Returnal, preview: a new look at the exclusive PS5 of the authors of Resogun

Returnal, preview: a new look at the exclusive PS5 of the authors of Resogun
Unveiled in June 2020, Returnal is one of many PS5 exclusives coming next year. More precisely, as revealed during The Game Awards 2020, it will be released on March 19, 2021 and will mark the beginning of the career of Housemarque (Resogun, Nex Machina) on next-generation consoles. Now, thanks to the release of new pieces of gameplay, we have the opportunity to create an overview of all the information in our possession.

Housemarque has in fact spoken about Returnal on a couple of occasions, but it is above all the careful analysis of the gameplay that allows us to discover various interesting details about the weapons, skills and dynamics of this rogue-like third-person shooter.


Let's start with the narrative component of Returnal. The new Housemarque game, in fact, abandons the purely arcade structure of its previous titles - which were content to have a context - and immerses us in a videogame devoted to gameplay and action, but also supported by a plot that unites the various game sessions.

The origins of Returnal, as stated by the developers in the recent second episode of their "HouseCast", date back to about four years ago, when the team put on the table the ideas they found most interesting: dark sci-fi, time travel, a female character, psychological horror ... In a short time, the foundations of Returnal had been decided and the "Dark Planet" project had started.

Taking a leap forward, Dark Planet transforms into Returnal and puts us in the shoes of Selene, an astronaut who, following an accident, falls on a strange alien planet. However, the woman is not only trapped on this planet, but is imprisoned in a time loop of unknown origin: each death is followed by a new crash with the spacecraft and the beginning of a new exploration that will inevitably lead to another death. Our goal is to understand what is happening and break this cycle.

We don't know much about the protagonist, but we know that we will have to "reconstruct Selene's memories as she searches for answers" and at the same time we will have to "create a bond personal with the planet ". In the first trailer, the woman claims that "the planet is becoming part of her, infecting her mind". We can also see fragments of what we assume are the astronaut's memories, perhaps of his life on Earth, before an event of some nature forced him to travel into space. Furthermore, it is impossible not to notice the heterochromia of Selene's eyes: we suspect that it will be linked to the binomial "human-alien".


But let's talk about the heart of Returnal: the gameplay. We officially know that it is a third-person shooter with a rogue-like structure, that is, with each game the setting, the enemies and the tools at our disposal will change randomly. It is also confirmed that each cycle will give us the opportunity to unlock new "alien technologies" useful for enhancing Selene in subsequent sessions: there will therefore be some form of progression.

Thanks to the HouseCast, we have also been able to see multiple details related to gameplay. Let's start with the most macroscopic elements: the combat system is all about speed, spectacularity and explosions of colors. Though he ditched 2D, Housemarque hasn't put aside the bullet hell dynamics of his past masterpieces: each fight seems to be a riot of spheres and rays of light coming from all directions (an indicator signals the arrival of shots outside from our view, don't worry).

Selene will also have considerable movement skills. A jetpack will allow you to seem long jumps (or short flights, if you prefer). There is also a click, which can also be used in the air, perfect for discarding incoming enemy shots. Even the environment, however, can be exploited: it is in fact possible to see that the woman uses a sort of grappling hook to launch herself towards a predetermined point (therefore it cannot be used anywhere freely). There will also be environmental traps, such as timed lasers that limit the walkable areas.

Movement will be vital not only during the fighting, but also during exploration. We haven't gotten to see an entire game from start to finish to date, so we can't know how big Returnal's play areas will be. However, we know that there will be a mini-map complete with a compass, so it will not be a couple of screens that can be navigated in a few seconds.

Probably, each game will be divided into regions and access to the next one will be forbidden until the completion of a goal, as happens in many other rogue-like. In the case of Returnal, through the videos we can see that the game notifies the moment in which the area is safe from enemies and, above all, it signals when the "lockdown" is removed. It is also perfectly credible that after certain areas or at the end of a game there is a boss (the presence in the videos of large enemies inside "arenas" corroborates this possibility).

Let's talk now about weapons. Selene will be able to fight hand-to-hand with a sort of long energy blade, also perfect for destroying what appear to be bulletproof barriers. The focus of the game, however, is the guns. In the videos we had the opportunity to see various weapons, including a pistol that at regular intervals fires hunting shots, in addition to normal bullets, but also a weapon that places poles that connect and create damage zones, probably perfect to eliminate less mobile enemies.

We can also see that weapons have "traits" to be unlocked by playing: in which way is not clear for now, perhaps through simple use or perhaps by completing specific missions (such as elimination of certain enemies or a certain number of hits?). It is also possible to see that Selene has a level of "Proficiency" which improves by eliminating enemies: it is possible that by leveling up you enhance some kind of statistic or that new power ups will be unlocked for the current session. Finally, there is another variable: adrenaline. Even this element has not been presented clearly, but it is likely that by clashing with enemies it is possible to level up the adrenaline which then leads to bonuses.

What to watch out for

Housemarque is known for its great arcade prowess, with games based on straightforward and fun gameplay. Returnal, however, is a title with much higher production values ​​and, despite being convincing in these first films, we will have to understand if the entire work will be able to hold its own against the other AAAs on the market.

But it will be even more important understand the variety of weapons, enemies and situations. The gameplay shown to date all focus on a gray and rocky area, with some vegetation, but excerpts of footage also showed a desert area with much warmer colors. Rogue-like have the thankless task of staying interesting for tens if not hundreds of hours: variety will therefore be fundamental.

The transition to 3D also hides a pitfall: bullet hell, as it is easy to guess from the name, they focus on chaos on the screen. Returnal must be careful not to get too chaotic, transforming an adrenaline-fueled clash of lights into a frustrating battle in which you can't tell the difference between enemies, bullets and character. Readability will probably be the real discriminating factor.

Returnal could turn out to be one of the surprises of 2021. Rogue-likes tend to be indie works, with low production values, so Housemarque could hit on a market that is "cleared" of AAA competitors . Obviously it will depend on the quality of the game, but above all on the variety of situations proposed and the readability of the game action. Also, let's not forget that the development team may support Returnal even after its release, with new content. The hopes are high, we just have to wait until March and find out if they will be respected.


The sci-fi setting is interesting The gameplay seems adrenaline The narrative component could be an excellent link between the various sessions DOUBTS Everything will depend on the variety of situations Will the readability of the action be perfect as per the Housemarque tradition?

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