Housemarque returns with a sci-fi game with roguelike settings in Returnal. Play through a planet that houses a destroyed civilization in a grayish scenario… I mean, explore a vermillion planet in a rocky setting as you drag the red earth through your space soles… Uh, that is, navigate through a dark forest and watch out for aerial enemies…
Returnal takes place in a shape-shifting planet, which mysteriously changes its appearance at each cycle and it's up to you to unlock its secrets and find a way back home.
What is Returnal?
Returnal is a sci-fi roguelike third-person shooter with bullet hell gameplay and extreme replayability. It was developed by Housemarque, the same company that gave us Dead Nation and Resogun. This time, the roguelike feature is ingrained into the plot in a setting similar to Edge of Tomorrow (or Groundhog day if you are that old). Over and over you relive your journey every time you die.
What's the Story of Returnal?
You play Selene and after crash-landing into an unknown planet called Atropos, where an ancient civilization once lived - or lives. It's up to you to explore it while uncovering its secrets and hopefully, find a way home. Perilous and violent, prepare to suffer countless defeats and dive deep into more mysteries, as each death transforms the landscape around you and brings you a new environment, ecosystem, enemies, and weapons.
Other than crashing a lot, Housemarque has been very silent about the game plot. Are some deaths obligatory or can insane speedrunners finish the game without dying once? Does the outcome changes with more death? Selen claims she is losing her sanity and memory the longer she is there, is there a death count limit? We have a lot of questions, but no answers. I guess we will have to wait and play. Meanwhile, check out this great trailer that turns our words into visual:
Returnal Gameplay and Mechanics
A third-person shooter with roguelike features must mean that we will have a lot of different weapons to blast our enemies, right? Right!
To give you some context, roguelike is a genre that stripes you of your weapons and upgrades every time you die and throws you back at the start, resetting or randomizing the dungeons - in this case, the entire planet. It doesn't mean you lose your progress. In some cases, you can keep some items or abilities to give you a headstart and not tear your hope as well.
In Returnal, you have the mysterious Cthonos, an alien device that generates a random item at the beginning of each cycle. The random item will be improved according to your progress. When you accumulate enough progress, you will unlock new to choose from the initial pool and relive your journey with more advantages. We can see in the trailer Selene got a Shield vial that "creates a Shield against the next hit".
There's also another device called Damaged Fabricator. In other roguelikes, you accumulate money that you can spend at the start of each run to buy long-lasting upgrades. We don't know for sure if that will work similarly, but it does seem like it because according to a PlayStation blogpost by Housemarque, they say you can exchange Obolites (Returnal's money) for valuable items to increase your chances of survival.
Let's talk about weapons: the game features 10 base weapons that can be upgraded with traits or one alternative fire. The Spitmaw Blaster is a shotgun in its base form, but as you unlock more traits, the weapon can fire exploding shells or generate acid pools upon impact.
Other weapons have traits that can extract extra loot from enemies, or generate shields for the player. The alternative fire mode will be randomly assigned, but it seems it will be fixed for weapons. For instance, the Shockstream works like a machinegun, but once Selene discovers a new technology that augments her weapon with an alternative firing mechanism, the Shockstream starts to spill electrical impulses to zap aliens into misery.
Using the DualSense adaptive trigger, you don't even need to swap the different types of firing. When you press the shooting button half-way down, you shoot the base fire. But when you squeeze all the way, you automatically switch to the alt-fire mode.
To amp things up, we also have Parasites, double-edged upgrades. For example, there's a parasite that regenerates you while at low health but also causes enemies to leave behind a pool of acid on death. It's a risky move that can bring reward if well executed. There's an Artifact that can increase your max health for every Parasite you’ve attached, so it may seem like a good choice to be infested until you become a monster and kill every alien on the planet.
And last but not least, Tools. We have the Dismantler, a bomb that explodes to eliminate all hostiles in the area, Kinetic Siphon, restores Health through melee kills or an Atropian Blade, a melee weapon that is advantageous against shields. Although no one said anything about it, we can see in the trailer a proficiency level increasing and saying that upcoming weapons will be improved. Does that stands for melee tools or just the blade and does every weapon has proficiency? Again, we will have to wait and see.
Remember, with each cycle, you will have new weapons, traits, items, and face new enemies. You will have to adapt to the planet's current environment. Selene can only hold one weapon at a time, so think strategically, and find out which weapons and traits are best for that cycle, which tools can complement your playstyle, and if it's time to raise the stakes and grab a load of Parasites in your system.
Take a look at the Combat trailer to see how hell looks like if it was made from bullets and how dynamic the gameplay is:
Returnal Release Date and Platforms
First, Returnal was announced to be released on March 19, 2021. But as it is customary in this pandemic season, the game was postponed and, until then, confirmed to April 30, 2021.
Microsoft and Nintendo lovers, unfortunately, you won’t be able to play until you buy a PlayStation 5, since it’s a Sony exclusive. Will it be the first game that will use the P55's engine to the full extent?
Returnal Price and Other Editions
Returnal will cost the updated value for PS5 games, $69.90 in the base version, and brings 2 in-game suits for Selene. The Deluxe version costs $79.90 and brings several more things, such as weapons, artifacts, a booster, and a digital soundtrack. We don't know if these weapons last after death, but probably they do. Otherwise, you will pay $10.00 for perishable weapons and you will feel compelled to ask for a returnal of your money.