'Returnal' Is a Gorgeous And Fun Sci-Fi Shooter, But an Awkward Roguelike

One of my bad habits while frustrated with a game is that I'll twist the controller after everything goes wrong, to the point of hearing the plastic bend a bit. It's so satisfying. I don't want to break the controller, but sometimes swearing isn't enough, and the knotted up tension is released by, for a brief moment, thinking about dismantling this plastic object with my bare hands. My ten hours with Returnal, the new sci-fi roguelike from arcade specialists Housemarque, have been an exercise in discovering the durability of PlayStation 5's Dual Sense controller. I'm happy to report that you can twist that thing hard before it's worrying.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pkbdvv/returnal-is-a-gorgeous-and-fun-sci-fi-shooter-but-an-awkward-roguelike
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Good review from our local roguelike expert. I’m disappointed there’s no OP drops, but I am glad that progression is limited. I prefer roguelikes where the only progression is an expanded loot pool (Enter the Gungeon is my favorite, for example, and I couldn’t stand Rogue Legacy).

I wish he’d gotten further into the game so we could get more impressions on that.

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The killer for me is the expectation of having a 4-8 hour block of time to “finish” a full run. That just sounds exhausting to me. Which, hey, I get that Housemarque needs to justify the AAA price tag with sufficient content, but it just feels like the roguelike genre isn’t really suitable for high budget development.

Still, the game looks cool as hell. Maybe a discount purchase and an expectation that I’m never going to see end content could change my critique here. But for $90 CAD? Think I’ll pass for now.

Post from Housemarque about their transition from small arcade games to this and their relationship with Sony: Housemarque's Next Awesome Arcade Action Game Releases Tomorrow! — Housemarque

I’m kinda bummed that there isn’t a lot of run-to-run progression because that’s the thing that got me through Dead Cells and Hades (although Hades had a lot of other things going for it) but I like all of the footage I’ve seen so far

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I’m with you. Having an hours long block of time with no pauses or saves outside of rest mode (seriously?!) is basically a no-go for me. It looks really cool, but I do not have that kind of uninterrupted game time these days, and I also like to rotate between a few games at once, so rest mode is of limited help there (hey Sony, maybe copy Quick Resume?).

At the very least, it does sound like it makes the most use of the DualSense since Astro’s Playroom, so I’m sure I’ll give it a go at some point - but not at the current price. See you in 6 months at half price, Returnal (and hopefully with an option to save and quit patched in).

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If I ever spent five hours on a run only to fail out in the middle, I would have no choice but to throw my PS5 out the window of a moving car, then do a badass E-brake turn, and fire six bullets through the console before it hits the ground.

Then I’d blow my car up and walk away dramatically while smoking a cigarette.

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I cannot fathom this at all. If I’m playing Returnal and I get invited to join a game of Apex I just lose all my progress? It doesn’t make any sense to me, especially if the runs are so long. And the PS5 doesn’t even alert you if it’s going to close an app!

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Yea this game seems like a bizarre argument in favor of a quick resume feature (that the PS5 doesn’t have.)

This feels like a mid-dev-cycle changeover, as though someone either 1. had the idea to make it a roguelike or 2. had the idea to make the game substantially bigger than it was and weird quirks like this were the result. It’s theoretically fixable in a patch but it’s a weird thing to have go out the door.

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It’s using the same approach they had to Resogun and Nex Machina, but a single run in those was like, 30 minutes max, unless you were an absolute god at a survival mode. While it seems like most runs here are under an hour, they can clearly also go into multiple hours. So weird. Hopefully they decide to patch it in and it’s not too much effort to do so.

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Also I don’t know if anyone saw but The Gamers are out in full force over Dia putting out a critical review on Paste because she made a very Dia political sidenote. Typical harassment bullshit, celebrating that they have apparently chased her out of the industry. Just what we need! Fewer politically critical, queer, POC people in games media. It’s gross as fuck and unfortunately extremely predictable.

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There’s one aside in the review that feels like using a green shell on a Mario Kart player you just lapped but otherwise it just kinda feels like classic Left Games Criticism: this expensive AAA game does some vaguely interesting stuff but it’s ultimately suffering from the low-risk choices that guarantee it’ll sell but make it a bore and btw capitalism will kill us all.

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Which tbh seems off for this game because there is literally no other game like it. It’s doing a lot more interesting stuff than safe stuff. It would be a hard sell to argue that a roguelike bullet hell with an older woman as the protagonist isn’t risky or is formulaic unless you think that simply having a big budget is all it takes to be uncreative.

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I’ve read her review. I know she makes that argument. I don’t think she makes it very well; she seems to literally be saying that because it has a big budget, it’s playing it safe. Or that she’s projecting her disappointment with the gameplay onto the premise, and retroactively saying the game is flat/safe/“prestige TV” because she’s not having enough fun with it. She doesn’t really elucidate on why exactly it’s not creative besides she doesn’t like it.

I like Dia and I respect her voice a lot. And I don’t care that she didn’t like the game. She just doesn’t do anything here to sell me on her premise that actually this very strange and creative looking game isn’t that. What, exactly, are the low risk choices? Failing at execution is not the same as not taking risks.

Edit: a thought on Dia’s style: I think she intentionally takes a provocative, cynical approach to get reviews and writes them with a fantastic sense of flair and metaphor. You can see the same thing in her Nier review. Even for something she’s positive on, she focuses on the flaws and the negative aspects as a counter to all the uncritical gaming industry sycophants. She’s willing to ask questions and prod at things in a way most in games media aren’t. I love that about her work and it’s why I will sorely miss her is she really is leaving the games industry. Not that I would ask her to stay and suffer through more bullshit. I just don’t find this particular review’s argument compelling. I would also only say that in this space, where I know everyone is more or less like minded in regards to the status of the industry, so that my words don’t get used as fuel for the harassment.

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I’d love more on the point she made that the Gamergate assholes were furious about, that being the connection between the fantasy cosmic horror aliens of this world and actual real-world racism. That only gets a sentence but could easily be a focus for a whole piece.

I’m not sure how relevant it is to Returnal in particular versus any other Geiger-esque gross horny alien world. But I’d like more of it.

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I respect this angle, but it’s also why I don’t really read Dia’s stuff. It’s very abrasive and sometimes I feel like she’s angry at me in addition to whatever game / industry trend is the target. I do think her voice is worth having in the industry, though, and I hope she keeps writing about games in some capacity.

That aside, I really do love how this game looks. I don’t have a PS5 and I’ve been playing a ton of non-HD games lately. Would love to put this on a big screen and let it impress me… if I had a PS5.

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Same, honestly, I find her stuff challenging to read at times. But that’s such an unusual experience in this space that I can’t help but push through it anyways because it feels so rare and valuable and will hopefully make me think more critically about this hobby that is such a huge part of my life.

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I think Dia is an excellent writer and her evident cynicism-bordering-on-distaste for both the medium (and the people reading her review for an artificial sense of outrage) is well-founded.

As much as I try to enjoy the fun, frivolous aspects of a mostly frivolous hobby, I think I agree with Dia’s overarching stance that mainstream culture is getting worse and the products of that culture are both less interesting and less valuable to our understanding of both art and the medium by the day.

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