Returnal review. Groundhog Day /


Developer Housemarque
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment
Official site
release date April 30, 2021
Genre Third person shooter, roguelike, bullet hell

On April 30, Returnal was released – the first full-fledged exclusive for the PlayStation 5. The game was developed by the little-known Finnish studio Housemarque, the authors of the niche but popular Alienation and Nex Machina. Before Returnal, the guys made modestly budgeted rougelike or bullet hell games, and sometimes both. The novelty was no exception in the genre, but received a relatively serious budget. Did the money save the game from a narrow focus and does it justify its full price tag, like other AAA projects, read in the review below.


The plot of Returnal begins with an unknown signal on the mysterious planet Atropos, which is received by astronaut Selene flying by. She decides to check the source, but on the approach she crashes in this ancient world.

The girl is left without communication and goes in search of the source of the message. Atropos turns out to be an unfriendly but beautiful place. There are many gigantic monolithic structures, less dangerous beast-like inhabitants and more various chthonic creatures. There are many traps, parasites, artifacts and turrets. All this is trying to kill Selena and they are doing it very well.

Having died once, the heroine wakes up near the ship, and after going further she finds her dead body. It turns out that she was stuck here for a long time, time looped and after each death returns her to this point. But now the memory gradually adapts and remembers events from previous failures. The only thing left is to try not to die 100500 times, understand what is happening here and get out of the time loop.


In addition to the chips from Groundhog Day, the scriptwriters mixed elements of psychological horror into the story of Returnal. Exploring the locations, Selena finds a house from her childhood, and in it the life of the twentieth century and strange inhabitants who are connected with the past. All this somehow intersects with a time trap and is served in small portions as the game progresses, gradually revealing the plot.

At first, the story draws you in and makes you delve into the details, making assumptions and waiting for new clues. But over time, you get tired of such a presentation of the plot and want the story to be not so torn and strictly dosed, but whole and straightforward. “Roguelike” and “bullet hell” games are almost always not about the plot, but an example of last year’s hit Hades is an exception to the rule. But it is clear that in Returnal the stories were given a lot of time when creating, they just got carried away and went too far with the presentation.


And yet the main thing here is the gameplay, and now the masters have already done it. Returnal is a complex and beautiful rougelike shooter with tactile controls and well-thought-out mechanics. True, some of this did the game a disservice, but let’s start with the good.

Returnal is almost instantly addictive. At the same time, the game has a far from pop-based gameplay – after each death, the heroine appears at the very beginning without everything acquired by overwork. They leave essence from killed enemies – a variant of the local currency – as well as items received from the story and from level bosses. For example, the second weapon is a sword and a grappling hook for fast moving around locations. Everything else, including the pumped barrel, upgrades and power-ups, disappears.


The Returnal has an incredible handling feel. The game fully reveals the capabilities of the Dualsense gamepad, and a variety of vibration helps to “draw” the world. Not only the blows or hits received by the heroine, the return of weapons or dodges are transmitted to the controller. The gamepad reflects raindrops and steps, jumps and other character movements. All this is accompanied by sounds from the built-in speaker and helps to immerse yourself in the passage even more. Unless, of course, you play with headphones.


The planet Atropos or that part of it that is shown in the game is divided into five biomes – local variants of locations. Each of them has its own type and conditions, a separate boss and composition of opponents. The levels of the game are maps of different sizes – from a small room with a chest or a regeneration chamber, to a huge area or partially open space with alien monoliths, statues and unknown structures.

The combat system of Returnal is classic Bullet Hell. This is when each of the many opponents launches tons of projectiles, plasma clots and deadly energy at the hero. Turrets are still placed around, and although the map is three-dimensional, it is still limited in area, so you have to constantly move, shoot back and think through actions in advance.

In Returnal, you can’t stand still and shoot someone at the same time. The enemy responds to the heroine with fire no less than she does to him, so it is better to alternate between strafes and dashes, jumps and moving to other ends of the map with a hook. It also helps a little to hide behind covers, but almost all of them break quickly.

Selena dies in three or four hits. But this is without the improvements found in the form of artifacts or local parasites. With them, the amount of health increases, armor increases and passive skills are applied. For example, a bonus to damage, increased protection, and so on.

And if there is no catch in the artifacts found, then the parasites have it. If you attach one to a space suit, it gives some kind of positive bonus. But along with this, there is a chance to get something bad. The character’s health will begin to decrease from each item raised, or armor will begin to collapse, and so on. The negative effect of the parasite can be removed by fulfilling various conditions – kill five enemies, find the right item, use the key, and so on. Each time a monster is killed, an additional useful passive is also imposed on the heroine, but it is worth missing one hit and the bonus disappears.


With the main weapon, too, you will not clear up much. Albeit with an alien design, it is the most standard here: a shotgun pistol, an assault rifle, a rocket launcher and something like a plasmagun. In addition to the main fire, each cannon has a stronger alternate fire. Naturally, his recharge is much longer, and the effect is more powerful. There are many types of alternative shot and they are scattered on the map like artifacts. Cannons do not have reloading and ammo, because the heroine uses alien weapons. But it overheats, as indicated by a special indicator. And if you press R2 in time, it goes faster.


In addition to the strong shooter component, the “bagel” comes to the fore in Returnal. In my opinion, it is this version of the genre that only spoils the game, because the developers, although they made indulgences to gamers, made two mistakes along with them. Firstly, there is too much to die and go through all over again without significant changes. Yes, this is such a genre, but in the same Hades or The Binding of Isaac, every next time the character becomes stronger, acquires passives and gets a chance to go further in a completely different build and with new weapons.

In Returnal, Selena does not level up in any way during the game, apart from basic additional items such as the hook and sword mentioned above. Neither remaining passives nor anything like that leave the game literally having to start with empty pockets and in the same, albeit arranged in a different order, locations, and the success of the next run depends on randomness and straight hands. But more than the first.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find an assault rifle or a plasma gun on the third map, and then a couple of good artifacts and parasites with harmless negative effects. So you can go through many rooms and even reach the boss, and, lo and behold, put him down. After such a victory, the game allows you to skip the completed stages and start not from the very beginning, but immediately after killing the main creature of the level. But even such a “light” run takes an hour or two, or even more.

But more often you’re unlucky: you get a gun from the chest without bonuses or with some kind of nonsense, the artifacts are mediocre, and the parasites have insane curses with impossible drop conditions. Therefore, the path to one of the five bosses turns into hellish torment and irritation.

Returnal is not fun entertainment. The game requires a serious skill from the gamer and it will be comfortable for such people. I know guys who got through the first boss without dying, and before the second with three. But such units and these are fans of the genre. I died ten times, or even more in the first case, and dofiga in the second. And then there were the countless deaths and the actual “Groundhog Day” from the movie. Only here it can be called fun with a stretch.

Returnal is incredibly atmospheric and engages with its visuals. Depending on the location with a diverse style, the mood of the game also changes. Attracts the design of structures and levels, ordinary monsters and each of the five bosses. All this is clearly inspired, at least by the works of artists Giger and Beksinsky, chthonic creatures, ancient mythology, classic space fantasy and much more.


The game has excellent detailed graphics, frame rate of 60 fps, modern resolution up to 4K and ray tracing. Expect something different from the exclusive nextgen is not necessary, and in this regard, it does not disappoint.

Before the release, journalists were faced with crashes, which is critical with the local autosave system. To begin with, they are not here, and biomes can only be skipped after the massacre of each subsequent boss, and if somewhere in between you are thrown out, then you will have to start over. And even if the failure does not happen, then do not try to turn off the console completely or start another game during the passage. Hibernate and Returnal only. Otherwise what? That’s right, you have to start over.

Although the music adds to the atmosphere, something deeper and darker could be done here. I specifically listened to the soundtracks separately and it’s not bad music. But compared to her great visual style, she falls short of it. But as a background for the game will go. The voice acting is complete and in Russian. There is no Ukrainian, and you can’t choose the original either. Subtitles only. I did not encounter any errors or typos in the texts. The voices are well chosen.

Returnal is a full-fledged next-generation game with its pros and cons. Of the former stand out stunning visual style, atmosphere and excellent implementation of Dualsense capabilities. The second one includes the full price tag, like for a real AAA game, that is, 2299 hryvnias and more.

But Returnal is not like that. This is an expensive and beautiful “bagel”, the creators of which were given a chance to be one of the first to make a full-fledged exclusive for the PlayStation 5. They did well, but no matter how much money you put into a rougelike project, it will not become an adventure action game, a royal battle or a popular survivalist . Of course, if you are a fan of something like this, then Returnal is definitely worth the money, it will give you a lot of emotions and impressions. But if you are not familiar with “bullet hells”, are not ready to suffer and die constantly, neither a normal plot, nor a beautiful picture, nor an atmosphere, nor decent shooting will save you. And all this is here. Yes, and the price tag will scare away immediately. Therefore, it may be worth waiting for discounts or not taking at all.


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