Published on February 16th, 2023 | by Ali Arkani
Returnal PC Review
Summary: Returnal is a great experience for those who love bullet hell games or sci-fi roguelikes. Though the difficulty spikes and unbalanced weapons sometimes make it hard not to rage quit, sticking with Selene in her mysterious and symbolic journey is truly rewarding.
PlayStation's best PC port
Returnal is not a new release… It won enough awards that there is no need to introduce the roguelike title or the team behind it at Housemarque studios. But as a PC gamer, it was one of my most anticipated PS5 exclusives coming to PC in 2023 and astonishingly, it is the best PC port of any PlayStation-exclusive title to date.
Since it’s the PC version we are talking about, let’s first talk about the PC features of the game. Returnal has the best in-game benchmarking tool that I have ever seen. The it not only divides the benchmarking process into different phases but explains which graphical elements -such as shadows, volumetric fog, etc.- are being measured in each of them. Thus, with a quick glance at the final benchmark report, the players can find out which graphical elements are impacting their rig performance the most and try to tweak them to get the best results. This tool is super useful for those who have relatively older computers. Another useful addition is the Performance UI elements that allow many hardware and in-game metrics such as GPU/CPU Utilization and FPS to be displayed during the game; completely nullifying the need for 3rd party monitoring apps.
Aside from the PC additions, Returnal is a surprising game. Exploring the alien world of a strange planet as the astronaut Selene Vassos is mind-bending, especially when supernatural and out-of-place incidents start to happen. The story of the game is complex, I mean Dark Souls level complex! But unlike the souls-like series, this roguelike title does not provide a suitable closure when the end credits roll. Maybe this open-ended nature of the story and all the unanswered questions are just an excuse to make the players return to the game and spend more time with it, maybe Returnal is meant to be endless both literally and figuratively, but no matter how many hours you spend on it, some questions would never be answered and are kept open for interpretations.
Returnal’s combat is its best feature. Selene is equipped with a pistol and a melee weapon. Like other roguelike games, better guns should be acquired throughout each run. There are six different levels that comprise the two halves of the game. Each level or Biome as the game calls it contains different enemy types. The enemy variety is a reason to implement different fighting tactics. Some enemies are easy to deal with offensively while others can close in on the player quickly and need a more defensive strategy.
There are tons of temporary power-ups and stats upgrades as well as permanent equipment to be found such as a grappling hook; a feature that makes exploring the world of Returnal a dangerous delight!
What adds to the value of exploration is the game’s 3D mini-map. The mini-map is super easy to read even in the heat of combat. The player and collectibles are perfectly distinguishable from the rest of the map and the 3D nature of the map makes it effortless to understand whether the weapon you want is located on the platform above you or in the pit below; making exploration in Returnal super-efficient. Speaking of weapons, the game really suffers from a lack of balance.
The weapons in the game are divers, but by the time you get the Rotgland Lobber -a poisonous grenade launcher- most other weapons become obsolete. This gun not only has a high damage output but also poisons enemies, highly damaging them through time. The elemental status effect in this gun is absent in most other guns in the game, making this and a few other guns so overpowered that even I who hate grenade launchers in games would use no other gun except this.
The difficulty level of the game also lacks balance. I managed to kill the first boss and get to the second Biome of the game in my second run, but after I died, it took me six runs to get to the same place again. Sometimes the very first room of the game was filled with so many high-tier enemies that I was killed right there. Although random enemy and weapon generation in roguelike games is a common element, Returnal’s use of this idea is rather chaotic than random!
Returnal is a great experience for those who love bullet hell games or sci-fi roguelikes. Though the difficulty spikes and unbalanced weapons sometimes make it hard not to rage quit, sticking with Selene in her mysterious and symbolic journey is truly rewarding. With the co-op and endless modes being available at launch, Returnal’s arrival on PC can be celebrated long because of its replay value.