Roguelikes are one of the dark horse genres that came out of nowhere. However, Returnal, one of the PS5’s newest exclusives, seeks to put it on the mainstream. For now, let’s talk about what the game has to offer.
What Is Returnal?
Returnal is a third-person roguelike shooter sci-fi horror by Sony Interactive Entertainment and created by Housemarque. The game is set to come out for the PS5 on April 30, 2021.
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Returnal Game Preview
Returnal is a third-person shooter video game that contains roguelike additions to its gameplay. It’s set in a futuristic sci-fi setting, which puts the player in control of Selene.
Through Selene, players will begin to discover and learn about the mystery of White Shadow and Atropos. All the while having to fight through the incredibly hostile environment, eldritch creatures, various traps, and hazards that Atropos has to offer. In each of the various environments, new creatures await and you’ll be immersed deeper into the story as you discover new locations.
Due to the shifting and shuffling environment that Atropos has, players will lose their current gear when they die. However, Selene is an incredibly resourceful woman and can use xeno-tech to look for shortcuts and get certain items permanently. There’s also a lot of things that she can unpack for later runs like new weapons, new secondary fire modes, and more.
Combat and Controls
Returnal is like Control and the recent Resident Evil remakes due to its third-person shooter nature. This means that player perspective is behind Selene, allowing you to see in front of her, while also having a bit of knowledge on things around her. This is helped by the game’s 3D map located on the lower-right of the screen. The map allows the player to locate objectives and enemies in the encounter zone. This, alongside Selene’s various movement options, shall be the tools in which players can use to avoid getting killed.
And that’s just the field of view; we haven’t talked about the weapons and other combat essential things yet. To start that topic, we need to talk about the game’s controls. Returnal is stated to make good use of the PS5’s Haptic Feedback controls, allowing players to feel enemies coming closer. Other than that, though, players also can configure their control layout from the usual Console Shooter to Returnal’s control layout.
In terms of weapons, players can make use of 10 different main weapons and 10 different alternate fire modes. This alone would mean quite a bit of weapon combinations and varieties. However, they’re not the only things that players can play around with. The game also has Parasites, which can grant boons to Selene in exchange for demerits. Weapon traits do stack and can be applied to all weapons.
Movement-wise, you have the usual, running, dashes, and a grappling hook. But the Grappling Hook isn’t as freeform as the one on Doom Eternal.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any info about the weapons, weapon traits, and Parasites yet. So we’re going to have to wait until Returnal is released before stating more.
Graphics-wise, it looks like one of the best PS5 games that will ever come on the console. Selene looks incredibly lifelike, and her movements and actions carry well in the new generation. Not only that, but the environment looks great as well, with the alien atmosphere carried out beautifully. However, the real icing on the cake isn’t Selene or the environment of Atropos; it’s the Monsters.
The Monsters on Returnal are incredibly unsettling to look at, which is a good thing. After all, the game is psychological horror, so it’s a good idea to have terrifying monsters to fight against. It helps that the monsters in question look cool as well. This, combined with what seems to be really good roguelike gameplay sees Returnal be a dark horse entry.
Story and World
Returnal’s story has players follows a Greek-American ASTRA deep-space scout by the name of Selene. She usually follows orders to the letter, but for the first time, disregards it and travels to the alien planet Atropos to find out what the “White Shadow” broadcast is. Upon her arrival to the planet, she crash-lands into a forest. It’s here that she finds ruins of an alien civilization, with dilapidated statues, gates, various xeno-tech that’s probably incredibly dangerous, and dead aliens. However, she’s not alone on this planet. The planet is pretty much filled with incredibly hostile entities that attack Selene when they see her. That and the world’s dead population don’t like to be disturbed, as they left their nasty surprises as well.
Anything and everything on Atropos is either hostile, alien, or bizarre. This means that Selene is the only sole human element that players will probably see. Thus, Housemasque made sure that Selene is compelling, complex and maybe a tad relatable that the players would try to understand better as well as root for. However, aliens and mysterious artifacts aren’t the only things you’ll find on Atropos.
At that point, if players are willing, and not creeped out, they can enter the house and find themselves in first-person story sequences. These story sequences are things essential for those that want to find out about Selene’s past, as well as to help them put together her story, and how it relates to her situation on Atropos.
Sound Design and OST
Now in terms of sound design and OST, we don’t have anything substantial to say. There’s not that much information on the game’s OST. However, its sound design seems to be top-notch as per usual with Housemarque’s works. If all goes well, we can expect a cool OST and sound design that matches the psychological horror tag that the game has.
How Does Returnal Compare to Similar Games?
Returnal is a third-person roguelike shooter game. Thus, we need to divide our focus a bit, talking about how the game compares to third-person shooters and roguelikes in that order. We’ll start with the most recent Resident Evil games, The Evil Within, and Red Dead Redemption 2. And then, we’ll proceed to roguelike games to, Enter the Gungeon, Hades, and Dead Cells.
Resident Evil 2 & 3 Remakes
The Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes are examples of how to recreate a classic title. Also, the franchise is royalty when it comes to third-person shooters. For one, while the camera is indeed on the character’s right shoulder, it doesn’t impede the player’s line of sight. We can go on and on about how both the Resident Evil remakes are great in their gameplay and other things. However, there’s one thing that differentiates both games from each other, and that’s the length of available gameplay time.
Resident Evil 2 remake (2019) is an incredibly beefy game with a lot of cool stuff to play through. That made it incredibly cool not only for casual players but also for completionists and fans of the series at large. The graphics were the best that they’ve ever been, and you can tell how far the series has gone due to the amount of quality stuff added in.
Unfortunately, Resident Evil 3 remake (2020) didn’t follow after the lofty expectations of the people that play it. Don’t get us wrong, the game still plays well with the usual third-person shooter gameplay and the horror theme racked up to 11. The main baddie, Nemesis, looks as imposing as ever, though not as terrifying compared to Mr. X. Unfortunately, the lack of content, as well as the lacking main campaign made Resident Evil 3 Remake a sore point to fans. This is unfortunate, as the series made a huge comeback due to Resident Evil VII and Resident Evil 2 Remake.
Still, the series is going strong, which is good enough for a lot of fans.
The Evil Within 1 and 2
For those that have a tougher stomach and some additional grit to them, they might want to go for The Evil Within 1 and 2. It’s still a third-person shooter, and it still has a whole lot of horror in it as well. However, they added in quite a bit of suspense, as well as a whole lot of gore. The various enemies are all terrifying to look at, with a lot of really cool animations and quirks to them that allow players to outmaneuver or kill them. If you’re lucky, there’s also a good chance that you can get away without a scratch thanks to them.
However, if you don’t, the game does have suitably gory deaths for those that aren’t up to the task. Take, for example, the first encounter with an Adam Birkin-Esque lady that replaced a hand with a spinning saw blade. Yes, that’s a thing, and if you’re unlucky enough, you’re not going to walk out of it alive, as you’re gonna get sawed to pieces.
All that and a whole lot more deaths will be in your day if you’re not always wary of your surroundings. But that’s pretty much the norm for a lot of horror games, so what makes The Evil Within series different?
Well, it’s the fact that the series is a pure horror and survival game, plain and simple. Well, maybe not as much on the sequel; however, the developers wanted to make a horror survival game. This is because they felt that the survival horror games at that point have more action than horror. Thus, they decided to make The Evil Within.
Red Dead Redemption
Now Red Dead Redemption isn’t a horror game, but it’s a third-person shooter, so we counted it in. Also, thanks to some pretty cool DLCs in the form of Undead Nightmare.
The Undead Nightmare DLC brings in quite a lot of gameplay to the usual cowboys, guns, and horses that the game has. You still play as John Marston of course, but this time you’re stuck in a Wild West filled with zombies. However, you’re John Marston, and you have guns. So you just need to get out and kill any zombie in your path to getting out of there. And if you can find any survivors or people that can help in doing so, then that’s also great.
The DLC also has two multiplayer modes added in for some extra fun; these are Undead Overrun and Land Grab. While Land Grab, unfortunately, doesn’t have any zombies in it, Undead Overrun, does.
Enter the Gungeon
Now let’s go to the roguelike games. First is Enter the Gungeon, which is one of the best roguelike games out there. The premise is incredibly simple, four individuals want to change their past. To do so, they went to the Gungeon, which holds the Gun that can kill the Past. Through this, they hope to change something that they regret, something in the past that they want to go.
Now that’s pretty simple in premise, and we can agree to some parts of their reasoning when you get at that point. But the real reason why the game was so beloved is due to its gameplay, which will be a running theme in this part of the article.
Enter the Gungeon is a bullet hell roguelike and it’s a tough one. If you’re not careful, you will get screwed over by one of the many enemies your Gungeoneers will come across. From gun-totting bullet kin to energy-spewing skeletons, the entire Gungeon, as you can see, revolves around guns. If you have a gun and a dream, you can most definitely make it far. But you best be careful because if you make one misstep, you’re going to need to go back to the start.
As one of the games that made roguelikes mainstream, Enter the Gungeon has a lot of things that make it incredibly fun to play. From the various weapons, the plentiful enemies, the harder than hard gameplay, et cetera. It also helps that the game is also incredibly malleable, allowing talented people to create mods for the game. Depending on player taste, you can get new weapons, gear, and even new gameplay and story, which is great fun.
Hades was considered a dark horse game of the year candidate and for good reason. No one knew the developers, and it’s a pretty unknown game until it was released. Luckily for us, however, the game is one of the best roguelike games that came out of that year.
There are many reasons why that’s the case, and we can talk for hours as to said reasons. But the most obvious would be the game’s awesome art direction and attention to detail. Hades is… mostly faithful to Greek Myth, with some additional blemishes here and there that only the most inscrutable would find. If you look at it from a normal perspective, the game is incredibly faithful to its source material. But, as per usual, it’s the gameplay that steals the show.
Gameplay-wise, Hades is incredibly tight and very difficult. You have the choice of six weapons in the game, with each weapon having four weapon forms. These alone would be cause for great customization. However, you also have the boons the various Olympian Gods give you (though some don’t appear in-game other than mentions), Daedalus Hammers which give tweaks to your weapons, and a permanent progression system in the Mirror of Night. The Mirror of Night allows players to trick out the main character Zagreus for the next run, giving him more HP, improving his abilities, and more.
All in all, if you’re an adrenaline junkie, and you’re not shy of getting yourself into danger, then Hades is a good pick for a game to get.
Should You Buy Returnal?
If you’re a fan of or curious about roguelike games and third-person shooters as well as existential horror, then Returnal is a must-buy. The game’s premise is incredibly interesting and there seems to be a cool story in the making as well. Housemarque seems to be hitting it out in the park with Returnal looking like a dark horse game for the PS5.