Developed by Housemarque, Returnal is rogelite. Roguelites are games that change the layout of your levels when you die, bringing you back to the beginning – potentially with additional, more powerful equipment. Think of the dead cells or the rewarded Hades.
In Returnal you will die a a lot. Players control Selene, a space pilot who crashes on the planet Atropos. When she wakes up from her crash and leaves her ship Helios, Selena finds her own dead body. She realizes that something strange is happening after she dies and wakes up in the same place of the accident, only to do it again and again and again.
If this already sounds like boring work, it can certainly be said that “Return” is not the game for you. Rogelites can be frustrating because death is essential to the game. And when you revive, you start with square one. The gameplay cycle of most Roguelites stimulates death. The idea is that players slowly level up or acquire new equipment, which facilitates the initial section of the game. Each performance gives you a small reward – part of the story, constant inclusion or leftover currency to buy better items.
Slowly but surely, the earlier sections become easier and you learn how to progress deeper in the game. But this is not necessarily the case with Returnal, which will certainly disappoint players. Returnal’s biggest problem is the lack of rewards.
Every time you start, Selene has her gun, the suit whose integrity acts like her health, and the same stats. You continue through the first biome, with the goal of stepping up to fight his boss. After you take down the boss, you get a constant upgrade that stays with you after each death and is required to enter the next biome, where you go through the same process again. Doing this again and again introduces you to the area, enemies, weapons and available bonuses.
This is where the strategy comes in. Do you want to take every possible element and superstructure available in the initial biome? This makes the Selene harder, but can be time consuming and risky if you don’t get the power windows you need. You can rush to the next biome, although you will be left with weaker weapons and not so much health.
This planning and preparation, combined with mastery of the level and enemies, are designed to alleviate the frustration you feel at the beginning of the game. At least that’s how it should feel, but it’s not.
Too many times when I died, I felt like a loss. I may have made a few dazzling moves, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you beat a new boss or find a constant upgrade. Aside from a few scary moments and discovering a new item or weapon, most tracks will make you wake up like Selena, frustrated that you have to start over.
Until I got to the third biome boss, I played for a long time with nothing to show. No permanent upgrades, no unlocked items or weapons. With a lack of rewards, it’s tiring to start over and over and over again.
The return looks beautiful with its 4K previews and slippery frame rate. Alien enemies firing dazzling shells that illuminate the area are exciting to fight at first, but there comes a time when you die and realize not only that you have to start over, but that the last run means nothing.
Some players have shared their disappointments with Suburdit’s Returnal game. One particular problem is the lack of autosave, which many felt on Sunday night when an update to the game caused the game to restart, leading to a loss of circulation. Housemarque tweeted on Friday, saying it was listening to the community about the feature, but has yet to say anything.
Return misinterprets gradual progress, an integral part of the success of rogelita. These games need to bring a level of frustration and feel difficult at first to challenge players. But the rogelites must carry a spark of hope: Next time it will be easier. Next time I will be stronger. Too often, Returnal denies players who hope, and this makes it difficult to continue when it feels like everything is lost. The game is time-delayed, but you shouldn’t feel like me in fact stuck in a time cycle.
Read more: Return to GameSpot review