Returnaling, over and over, to remember the things we shot. [credit:
Sony Interactive Entertainment / Housemarque
Returnal is a sci-fi video game about a person constantly reliving the past in order to find a new future. In some ways, it feels like a pointed metaphor for the game’s creators.
PlayStation fans are likely familiar with Finnish game studio Housemarque, whose best modern games have masterfully combined classic arcade chops with modern flourishes. Yet even its biggest PS3 and PS4 games (Super Stardust HD, Resogun, Nex Machina) have mostly felt like translations from classic cabinets, thanks to fixed perspectives and allegiant action. Blow stuff up, aim for the high score, game over, and repeat.
This week, Returnal sees the studio aim its pedigree at a much higher scope: a game that combines the pure action of ’80s arcade games with the plot, production value, and world exploration of a full-blown “adventure” game. It’s as if someone at Housemarque looked at 1981’s Galaga running next to 2018’s God of War and said, “Can we somehow combine these two?”
The result feels like a statement game for Housemarque, arguably in the same way that 2019’s Control solidified Remedy Studios’ own reputation—though this effort isn’t quite as successful. At its best, Returnal delivers the studio’s finest-yet action and tension within a phenomenal 3D-shooting system. I’ve gone to sleep thinking about the game’s best blasting moments, eager to wake up the next day and return (returnal?) for “one more run.” Yet at its worst, Returnal‘s roguelite trappings sometimes threaten to bring the whole package down—especially if you’re not very good at high-speed shooter games.