Playstation’s first-party games have been dominating for years now and they’ve barely set a foot wrong.
With some players expecting an eventual quality dip, I’m happy to report Returnal isn’t that title.
What we have here is yet another must-play game that’s exclusive to the PS5 as rival Xbox struggles to produce any unique system sellers.
Returnal is best described as a mix of movies Alien and Groundhog Day and tough-as-nails video games like Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne.
You play Selene, a space voyager who gets stuck on an eerie planet called Atropos after your ship crash lands.
It gets weird from the off because you scrabble from the wreckage to soon discover this isn’t your first time here.
As you work your way through the game’s first biome, shooting dead weird and wonderful alien monsters, you come across data logs – recordings of Selene’s voice talking cryptically about past attempts to find a distant signal.
And when you die for the first time – you will die a lot in this game – there’s a spooky flashback sequence and then you awake again, back in your spacecraft wreckage to start over.
But each time the biome you’re in alters, shape-shifting, so as you step back into the level you’re treated with different areas that weren’t there before.
It takes you a while to adjust to this mechanic, and makers Housemarque don’t make it easy for you to drop the controller midway through a life loop.
You can spend long periods of time slowly working your way through a biome, building up an understanding of what you need to do to get to it’s big boss fight, trying not to get killed so you don’t have to start all over again.
But it’s so gripping that you won’t want to put down the DualSense anyways.
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Housemarque made the hit PS4 game Resogun.
And that influence is very visible here, as the aliens baddies you come up against attack you with an ever-increasing array of neon weapons, firing bright deadly balls of light and lasers at you in a mass of colour.
During the most frantic of firefights, the screen is alive with huge amounts of moving bullets, zaps and light bombs, reminiscent of the wild and overwhelming attack runs in the 2013 space shooter.
It really pushes the PS5 technology and is as astounding as it is silky smooth on the new console.
The controller’s haptic feedback is also put to great use, the ominous soundtrack and audio effects spill at times from it’s built-in speaker, giving the gamer a sense of being in the heart of the action.
The trigger kickback gives those various guns on offer realism and satisfaction as you blast away at monsters.
And you have to be incredibly deft using the array of buttons on offer to take down the worst attackers.
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You can even feel the raindrops in the touch of the pad. Impressive.
Once you get your head around Returnal you realise this is actually a very gamey video game.
While there’s a mysterious horror/thriller story at the heart of the title pushing you forward, it’s the platforming, gun fights and ultimate boss battles that’ll really hook you in for the long run.
There are six biomes to wade through, and with them changing each time, you’ll be spending a lot of hours traversing Atropos in your battle to beat the planet and unlock it’s haunting secrets from a past alien race, as well as Selene’s own internal demons.
The crashed ship, Helios, features a Challenge terminal too which allows players to compete against others in a high stakes score attack to receive the highest score on the leaderboard. That’s bound to see top gamers fighting it out to be crowned king of the game for years to come.
A Daily Challenge is also available as soon as you beat the first biome.
The story of Returnal is not over when the credits roll for the first time either.
You can continue to go deeper down the rabbit hole on a second play-through to unlock more layers of the story and find a myriad of secrets across the biomes.
I have thoroughly enjoyed playing Returnal so far and its unique die-and-start-over mechanic, excellent graphics, gameplay and sound all work brilliantly to deliver yet another fantastic first-party exclusive for the PS5.
This, Spider-Man Miles Morales, Sackboy, Astro’s Playroom, Demon’s Souls and Destruction AllStars is now a stellar list of PS5-only games worth buying.
Keep it up Sony.
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