It just so happened that the genre Rogue-like, or in the common people “roguelike”, is mainly popular among indie developers. Over the past few years, there have been a lot of really good stuff like The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Hades, and Enter the Gungeon. There have even been successful attempts to combine with other genres, like Slay the Spire uses CCG elements. However, the maximum that large studios do is add a separate mode to an already released game. The latter include the Mooncrash DLC for Prey and the Torgast Tower in World of Warcraft. That is why the release of a full-fledged high-budget AAA project, sold in the PS Store for 5500 rubles, looks no less interesting. After dozens of deaths and thousands of destroyed monsters, we are ready to share with you our impressions of the game in this Returnal review.
All “roguelikes” are combined into one important concept – after the death of a character, you start from the very beginning, but when you replay it, everything, or almost everything, is generated randomly. Such games must have high replayability so that players can discover something new for themselves even after tens or even hundreds of hours.
In Returnal, you take on the role of astronaut Selena, who makes an emergency landing on an unknown planet after deciding to follow a mysterious signal source. The protagonist receives either a gift or a curse – if during her wanderings she dies, then she reappears at the destroyed ship, having only a pistol in her arsenal. This is where the whole “roguelike” part of the game is tied. However, it is not necessary to complete all biomes completely. Having reached a certain stage, you open a point for fast travel, which will allow you to go directly to the desired biome, but before that, you must first find it on the map.
The strength of a character depends on many factors. When killing enemies and picking up special items, the skill level increases, on which the power of the weapon depends. You can buy or find artifacts that give bonuses. There are also parasites that provide both buffs and debuffs.
Unfortunately, despite all the opportunities for pumping, it is not so noticeable here. Often, you will add small and almost invisible bonuses to the character’s characteristics that do not particularly affect the gameplay: a little more defense when killing in melee for a short time, an increased collection radius, and a small health recovery at a low level. All this simply does not allow you to feel that you have become stronger. Just remember how you started in The Binding of Isaac with nothing, and after several levels turned into a winged one-eyed devil on a unicorn and with a hanger in your head, shooting enemies with several types of projectiles at the same time. Of course, this level of madness is not needed in Returnal, but the variability is clearly lacking.
The problem is aggravated by the fact that the locations, although scattered randomly, are created manually. After a few runs, you will know where the chest is and from what place a certain enemy materializes. Only the reward received is unknown, and even that does not always bring joy when received.
Most of the parasites mentioned above are not worth attention, since the harm from them is often more serious than the benefit. Although it is possible to agree to certain samples by gritting your teeth. The developers are very afraid to give the player a serious buff, but they are not shy about “awarding” a serious debuff. The mechanic looks more interesting with infected chests, which, when opened, have a negative effect with a certain probability. It can be removed only when a certain condition is met, so it is worth thinking three times before taking risks.
The most noticeable effect on the combat system is the selected type of weapon. In addition to the standard pistol, you can find a submachine gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, or some unusual exotic weapon, such as one that shoots poison. Your tool for exterminating aliens cannot be improved in any way – you will have to run around with it until you find another, more powerful one. Additional passive bonuses cannot be changed either and are predefined. The skill level determines how high the characteristics of the weapon will be, so from time to time you will have to change it in order to inflict decent damage.
However, despite the most interesting leveling, the gameplay here is very exciting. Restarting the loop over and over again, you may not notice how you have spent several hours in the game. The battles are very difficult, so you need to constantly monitor the enemies and their attacks, without stopping for a second. As you explore the game, discover new biomes and find new items, the gameplay will continue to be fun for a long time. If you are not deterred by having to start over after death, of course.
Another way to keep you in the game is through Daily Challenges. Every day you are given one attempt to go through a cycle with certain conditions and a specific type of weapon. After death or completion of a stage, the result is recorded in the leaderboard, and repeated attempts are not provided. You can only return to this mode the next day, but the conditions will be completely different.
Obviously, roguelikes don’t really need a plot, so in Returnal it exists for show. The developers did a good job of writing the mechanics of constant replay after death into the main story. The locations are scattered with voice recordings made by Selena, let’s say, in past lives. If you play with the Internet on, you may even see the main character’s corpse left by another player. Sometimes the creators throw up peaceful plot episodes. Also, our traveler often comments on found objects and new visited locations. All this works well for the atmosphere and complements the lore in a non-plot game.
Since we’re talking about a PlayStation 5 exclusive, it doesn’t hurt to mention the console’s capabilities involved in Returnal. First of all, you notice the tactile feedback, which begins to act from the very first video. The controller reacts to movement on surfaces and from various effects – for example, rain. The adaptive trigger is used quite interestingly – the left trigger can be pressed halfway without any problems, and in this case the sight turns on. If you apply a little force and hold your finger to the end, then the alternative fire of the weapon is used, which has a rollback. This is very convenient and allows you to essentially assign two actions to one button.
Returnal, although an AAA project that sells for a lot of money, in fact simply cannot compete with the most popular Rogue-like representatives from indie developers. There is less replayability, less opportunities for creating a unique build, less random generation. In exchange for a wealth of content, we got modern graphics and a generally good combat system. The learning process is quite interesting and fun, but the more you play, the more you realize that a lot has been done worse than in indie games. The project can take a place in your library, probably if you don’t have a lot of experience with roguelikes or if you buy it at a big discount.