Returnal - Review
Returnal is our dark, deep, and beautiful sci-fi action thriller. It takes everything Housemarque has done in the past, gameplay-wise, and adds a whole new vision and style
The first foray into 3rd person action genre. Back by SONY mean the Returnal team have a chance to do what they have always wanted to do.
They said “It's also our first attempt at crafting a roguelike experience, and the first time we're weaving an intricate story with a memorable character and rich cinematic elements into our games.”
Al the said “We're trying to blend a lot of new things in this package that we haven't really done before, which has kept the project feeling consistently fresh and interesting.
The result is something that we feel is quite unique. Fans will definitely recognise this as an evolution of the Housemarque formula, and we hope that with our new direction and production values we can introduce our brand of explosive arcade action to a wider mainstream audience."
Returnal will be the first game out of Housemarque backed by a full narrative team. While the studio's previous games have included story elements to ground the gameplay systems and frame its bullet-hell action, it has never made a large commitment to tell a story.
Returnal begins with a tragedy playing on repeat: a crash, an attack, your death; a crash, an attack, your death—
"Returnal's dark sci-fi time loop setup is so exciting narratively for us because Selene, our deep space scout repeating the crash, allows us to add lots of hidden layers narratively that are uncovered through repetition,"
"The cyclical nature of the narrative design means the more you push forward, the more you discover Selene. What does the cycle do to someone? What is the planet's history? Why are things beyond Selene's comprehension appearing here?"
Selene is cursed to relive her first moments on the alien planet of Atropos every time she succumbs to its horrors. You'll examine the ancient civilisation through which you wade for answers, haunted by the echoes of its past and the fragmentation of your memory the deeper you push into a constantly evolving and decaying terrain
Cosmic horror has been a strong inspiration for us, both for our world-building and many of our central philosophical themes as well. Our enemies have been largely inspired by deep-sea creatures, and strong bioluminescent highlights will contrast their otherworldly tentacle masses.
This dark, bleak world is accompanied by our bright and vibrant action to create a high-contrast 'dark world, bright gameplay' aesthetic
While an increased focus on narrative design and world-building work to showcase the studio's rising ambition, the gameplay is still king
Returnal looks worlds apart from anything the team has delivered in the past, the beating heart of Housemarque is still there at its core. “always adhered to our core arcade philosophy”
Returnal is being built to constantly surprise
"Our levels are generated procedurally in Returnal, and our goal is to ensure that every run feels unique and offers rich variation for gameplay and combat scenarios."
The planet isn't the only element of the game that changes with every cycle, as you'll also need to contend with a shifting arsenal of weapons and items.
Housemarque is heavily invested in the switch to third-person action, highlighting the verticality in its level design and an expanded move set as key elements of the experience.
This includes the ability to utilise a grappling hook to quickly navigate areas, vault ledges while under fire, and traverse the environments with bursts of kinetic energy.
The Housemarque team is heavily invested in the switch to third-person action, highlighting the verticality in its level design and an expanded move set as key elements of the experience.
There is a plethora of weapons, items, systems and strange alien technology to discover and experiment with. We have a lot of exploration and traversal gameplay as well, and we want to constantly encourage – and reward – players' curiosity.
Bullet hell-fuelled combat and visceral twists and turns through stark environments is the baseline level of expectation for each run through the game.
Weaving through waves of projectiles is one of the purest forms of enjoyment one can find in our medium. Traditionally this has been explored more in 2D games, where the player has more control and awareness of the incoming threats.
Bringing this avoidance gameplay to a 3D playfield with lots of verticality has been a new challenge for us to get it feeling right, and we feel the result is a fairly unique take on the formula that feels rewarding and can often look spectacular
The goal has been to create an expansive world, and a progression system that the more you play, the more the game opens up to you.
In the game you'll keep hold of your logs and language samples upon rebirth, and your ship's database will continue defragmenting over time as you push for progression.
By exploring and experimenting you'll begin to unlock permanent upgrades and new abilities, all of which will not only let you push deeper into the maw of death, but uncover new layers to environments you've already explored.
You'll gain access to previously inaccessible areas, discover new items and secrets, piece together new parts for our story, and gain new advantages in combat. Multiple weapons and items will also become unlocked as you discover them in the world.
The random nature of the game means that some things will always be dictated by luck, but there will always be room to improve and overcome the challenges of Returnal through player skill alone.