Impressions from playing Returnal

I remember very well my first reaction to the revelation of Returnal last fall. It was a mixture of fascination and wonder, dominated by the feeling that this strange combination would probably not work very well. Neon projectiles from arcade shooters just didn't fit the gloomily realistic graphics of space sci-fi horror. But the more I watched the videos, the more provocative and interesting the mixture seemed to me. More than ever, I wanted to know how it was played, how it felt, and what to compare it to. Some mentioned Risk of Rain, for example, but after twenty hours in the game, I would say that Returnal is actually a combination of two much better-known games. He takes cinematicity from Dead Space an extraordinarily mature expedition as well as a sensitively dosed pace of exploration, action, and fear. From Bloodborne, he takes aggressive gameplay and deeply Lovecraft horror full of tentacles,


First steps


When you first crawl out of the wreckage of your spaceship on Atropos, the PlayStation 5 throws literally everything it can at you. Of course, this means above all beautiful detailed graphics, full of special effects such as ray tracing or volumetric fog. But if you're wearing quality headphones (not necessarily from Sony), Tempest, or 3D sound technology, will spread an incredibly sophisticated backdrop of alien jungle sounds around you, from drumming raindrops to the rustling of trees to suspicious splashes from various directions. By the way, the sound changes greatly when you switch from a third person's point of view to your own eyes: as if someone really placed a microphone in your helmet, or vice versa, two meters behind your back.

But the unexpected star of the experience is the DualSense driver. Since the release of the PS5 console, I have not experienced a game that could use haptic response or adaptive shutters as impressively as the ingenious Astro´s Playroom. After entering the world of Returnal, however, the controller will immediately come to life in your hands in a very similar way, including the indescribably pleasant and drawing-up response of raindrops drumming on your spacesuit. But of course, there is much more.


My biggest fear was the use of the left adaptive trigger for aiming (up to the middle of the press) and alternative shooting (full press). However, Returnal reveals the precision of this feature of DualSense, because the trigger really gets stuck exactly where it should. And if you want to start an extra-strong alternative shooting, you have to push properly, which surprisingly enhances the experience of firing it. When I read about it in interviews with developers, I didn't believe it would work well. But it not only works, on the contrary: it clearly improves the experience of controlling weapons.


When you get out of the wreck, the PlayStation 5 throws literally everything it can at you.


It took me quite a while to work out the experience that the game can create just by entering its world - the first steps and looking around. But it was nothing yet. Returnal is an action game and its power is fully launched when the fight begins. If you think that videos or even screenshots could have prepared you for the fireworks, the incredible spectacle of effects that the creators of the legendary Resogun will unleash around you, then you were wrong. In 4K and 60fps, you will see such explosions of energy here that the film Tron and the film Prometheus would not be ashamed of it (the creators borrowed the design of some effects from both of them).


Ray tracing is not only used here to illuminate projectiles and their sound echo. It also perfectly calculates particle collisions, while some of your shots bounce off the landscape long after, what you pulled the trigger - how many times I was startled when my own shot bounced off the environment back at me. I remind you that this is also significantly supported by the haptic response when you feel in your hands how the game environment shakes with explosions.


Soak up the atmosphere


But before I write about the action and gameplay itself, it doesn't let me spend at least two paragraphs admiring and describing the atmosphere of the game. It is immediately apparent at first glance which two films the creators took as a key inspiration for the planet Atropos, but also for the overall style of the film sequences, the music and simply the set design as such. The two films are Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Both are criticized for their contradictory scenario, but you can't deny them an amazing expedition, from menacingly beautiful alien landscapes to a pleasantly grounded design of spaceships, spacesuits, or equipment. Returnal perfectly copies their color palette and overall aesthetics, but also the soundtrack of the game uses similar methods of resonant echoes of some instruments, deepening the impression that you are lost in the middle of a gigantic unknown.

Although Returnal is a high-action game, the dosage of gameplay is very sensitive and adult. In practice, this means that the creators can give you space to explore and tense when nothing happens for long minutes, and you can explore the fascinating landscape of Atropos or the stunning ruins and technology of an alien civilization that looks as majestic and alien as a wreck. alien ship in the first film invader. Not all flora and fauna are murderous, so some plants stretch their tentacles at you completely innocently - while others wrap and eat you. Swarms of small insects roam the alien jungle. The environment around you literally breathes your own life, which includes even some stone rocks covered with eyes. Since the time of Dead Space, I have not experienced such a cinematic, sophisticated and mature atmosphere in a sci-fi game.

Order in chaos


But the heart of the game is really action. And as befits a house marquee, it's a very wild event. When the first crocodiles with tentacles emerge at you in the first biome of the planet from the dense vegetation (no worries, the game has an extensive encyclopedia where you can study Selene's scientific notes on all discovered monsters, technologies, and ruins in detail), you say uf, now three came at me at the same time!. When the first pterodactyl with tentacles throws the first volley of energy projectiles at you, you say to yourself, uh, it was a cannonade. But in reality, the whole first world (biome) game slowly teaches you the basic mechanics, including a lesson on unfairness and death. But as soon as you move into the second biome, the murderous hell of Atropos will spread before you in full force.


Packs of enemies will fly at you, bombarding you with such layers of energy projectiles that sometimes he won't even see through them. Such gigantic minibosses will jump on your head that the shaking controller will fall out of your hand and your heart will jump up to your neck. This is not a country for the old, or this game just won't go wrong with you. You may remember those moments in the first hours of Bloodborne when it seemed to you that some passages were just unfair: should I really kill twenty enemies on the street at once? Is this insanely fast and strong boss really going to beat it? But while the weaker pieces may fall off, the veterans of the Soulslike games will be in paradise. Beneath the seemingly insane and frantic action of Returnal lies a diamond-precise system of attacks and dodges, improvements, and tactics.


Beneath the seemingly insane action of Returnal lies a diamond-precise system.


At some point, you achieve exactly the same "enlightenment" as in the best games of this genre: everything snaps in and you turn into frightened hunter into a murderous hunter who, instead of carefully shelling the room from the door, runs in a full sprint right in the middle and gives the first series of punches before the enemies even wake up. And just like in Bloodborne, the well-thought-out mechanics of the game clearly push you as close as possible to your opponents: the raw materials fall out of them, which disappear after a few seconds. So even though opponents are often scary and outnumbered, you are clearly pushing their bodies. If you have the right improvements, you also lose "first aid kits", so the faster you kill, the faster you recover. Before you know it, the famous "flow" of perfect gameplay will appear.


It goes differently

From the above, it is clear that Returnal is at its core a very hardcore game for the most demanding players. In fact, I really had the same feelings of amazement and enlightenment with her as when I first played Bloodborne. The ingenuity and absurdly perfect tuning of the game mechanics is here at a level I have not experienced anywhere in the years. It's very bad to write about it, of course, you have to experience this for yourself. However, what sounds hardcore to players is perhaps just as scary as normal or even festive players. Well, don't worry, it's different.

I already explained this in our podcasts about Demon´s Souls, which (for example, because of its amazing graphics) even players who didn't normally need these hardcore games wanted to try out in the autumn. But they are not really as insanely difficult as some people often inflate and exaggerate. The whole trick is to admit a lack of courage or experience and play CAREFULLY and PATIENTLY. While in Demon´s Souls you can specialize in healing miracles and attack spells from a distance, in Returnal you can do the same (specialize in healing abilities and long-range weapons), and most importantly: just play slower to pick all the side rooms and what best equipped and raised their level. Then when you get to the boss at the end of the biome, the fight will be a hundred times easier for a well-equipped and poured character than for someone


Loop


And this is probably a good opportunity to discuss the roguelite mechanisms of the game. Returnal belongs to the "new wave" of these games, which was probably best known last year's blockbuster Hades. The fact that you have one life and you start again from the beginning after death is directly incorporated into the story in these games, into its central plot. Your astronaut Selene is shipwrecked on an enemy planet full of monsters, and sooner or later some of them will tear you to pieces. But the mysterious machines and energies of the planet will then resurrect you at the moment of the accident, at the wreck of your ship. Although you will hate this mechanic for the first few deaths (just like your heroine in the game's story), you will gradually arm yourself with determination, set off again, and fiercely decide to get at least a little further this time (just like your heroine in the game's story)

It is true that you always lose all the weapons, artifacts and parasites collected (the game has a deep system of upgrades, perks and abilities). But do you know what no one, not even death, will take from you? Experience and knowledge. While the first hours I stumbled through the jungle of Atropos and my enemies almost always surprised me, after several attempts I moved the environment in a flash and fluently, predicting the position of opponents (due to their behavior or the way they move, not because they were always in the same place) and attacking first. As the roguelite game looks and belongs to the many tens of hours long, you will gradually begin to unlock permanent improvements that will "survive" your death. Not to mention that you can later use the cloning machine to buy a second life in one cycle.


You will begin to unlock permanent upgrades that will survive your death.


But let me tell you something: the feeling of a really good "run" when everything goes well, you get the right weapons, parasites and abilities and you reach, for example, a character level of 20 or higher - it's an incredibly ecstatic experience. You will turn into a god of doom, cutting its way through the game world just like Doomguy from Doom: Eternal - enemies around you explode in showers of body fluids and ancient stone columns or walls crumble to dust (yes, partial destruction of the environment is also present). Despite this, somewhere in the back of your head, the tucked-up fear that if you make a mistake, death will find you, you will lose everything and you will start again on the first level with a pistol. The game escalates into amazing adrenaline fun and never gets boring.


Other observations


I have this feeling about once a year: the article is a long time ago than would be healthy, but I would like to say so much more. Nothing gives a person such a desire to write as an extraordinarily powerful experience that you just want to shout out of your lungs to the world so that everyone stops and pays attention to something that far exceeds expectations. Fortunately, I can hide a good portion of talking about the game in its review and, if the technology does not betray us, also in the live stream, where you will be able to see for yourself and your ears about the qualities of the game and my sincere admiration for it. At the end of the article, I offer you in a non-traditional format various random notes that I put on my mobile phone during the first 20 hours of playing:


  • Another comparison with the famous game, which has been on my tongue all along, is Metroid Prime.

  • Running around with a gun and the mysterious technologies around you are reminiscent of the game Control.

  • Recording in the game is practically non-existent (it takes a second or two, as in Demon's Souls).

  • The movement is perfectly responsive and smooth, the game is wonderfully controlled as soon as one starts.

  • There are literally items in the game whose description says, "Collecting will either cure you or hurt you."

  • Minibos may surprise you, but gradually you will learn to anticipate them and not be afraid of them.

  • Both minobos and bosses are just about learning their moves and abilities.

  • By using specific weapons, you increase their strength and abilities for the next cycle (life).

  • At the beginning of the game, some routes are not accessible because you do not have the equipment / skills.

  • When you wear a full number of parasites, you look like Cthulhu.

  • The parasite that automatically heals you is MUCH stronger than everything else in the game.

  • The heroine looks believable, human, charismatic. Reminiscent of Brienne from Game of Thrones.

  • I don't like that the alien civilization was humanoid (it doesn't look like a real alien).

  • I don't like the "turbines" on the sides of the spaceship Helios - otherwise, the technique is perfect.

  • Even the design of game menus is taken from intruders: old "analog" screens and sounds.

  • The marketing team made the big mistake of not showing the atmosphere and SOUND of the game better.

  • Shooting is always the most important, but sometimes you can't do without melee.

  • If it was a fantasy, it might be a lot like Bloodborne.

If you've watched our podcasts and articles, then you know I wasn't looking forward to Returnal so much: it wasn't even on my list.. I was afraid of two things: the strange combination of arcade mechanics and effects with an adult "movie" set. And also that the game will offer too little content or short game time with regard to the creators' past titles. After twenty hours of playing, however, I managed to complete only the first act of the story out of three, so the scope of the game will certainly not be a problem. I'm a little worried about the diversity of the environment and the finale of the story, but it remains to be seen. In any case, the combination of arcade action with adult design, on the other hand, does not cease to entertain and fascinate me, thanks to which the experience of the game is really original and I feel that despite all the comparisons to similar titles I play something really new, fresh and modern (concept, as well as technical and artistic processing), I will probably remember for years.

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