WHAT IS A HANDS-ON REVIEW?
Hands-on game reviews are a journalist’s first impressions of a game based on the fact that we spent some time on it prior to our full review. In this case we played the first two biomes from Returnal. The most important thing is that we could play with it ourselves and give you a sense of what it’s like to enjoy it, even if it’s just an embryonic point of view. For more information, see TechRadar Review Guarantee.
Coming back is a challenge. A popup before starting the game warns you about it, but that doesn’t mean you are prepared. Make no mistake, Returnal is a roguelike. And while developer Housemarque has put its own stamp on the genre, fusing it with third-party shooters, this exclusive PS5 promises a test trip – but one you’ll want to come back to time and time again.
Returnal will put you through its paces so there are few permanent upgrades between runs and you can grind and start over at the same time. But every death – and you will die a lot – isn’t entirely pointless as it brings more of the story to light, uncovering secrets you may have missed before, and possibly better loot (but sometimes you’re just unlucky).
While Returnal is an undeniable challenge, it’s also an amazingly haunting one. The combination of the subtle use of the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers of the DualSense PS5 controller, the 3D audio technology from Sony and the downright mesmerizing environment make for one of the most impressive gaming experiences we have ever had outside of VR. This immersion gives the (so far) somewhat bizarre story of the game considerable depth and makes Returnal a real next-generation PS5 exclusivity.
We need to play the first two biomes of Returnal as part of a hands-on preview. Here are our first impressions of Housemarque’s third-party roguelike shooter.
Return price and release date
- What is it?A third party roguelike shooter exclusive to PS5
- Release date? April 30, 2021
- What can i play it on?Playstation 5
- Price? The standard edition costs approximately $ 69.99 / £ 69.99 / AU $ 124.95
Every day is exactly the same
- An ever changing world keeps things fresh
- Runs include all biomes
- Death is not pointless
The return revolves around space pilot Selene, who crashes her ship Helios on an alien planet called Atropos. But Atropos is stuck in a time warp, which means that every time Selene dies – and she will die many times – she begins a new life cycle that begins at the crash site. Armed with a high-tech suit, Selene sets out to fight her way over Atropos and break the loop that allowed her to escape.
However, this isn’t an easy case where Selene has to work her way through the same map over and over again. Instead, the world changes with every reset cycle. In a truly roguelike fashion, each biome (of which there are six) is made up of “rooms” much like dungeons, but when the cycle resets the order of those rooms changes – sometimes a room you visited in the previous cycle is in not available this cycle. Additionally, the enemies in these rooms will also change which will keep you on your toes as you never know exactly which room you will be heading into – or what is lurking there.
Given how much you die in Returnal, this is a smart move to keep things fresh with every run. In some cases, resetting the cycle allows Selene to get information about the story she may have missed, such as: B. Scout logs previously recorded by Selene that give clues to the (fascinating but bizarre) story.
With the help of a map, you can monitor which rooms you have been in and distinguish which upcoming rooms are just side paths – probably with loot – and which main gates lead to the goal (highlighted in orange on the map). This is a helpful feature, especially as you unlock more biomes. As mentioned earlier, instead of the cycle reset from the last biome you unlocked, you will return to the crash site and will have to move through all of the biomes that you previously unlocked before reaching the point where you died. For example, if I made it to the middle of the second biome and died, I would reappear at the crash site and have to go through the first biome to get to the second biome. We assume this will be the case for all six biomes in the game.
While this adds to the challenge, we found it hugely frustrating as it makes stepping through later biomes even more difficult – not just because of the challenge itself, but also because of the time it takes to complete it.
Just one more try
- Not enough permanent upgrades or permanent items
- Adaptive triggers add depth to the fight
- Weapons for different play styles
Returnal’s fight feels smooth and difficult. At the beginning of each cycle, Selene starts out with a single pistol, and it is up to the players to discover better weapons along their course – sometimes you’re on a winner and sometimes you’re just unlucky.
Housemarque has confirmed that there are 10 basic weapons, more than 90 weapon traits (each with three levels), and 10 old fires in Returnal. In our hands-on time, we couldn’t try all of them, but the guns we tried seemed, at least initially, to emulate weapon staples such as a pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle, as well as a melee blade. However, these basic weapons have different characteristics that suit a wide variety of play styles and enemies. For example, you could look at two different Spitmaw blasters, one creating pools of acid while the other firing exploding grenades. As you progress, you’ll unlock new weapon traits and can add new ones later. You can also purchase higher-level versions of weapons.
We found it took a lot of trial and error to find the type of gun that suited us, but they all felt great. Returnal makes good use of the DualSense’s adaptive triggers, so you can hold the left trigger down halfway for a focus shot or all the way down for an alt-fire shot (stronger). This use adds layers to the fight so you can contemplate the movement of your trigger finger and instantly feel the feedback of a powerful shot. It’s worth noting that this feature can be turned off if you wish.
Aside from weapons, artifacts are some of Returnal’s most important items. Artifacts grant Selene upgrades such as: B. improving melee damage or increasing protection. It is recommended that you grab as many of these in your barrel as you can, and some can be made with a manufacturer. Processors turn obolites, a bright yellow resource that you can find in the game, into specific artifacts – although broken processors create random artifacts.
It is also possible to use a rarer resource called Ether to obtain artifacts from an alien device at Selene’s crash site, put a certain amount of the Ether in the device, and receive a random artifact in exchange. Aether is very useful and can also be used to clean up the bodies of other fallen scouts (if online is enabled) as you may be able to collect some of their loot. Alternatively, you can avenge a fallen scout to find Aether – but that’s a little riskier. To avenge a scout means a great enemy will appear and must be killed in order for you to receive your Aether reward. In some cases, however, the dead scout turns into a parasitic monster creature that simply needs to be killed. I’m sorry my friend
It’s even riskier to pick up a parasite that gives Selene both a buff and a debuff – for example, you may get a higher weapon strength, but only if you stand still. Another risky endeavor that you can undertake is picking up a malicious item or opening a malicious chest that puts your suit at risk of malfunctioning, but can also bring you good loot. However, unlike parasites, these malfunctions can be fixed by performing certain tasks.
Artifacts, while very convenient, do not persist through cycling. So if you die, you will lose all artifacts and weapons that you collected during this cycle. There’s a serious lack of permanent upgrades on Returnal, especially when compared to other roguelikes, and at times progressing feels like a thankless task. When I entered the second biome, Crimson Wastes, I only had three permanent items in my inventory.
A little flexibility here could have worked wonders. While it feels amazing to beat a really tough boss, you plunge back down to earth when, after your next death, you realize you’ve lost the good loot you got from them.
- 3D audio and DualSense add immersion
- Loading times are criminal
Returnal is understandably exclusive to PS5. While PS4 gamers would like to get their hands on Sony’s upcoming first-party offering, we think the return of last-gen hardware just wouldn’t have worked.
Given that the game is based on constant death and respawn, the PS5’s super-fast SSD makes this ritual a lot less frustrating than it could have been on PS4. Load times are extremely fast and the transitions are seamless, so you’re more likely to learn more.
Additionally, Returnal is a brilliant showcase for PS5 technology. The haptic feedback from DualSense is quite subtle and smoothly responds to events on the screen so it doesn’t interrupt your attention, but rather enhances the experience. Combined with headphones that enable spatial audio for PS5 3D, the environment around Returnal comes to life. You can hear the sliding of the world’s creatures in the background, the rumble of a storm in the distance, and the raindrops falling on Selene’s helmet.
All of that immersion has made us a bit motion sick at times, but Housemarque offers a variety of accessibility options, including motion blur removal, color blindness adjustments, and more.
Returnal is the perfect game for those who love a challenge with something more behind it. Our first impressions are that Housemarque have developed an exclusive PS5 that meets the standards we have asked for the new console, and Returnal is a fantastic showcase of what this new hardware is actually capable of.
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