. But as you get further in, it becomes far more difficult.
It becomes extremely punishing and you will be pushed to the limit in the later stages. And with the concept of once you die, you start again playing a giant role in this game, you will find it very challenging. You will often find that areas in biomes can be very tame in terms of difficulty, but you will find this is temporary. You will be tested severely as you go along.
It is also important to know that this game is separated into two parts. One part covers the first three biomes, and the second covers the last three. When you die in the first part, you will start at the beginning of that part/ the game. But if you die in the second part, you will only go back the beginning of the second part.
You will have to go through the effort of gathering keys and making story and level progress again. Making the difficulty that much harsher, considering there is no save system throughout the levels and biomes. Once you have unlocked a boss though, you will get access to a shortcut so you can make your way back with less effort. It is very punishing in terms of difficulty, so expect a wild ride.
There are ten different types of weapons scattered through the game. Each varying in power and how they work. You can find pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and so much more throughout the game. And as you go along the power of these weapons will keep going up.
You can only hold one weapon at a time, and there is no need for ammunition. But you can easily and constantly find new weapons that will be more powerful than the last. And upon all of this, each weapon will have a different perk.
Perks make the weapons more powerful and unique. These perks include alternate firing modes and abilities that will help in any situation. But in order to unlock perks, you will have to kill a lot of enemies. But once unlocked, you do not have to worry about unlocking the perk again. It will permanently unlock.
The weapon designs have to be mentioned. They all look so amazing and unique, that it really makes them so awesome to obtain and use. Weapons also have active reload. It is a nice feature to have, but the game is so fast paced and so chaotic you do often find that you are not focusing on reload or that timing.
Gear unlocks throughout the game show to be both extremely useful and really fun. With new pieces of gear offering new methods to explore new areas, obtain different materials and open previously inaccessible places.
Just adding to that overall strong customisation level. Each piece of gear is extremely useful in combat settings as well, giving you different approaches to clear an area.
Consumables, artifacts and parasites are all different items you can pick up throughout the game, and each help you in many ways. Many of these will give you bonuses to make you more powerful during combat, giving you the edge in a fight.
But a lot of them give you bonuses along with a trade-off. For example, a parasite might give you extra healing, but will cause you to take more damage in certain situations (like picking up an item).
Numerous other consumables and keys will give you benefits, but also a suit malfunction. And in order to remove the suit malfunction you have to meet combat objectives.
And this all adds to the overall customisation. Giving you countless different ways to approach encounters and customise your experience. And all the weapon choices add to this, customising your Returnal experience.
You play as Selene. Your ship has crashed down on an alien planet and instantly start realising that something is wrong. Identifying that you are trapped in a never-ending loop where once you have died, you return to the crash site and start over. You seek the origin of the white shadow signal, to figure out why it brought you onto the planet.
The narrative overall is strong, and a lot of the story details are segmented throughout the world. You can learn more about the alien world and civilisation through different scannables and holograms to learn more about the civilisation.
You gradually learn more and more about Selene past and the reason why she is on the planet as you move along. There are multiple endings to the story throughout the game, but I will leave you to discover those. But all the story points that are delivered are great, a really good plot and story points that build a great narrative.
The gameplay overall is simply stunning. I have already mentioned exploration, which is good, but the combat is what really shines. You need to use rapid and fast movement along with mighty strong gunplay with absolute precision. And this makes for a really strong and fast paced combat experience that is absolutely phenomenal.
Adrenaline system works really well in the gameplay, as you kill more enemies your adrenaline level increases. Giving you more unique abilities that will help in any combat setting. Like increased melee damage, enhanced vision and so much more adding that extra edge in combat. But once you get hit your adrenaline resets. It may sound a bit harsh but it is actually very rewarding. It gives you those extra benefits for successfully avoiding and beating your opponents. Though this does offer some extra power, you do find that not having also works just as well. It is not a necessity to have these levels.
In terms of replay ability, Returnal is a bit limited. With the main story mode being the key part of this game. Though the game is quite challenging and takes quite a bit of time to complete, once completed, there is not much else to do. Yes, you can replay the campaign and experience more challenging moments. But there isn’t much else to do apart from that. You can perfect your gear and become as powerful as you can, but beyond that the replay ability is not that good.
With a lot of similar games, there are often a few issues with controls. But not with Returnal, the controls are super smooth and strong. The camera works very well, no issues there. And the controls are super-fast and responsive. The movement and weapon controls have quite a bit of depth to them and are very finely made. Giving you full control of how you want to play.
Returnal really makes the most out of the PS5 and the DualSense controller. Out of most of the PS5 games I have experienced, this is the game that really makes the most out of it. Using adaptive triggers and haptic feedback very regularly so that the world feels that more alive. And it is with the epic weapons that you mainly see these features in action.
The concept of a game where once you die and start again is nothing new. Being an often-used mechanic or difficulty setting in some games.
But Returnal takes it to a new level with the environment and areas changing once you start over. Although the biomes will remain the same, the areas within them will change. Giving you a unique experience every time.
You lose all of your non-permanent gear and go from where you started. It’s a good concept and works really well. Offering a real challenge to players.
The graphics are absolutely stunning. This does play in part with the power of the PS5, but it has to be said. The graphics are out of this world and really make the world stand out. Especially with 4K.
The lighting really helps with this, with a world that is built to be dark, the lighting works really well to make everything appear wonderful. Enemies let off really nice and bright colours, along with the environment. Allowing for a beautiful visual experience.
The audio is really lush and powerful, while also working really well with the PS5’s 3D audio. It helps to build that stunning atmosphere. Returnal really makes the most of the PS5s sound system. In every area you will hear powerful sounds that really suit the areas you are exploring.
Sounds are perfectly tuned and the soundtrack is good. It suits the game and atmosphere extremely well. It isn’t going to blow your mind away, but it works well for the game.
The performance of Returnal is extremely strong. And I instantly want the mention the no load times. Such a great thing to have in a world of this magnitude. I do not need to say anything else about it. Just so great.
This game does work at 60fps but you do occasionally get some frame drops. With enemies using all sorts of crazy attacks, this is expected and can cause some issues. Because the game is so fast paced and enemies are using loads of fast and powerful attacks, frame drops can cause you to take some damage you would usually avoid.
You may encounter the issue of your game crashing. This is the most frustrating issue for me. Because of how the game works, with no saving and having to start over when you die. When your game crashes, you have to start again... Extremely frustrating as you will lose progress.
Overall, this game is simply great. Although there are a few performance issues, and the difficulty can get a bit frustrating, the game is stunning. A game designed to push you beyond the limits, and it feels really satisfying when you finally get over the enemies and bosses in the way. If you are looking for a good and challenging story, this is the game for you. But the replay ability is a bit scarce, making the £70 a bit of a stretch and concern.