One of the first games I played for this site was Matterfall, an excellent bullet hell game developed by Housemarque. On a related note, Returnal is an excellent bullet hell game developed by Housemarque.
That’s it, that’s the review… Fine, I’ll tell you why.
Point of No Returnal
Returnal sees you as Selene, an Astra-naut (I refuse to call her anything else) investigating a mysterious signal on a dead planet. Unfortunately, she crash lands and, with her ship Helios all jacked up, decides to wander into the world of Atropos to investigate the spooky signal on foot.
Look, with this many Greek names flying around, including two Titans and one of the Fates, things aren’t gonna turn out smoothly. You’re on a planet named after one of the Fates, there’s gonna be some shenanigans.
This is an exceptionally jumpy game. Mobility is king, queen, and gender-non-conforming ruler in Returnal, and standing still is a quick ticket to the grave. Luckily there is plenty of weaponry available to provide hot death in a variety of exciting flavours to whatever fauna decide they want to chomp on you. My favourite was a type of toxic grenade launcher, which was highly effective in my ‘spam from a distance and run like hell while reloading’ playstyle.
Pro tip, that.
When we say bullet hell, by the way, we mean it. The sheer numbers of things doing things on the screen can cause a bit of thing related confusion. Good? Bad? Harmless? Glitch? Who even knows sometimes. But they were all very pretty particles.
Returnal to Sender
In a move no other game has ever made, probably, you get a little into Returnal before being brutally killed by something it seems should be killable. But it’s ok, because you get all resurrected and sent back in time to when you first crashed.
Prepare to die, amirite?
Regardless, Moon Moon takes all this in her stride, carrying on as if her only care in the world is getting off the aforementioned world. Which, of course, it is. The world itself is hauntingly beautiful, from the overgrown forest you begin in through deserts of sand and ice, and ruined cities of bizarre architecture… Bizarrechitecture. All of this looks glorious though, and I cannot even fathom criticising these environments.
Problem is, there are some other mischiefs going on…
The Mummy Returnals
Sometimes you’ll see a white sided, good old Midwestern US house incongruously plonked in the middle of an alien biome. And, even by this game’s standards, that’s mildly unsettling.
Inside you’ll deal with the personal story of Selene, and I refuse to spoil anything else because it’s weird as hell. Did you like P.T.? I hope so, because there are huge vibes here. Echoes of Gone Home and Resident Evil 7 abound as well, but the Playable Teaser is perfectly clear whenever you turn a corner and meet something bizarre or unexpected.
All of this is pretty cool, and the shift to a first person perspective with slow, investigative gameplay is an excellent break in the otherwise frenetic gameplay. The first time you lose your progress to a freeze or glitch, though? That’s not so rad. That happened to me midway through the second area early on and, while I believe this has been patched out by now (I forgot to hit publish on the review :/), it was enough to make me get up and walk away for the evening.
Returnal of the King
Not that there was ever any doubt, but Housemarque has done a great job with Returnal. Clearly the PS5 exclusive cheddar has led to some great strides in technical capability, but the talent was there.
Hands down my favourite part was the haptic controls made possible by Sony’s DualSense controller. Using the same triggers at different pressures to activate different weapons, the vibration mimicking everything from blazing energy to soft rain, and using the speaker in ways I haven’t enjoyed as much since Infamous: Second Son, the DualSense is the real star in this galaxy of innovation.
The game itself is also stellar. Returnal is a game you might want to put down every so often for a bit of a breather, but you’ll definitely find yourself returning for another go.