Forget what you thought you knew about PlayStation exclusives. Though a number of Sony‘s biggest hitters have already retired their exclusive status to embrace a wider audience on PC, it’s this month’s port of sci-fi roguelike Returnal that should turn heads.
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Forget God Of War – if I wanted to see a burly dad scowl their way through life, I’d go to a crowded Tesco. The Last Of Us had its chance ten years ago and although it’s finally coming to PC next month, the lovely Pedro Pascal is already scratching that itch on HBO.
I’m only half joking. Every one of PlayStation’s blockbusters that comes to PC is a win for players, but they all felt distinctly second-hand: years of word-of-mouth means we already knew what to expect from their third-person action.
Returnal is different. Going in, I knew very little idea about Housemarque‘s third-person shooter beyond knowing it was a roguelike. As a result, Returnal’s opening hours were a captivating spectacle. Within minutes of crashing on the alien planet of Atropos, marked off-limits by humanity, protagonist Selene Vassos (voiced by the wonderful Jane Perry) makes a shocking discovery – her own dead body, lying mauled in the planet’s ever-shifting forest. Though she doesn’t remember, she has already lived and died on Atropos countless times, and the goal of Returnal is to break away from this sci-fi Groundhog Day and free her from an unsettling cycle of death.
The mystery of Atropos is captivating, but it’s much more than that – it grips hold of you until, like Selene, you have no idea where the last six hours of your life have gone. Housemarque knows how to draw players in. As Atropos relinquishes more of its secrets, the planet’s dead tell its story, from the scout logs of other ill-fated Selene’s to the carvings of an ancient civilisation that settled here long ago. Things get progressively weirder, and the planet itself almost feels haunted when elements of Selene’s past life begin to manifest within its twisting lands. The story of Returnal is magnetic, and makes the most important facet of a roguelike – getting players to keep playing after countless deaths – look effortless in the same way that Supergiant’s 2020 hit Hades did.
Like Hades, Returnal‘s combat often descends into delightfully fluorescent bullet hell. Thanks to the propulsion on her spacesuit, Selene is a capable fighter that can dash and jump around foes with ease. Brawls are all about staying on the move, as most of Returnal‘s alien enemies are capable of covering swathes of your screen with arcs and beams of sizzling energy. Landing your own shots is relatively simple thanks to a generous targeting system, so you’re able to focus on staying alive as hordes of monsters attempt to kill you from all angles.
It’s a rush, and Returnal‘s weaponry is a pleasure to wield – there’s nothing like eviscerating a hungry alien with a close-up shotgun blast, or sizzling through a flying manta ray before it can dive at you. My first death was caused by an alien gorilla that looked like it had huffed the smoke monster from Lost, but it was far from my last – Returnal‘s randomised layout means that you’re always chasing the next run, hoping that Atropos coughs up better upgrades the next time you venture in. Sometimes it does. Often it doesn’t.
It would be amoral to spoil any more of Returnal. If you’re a fan of roguelikes, Returnal‘s brilliance stands with the likes of Hades and The Binding Of Isaac. If you’re yet to dabble in the genre, let Returnal be your introduction. Even at face value, Housemarque’s hit is a brilliant, gorgeous third-person shooter. Whatever your reason for playing, just make sure you have one – now it’s on PC, there’s no excuse for missing Returnal.