Returnal is a damn excellent game, but all its praise seems to be drowned out by complaints about lack of a save feature.
And yes, it’s annoying. Sometimes, in the middle of a Returnal run, it would be nice to stop, go do something else for a while, and come back later. It’s especially true if a run has lasted longer than you expected it did, and suddenly find yourself traipsing through Atropos at 3 a.m. You can put your console in rest mode, and resume the game later. But it’s not foolproof.
In the time we’ve played Returnal – between Rich and I, we’re clocking in over 50 hours now – we’ve not once had to turn off mid-run. We’ve not wanted to turn off. Honestly, it’s rare that a run will last more than an hour or two. The odd time it does, you’re so in the zone, determined to progress, that you don’t want to turn it off.
But it’s no excuse for having no built-in save function, I hear you say. Housemarque has acknowledged players’ outcry for a save function, but haven’t commented whether it will happen or not. In a tweet quoting the official reddit thread, the company simply said “We hear the community… nothing to announce now”.
There’s a very simple reason why Returnal has no save function: it would allow for progress to be too easily exploited. You’re on a good run, and you don’t want to have to do it all again. So you upload your save to the cloud just before, say, beating the second boss. That way, if you die you don’t need to bother doing all the legwork again. Simply load your save as many times as you need in order to kill that boss.
Perhaps that should be the player’s prerogative, to play Returnal however they damn like. But it’s not in the spirit of the game. The ability to save freely opens up too many opportunities for players to exploit their progress and completely change the flow of the game. Returnal is meant to be challenging; you’re meant to be stuck in a loop. Selene can’t just simply decide to start from a specific moment in time, and neither can you.
It’s also in keeping with the arcade nature of Returnal. Housemarque’s roots have always been firmly planted in the arcades of old. You couldn’t simply save and return later back then. Here’s no different. If you’re hours-deep into a run, count yourself lucky and simply enjoy the ride.
Maybe Housemarque will enable some sort of save function, but unless it decides it’s fine with people exploiting their progress, it seems unlikely. There’d be a way around it if all saves were stored on a online server, but of course that introduces new issues (what if the server goes offline? What if your own internet connection is down?). It seems unlikely a traditional solution will ever work, so in the meantime your only option is to keep using the PS5’s rest mode. Just make sure you disable auto-updates to minimise your chance of losing your progress.