Just under two years since it launched on PS5, Returnal is crash-landing on PC.
It’s something to celebrate, truly. Few PlayStation exclusives have made quite the same impact on us as Returnal. Developed by Housemarque, who you might know for its brilliant arcade-style shooters such as Nex Machina, Resogun and Dead Nation, its combination of intense third-person shooter action and horror with plenty of roguelike elements for good measure is one of the most intoxicating experiences of recent times. And there are still signs of that arcade DNA, too.
Plummeting onto an unknown alien planet, Returnal finds its determined protagonist Selene stuck in a seemingly endless cycle. She goes out, does battle with hostile lifeforms, and scans objects and other things she discovers to learn more about them. But this world is truly hostile, and so it often isn’t long until she meets a grisly end. It isn’t the end of her struggle though: every time she dies she mysteriously finds herself back at the site where she crashed her craft.
Like most roguelikes, then, success in Returnal is earned over time. As you learn more about the alien world you’ve come to inhabit, you’ll be better prepared to deal with its menacing creatures and picturesque locales that are as dangerous as they are beautiful. On each foray into the unknown you’ll acquire a range of upgrades that can make your fight a little more manageable, too.
Some of these you’ll keep between deaths, such as the powerful alien sword that you acquire early on in your adventure. Others are lost upon death. There’s a whole range of items and upgrades that need to be unlocked before they appear on your continued exploits as well. Throw in a variety of parasites you can attach to your body to gain powerful perks, and you have a lot of unpredictability between runs. And that’s before we’ve even got on to the subject of malignancy – a debuff that you must take calculated risks with if you want to maximise your upgrade opportunities.
The core Returnal experience is pretty much exactly the same on PC as it was on PS5 back in 2021. This is a hardcore experience that occasionally feels like a bullet hell shooter with how many projectiles are thrown at you. If you don’t keep on your toes and make effective use of your abilities such as the dash you can easily find yourself back at your crash site time and time again. But this PC version does include some important updates that make Returnal even better than when we originally reviewed it.
There’s the option to suspend your game mid-run, for example; great for when you’re on fine form but need to put the controller down. And no longer does it need to be a single player experience: online co-op is available, allowing players to team up to take on the monstrosities ahead of them. For some additional fun once the main campaign has been cleared (though you can play it earlier), there’s the Tower of Sisyphus, too. This is an endless wave-based mode where the higher you go the more powerful your enemies become.
Needless to say, Returnal is a generous game when it comes to content. While some might blast through the main campaign in 20 hours or so, it could take others considerably longer. Then there’s the Daily Challenge to consider, complete with leaderboards, as well as the additional content added post-launch. This is the type of game you could keep coming back to again and again, and you’re likely to considering the electrifying nature of the gameplay. Taking control of Selene is a delight, and every battle is a tense affair where the real world momentarily ceases to exists as you put all of your concentration into survival.
As with ports of other first-party PlayStation games, a lot of effort has gone into making Returnal right at home on PC. While it’s best played with a DualSense controller, for example, you can use other controllers or even mouse and keyboard. We used an Xbox controller for the most part, and while standard rumble pales into comparison against the DualSense’s haptic feedback it’s still rather nice. We quickly got used to holding the left bumper to make use of the special alternate fire modes of our guns rather than using the DualSense’s adaptive triggers, too.
Performance-wise, we’ve had no issues whatsoever. With an Nividia RTX 3070 paired with a Ryzen 5 3600 we’ve been able to play at 1080p with epic settings (without ray-tracing) while maintaining a constant 60fps. And there’s a lot of leeway to further tweaking: numerous reconstruction techniques are available such as DLSS, for example. Dig into the game’s options and you’ll even find that you can have useful information such as the framerate and CPU and GPU utilisation – great for fine-tuning to your machine’s capabilities.
Going back to Returnal on PC, we were instantly reminded why we fell in love with it. This is a game like no other. We were disappointed when Housemarque announced it was stepping away from the arcade-style games that it became known for, but when Returnal was unleashed we quickly came to terms with it. This may be a third-person shooter with roguelike elements and lashings of horror, but it’s Housemarque’s penchant for making games that keep you going back for more that ties it all together. And the result is quite simply phenomenal.