The PlayStation 5 is a marvel when it comes to console gaming. However, the catalog of games has not challenged the system’s capabilities to their maximum. With the release of Returnal for the PS5, is this the first game that pushes the system to its limits? Lastly, is Returnal for the PS5 a must-buy or can you skip it for the next big release?
What Is Returnal?
Returnal is a horror, rogue-lite, third-person shooter PS5 game. It is created by Housemarque Oy and published by Sony. The game was released back on April 30, 2021.
Returnal PS5 Review
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, let’s review Returnal and see how it fares in the gaming sense.
Returnal is an incredibly punishing game when it comes to gameplay. The various enemies that you face can get overwhelming in the later levels. This is especially true when you reach the game’s second phase. We’ll talk about this later, but for now, let’s talk about the general gameplay.
Returnal isn’t a roguelike even though it’s advertised as one. It has roguelike elements, with shifting environments and levels to go with randomized loot. However, the game has its spin of things that’s uniquely its own, things that make it an engaging game, and a Housemarque classic.
For one, the bullet-hell aspect that’s present in a lot of Housemarque’s games is still evident in this title. The enemies will shoot colored balls of death at the player from any direction for Selene (the character you control in this game) to dodge into. To combat these alien threats, Selene can use various weapons that she can find in the game world. There are 10 weapons available in Returnal as well as 11 Alternate Fire Modes. You’ll find these weapons randomly in the world each with one of the 11 Alt-Fire Modes already slotted in. In addition to that, each weapon in the game has a list of traits that improve it in slight ways. An example would be the normal pistol gaining the ability to charge its bullets. There’s also the Overload mechanic that allows Selene to instantly reload her guns.
Next to the weapons, there’s also Suit Boosts that improve Selene’s health and protection as well as Parasites. If a player’s lucky, they might get through a Returnal run easily when combined with some good Parasite and Suit Boost management. However, players need to be careful when using Parasites; while they do give great boosts, they can also cause Suit Malfunctions that can hamper gameplay.
In terms of weapons, Returnal on the PS5 has quite a few devastating effects on enemies that Selene comes across on Atropos. We already know that there are 10 weapons and 11 alternate fire modes. But in this section, we’ll talk about the weapons themselves and how players can use them to full effect.
The SD-M8 is the first weapon you get to use in Returnal, and though it’s small, that doesn’t mean it isn’t mighty. With the right traits and Alt-Fire, this weapon can be a semi-automatic menace for your enemies. Of course, players with itchy trigger fingers can increase the fire rate, but holding down the right trigger also works.
The SD-M8 overall is a pretty balanced and viable weapon. It is something that can carry Selene out of a lot of nasty situations when other weapons aren’t up to par. You might trade it right away when you find another weapon in this list, sure. However, you’re sure to remember the SD-M8 for how reliable it can be.
The Sidearm SD-M8 has 10 traits that it can be slotted with:
- Ricochet: Allows the bullets from the SD-M8 to bounce off walls and enemies. If you want to be a cowboy that does trick shots in a Bullet Hell shooter, then this is for you.
- Piercing: This is a self-explanatory trait that allows the bullets to go through enemies.
- Homing Missile: The standard bullets are turned into homing missiles that hunt down enemies.
- Burst Fire: The SD-M8 turns into a semi-automatic burst pistol at the cost of recoil.
- Snubnose Barrel: Range and accuracy are reduced, but the damage is increased.
- Charging Shot: All bullets need to be charged first but deal more damage.
- Serrated Projectiles: Deals constant damage over time against enemies hit by bullets.
- Hit Reload: The weapon can reload instantly at a chance when Selene hits enemies.
- Shrapnel: Bullets have a chance to explode when they hit targets.
Next up is the Spitmaw Blaster, or more accurately, Returnal’s shotgun. This bad boy can instantly turn smaller enemies into bits with its normal fire. Something that takes several shots by some guns to kill can die by one shot in the face by the Spitmaw.
As per usual, the range is the worst attribute that the Spitmaw Blaster has, which makes sense as it’s a shotgun. Selene needs to be within punching distance of an enemy to deal the most damage when using this weapon. It’s not something that’s recommended when fighting things like bosses. However, this thing can melt enemies with tactical maneuvering and a good Alt-Fire/Traits.
The Spitmaw Blaster has eight traits that it can be slotted with:
- Rapid Spitter: Turns the Spitmaw Blaster into an Auto-Shotgun.
- Slug Shot: The Spitmaw Launcher shoots out an additional, slug shot that deals high damage.
- Wide Maw: The Spitmaw Launcher’s pellets have a wider spread.
- Explosive Spit: Projectiles blow up when hitting enemies.
- Narrow Maw: The Spitmaw Launcher’s pellets have a tighter spread.
- Backsplash: Selene regains a bullet if all the pellets hit enemies.
- Piercing Spit: Projectiles can go through enemies before exploding after a delay.
- Critical Stagger: Any projectile that the Spitmaw Launcher fires deal more damage to staggered enemies.
The Tachyomatic Carbine is Returnal’s version of a handheld machine gun, which doesn’t make sense since Carbines are rifles but we digress. The game’s entry for the gun says that it uses electromagnetic fields to fire projectiles. In layman’s terms, this is a handheld Railgun Negev. It’s not something you say every day, but that perfectly describes this weapon.
The Carbine’s ammo capacity is huge, but the damage and range aren’t anything to brag about. But you can’t really say that when you fire a hail of bullets into that annoying miniboss to turn its HP into paper.
The Tachyomatic Carbine has eight traits that it can be slotted with:
- Armor Piercing: Bullets go through enemies and ricochet off of surfaces.
- Leech Rounds: Hitting enemies can repair suit integrity.
- Accelerated: increases fire rate and decreases dash cooldown.
- Payload Rounds: Enemies drop cluster bombs when they die.
- High Calibur: Increases damage but reduces the rate of fire.
- Critical Hit: Bullets fired can deal increased damage.
- Rising Pitch: Increases fire rate the longer players hold the trigger.
- Hardened: Increases Selene’s protection.
Next up would be the Hollowseeker, which is one of the weirder guns in the game. For one, it looks like a rifle but doesn’t function as one. It’s similar to the Needler from the Halo series as it fires homing needles at enemies. However, the Hollowseeker works best at short to medium ranges, much like a shotgun. The Hollowseeker is a really weird gun, but it’s one that has a high skill ceiling.
The Hollowseeker has nine traits that it can be slotted with:
- Serrated Projectiles: Deals damage over time when it hits targets.
- Phasing Rounds: Bullets pass through surfaces, but not enemies.
- Portal Beam: Makes a portal that fires beams towards enemies near Selene.
- Shrapnel: Projectiles can blow up, dealing more damage.
- Retarget: Projectiles will try to hit another enemy once they hit the initial target.
- Oscillator: Bullets fired are done so on an oscillating pattern and deal more damage.
- Portal Turret: Same as the Portal Beam, but fires bullets instead.
- Waves: Fires waves that damage enemies when Selene fires the Hollowseeker
- Split Stream: Fires additional Homing Shards.
Do you want to use a rocket launcher? Well, here it is. The Thermogenic Launcher is a rocket launcher that fires what seems to be homing plasma. That alone would be hardcore enough, but these things have great damage and huge AoE. The only thing that hampers this weapon is the long reload, but if players use the Overload mechanic, well…
The Thermogenic Launcher has nine traits that it can be slotted with:
- Easy to Use: Killing enemies gives extra Thermogenic Launcher proficiency.
- Critical Rockets: Rockets can explode twice.
- Full Auto: Thermogenic Launcher can fire in full auto.
- Mega Rocket: Rockets fired are more powerful, but slower.
- Tail Fire: Fires a more powerful projectile after each salvo.
- Enlarged Chamber: Increased Overheat limit.
- Obolite Magnet: Has a chance to get obolite automatically after killing enemies.
- Replicating Hits: Successful hits fire an extra rocket.
- Thermite Rockets: The rockets fired deal damage over time.
The Rotgland Lobber is an AoE grenade launcher that deals decent damage and damages enemies over time. However, the weapon only has one, yes one, ammo on the magazine. Good usage of Overload would be enough to mitigate it though.
The Rotgland Lobber has nine traits that it can be slotted with. These traits are:
- Enlarged Chamber: The overheat limit of the Rotgland Lobber is increased.
- Explosive Shot: Projectiles blow up when impacting enemies.
- Durable Rot: Rot duration is increased.
- Bouncing Rot: The bullets fired by the Rotgland Lobber bounce before blowing up.
- Caustic Rot: Enemies that get hit by the rot projectile directly get additional damage over time.
- Trailing Rot: Bullets leave a rot trail.
- Tendril Rot: Tendrils shoot out from the rot that damages enemies.
- Protective Rot: Selene gets extra protection when she stands on Rot.
- Portal Rot: Enemies killed by Rot make a portal that fires bullets.
The Electopylon Driver is possibly the best gun in the entire game when looking at damage over time perspective. The gun fires pylon rods that stick at enemies or the surroundings. The more rods Selene fires, the more tick damage that gets inflicted. A good spread of Parasites and traits can turn this gun into a powerful weapon for clearing groups of enemies or bosses.
The Electropylon Driver has eight traits that it can be slotted with:
- Streamlined Chamber: Increases the fire rate of the Electropylon Driver.
- Protective Pylons: Increases Selene’s protection when she’s near pylons.
- Silphium Extractor: Enemies have a better chance to drop Silphium.
- Blade Harmonizer: When Selene uses this weapon, increases the damage of her melee attacks.
- Finisher: Tether damage is increased when enemies are in low health.
- Enlarged Chamber: The Overheat limit of the Electropylon Driver is increased.
- Pylon Web: Fires all of the pylons at the same time in a web pattern.
- Blade Pulse: Melee hits will emit a damaging pulse from the pylons on the battlefield.
The Dreadbound is the last weapon that Selene gets in the game. The projectiles fired by this gun are similar to the ones fired from the Hollowseeker but bigger. They also blow up after they get stuck in an enemy. Unfortunately, it suffers from the fact that it only has 3 bullets in its magazine. However, the same thing applies by using Overload.
The Dreadbound has three traits that it can be slotted with:
- Obolite Magnet: Increases the radius of Obolite collection.
- Staggering: Increases the staggering power of Dreadbound.
- 4th Shard: Has additional projectiles that grow more powerful.
Returnal’s controls are pretty great and responsive. The game makes use of the new PS5 controller’s adaptive triggers well. Pressing a trigger halfway will allow the player to aim for their chosen gun. Pressing it all the way will fire the gun’s main or alternate fire depending on which trigger they use. In addition to this, the haptic feedback in Returnal is fantastic, with players being able to feel out most of what’s happening in the game through the controller. From getting damaged by attacks to Selene landing after making a jump.
One of the things that worried people were the controls for the normal and alternate fire modes. This is because to switch between them you need to press the left trigger halfway for normal, and for alternate fire modes. This made some people nervous because of the possibility of accidentally firing the alternate fire when they don’t mean to. Luckily, the controls were very intuitive and the game makes a few audio and visual cues. This allows players to see which fire mode is active when they’re holding down sights before firing their weapons.
A lot of the game’s finer controls can be adjusted based on player preference as well. If you don’t want to make use of the adaptive controls you can change it to a more traditional layout. Nothing’s stopping the player from setting up their control scheme the way they like it.
Graphics, World/Level Design
The game looks magnificent, using all the capabilities that the PS5 has to its fullest potential. Atropos looks like an incredibly creepy and dangerous planet filled with unknown dangers and hidden secrets. Combine that with the lighting being on point and you have a planet with an air of mystery and peril no matter the biome: Even if it’s from the usual dark forest ruins on the first level, or the red desert of the second.
The level design that Returnal has shifts every time Selene dies. Thus, you might go on a valley one moment, and a rocky hillscape the next. The world of Atropos is a dangerous place, and Selene will need the player’s help to navigate its nooks and crannies. If a player’s not careful, their run will inevitably end in death and Selene would go back to the start. However, the resets that Atropos goes through are more on general arena layouts, weapon and loot drops, and enemy placement.
These are pretty minor things when compared to other roguelikes like Hades or Dead Cells. A more apt comparison to Returnal’s gameplay and combat would be Remnant: From the Ashes. Why? Because of their combat and general gameplay of being a third-person shooter like Returnal. In the case of Remnant, the entire campaign is randomized from the quests to the drops. Due to this, players can only change the campaign layouts by changing the game’s difficulty or making a new character. Not an option when talking about Returnal.
The story of Returnal revolves around Selene, who crash lands on Atropos after looking for White Shadow. After finding out that the planet resets itself after she dies, she tries to find a way out of Atropos. She also needs to find out the mysteries of Atropos while doing so, but that’s easier said than done. Monsters, anomalies, and dangers prevent her from getting to White Shadow and the mysteries of Atropos.
The sound design of Returnal on the PS5 screams mystery, danger, and death. The enemies will go and kill Selene but you’ll know it with their screeching their attacks at you. In addition, the ambient sounds in the game help in making sure that the player isn’t comfortable with the situation. We’ll talk more about how it does this below.
The Returnal PS5 release good for two to five playthroughs due to the sheer difficulty and the endings. The game’s really good, and there’s a lot of secrets for players to dig around in.
Did Returnal Maximize The PS5 As A System?
Returnal for the PS5 is a game that makes use of most of the new hardware the console has. It ranged from the haptic controller allowing players to feel what’s happening in the game to other things like the sound system being so good that it’s almost as if the player’s on Atropos themselves. The game is incredibly immersive, probably due to the great capabilities of the PS5. The game deserves to be a benchmark for the new generation of games coming out for consoles.
Unfortunately, the game is severely hampered due to the save file issue. Housemarque hasn’t seen fit to add in a better saving system to Returnal, remarking that players should set their PS5’s to sleep/standby mode to pause playthroughs. This is all well and good, but the playthrough will be corrupted immediately if there’s a patch update for the PS5 or the game. As of now, the issue seems to be fixed due to the May 6 patch. But we’ll see how it goes.
What Can Be Improved and Built Upon On For A Sequel?
If there would be a sequel to the Returnal PS5 game, the world generation should be better. Some new biomes other than the ones currently in the game would be nice. Other than those, more endings, weapons, and enemies would be great to see.