Returnal Review: Eerily exhilarating play-die-repeat

You are Selene Vassos, an astro scout, who crash-landed on a planet called Atropos, in this PlayStation 5 (PS5) exclusive third-person shooter game.

You are Selene. (Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Your crashed spaceship is rendered useless and you venture out to explore this beautiful but treacherous planet.

Next, you will manage to recover your side arm. And thus, now able to exterminate the planet’s creatures that seem hell-bent on killing you.

PRICE: S$97.90 (PS5 only)
GENRE: Third-person shooter

Soon, you will realise that for every enemy you kill, you get bonus streaks to become more powerful. And you might even discover a new weapon and can discard your weak side arm.

There’s something fishy out here. (Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Then, you will somehow meet the first boss of the game. And you will die a quick death. But wait, you could not save the game! Yes, this is one game that you cannot save your progress.

Selene is like the Tom Cruise character, Major Cage in the sci-fi movie Edge of Tomorrow, in an infinite time loop. When Selene dies, she will end up back at the crash site and you have to start another run all over again.

All the new weapons you found, bonus streaks and abilities picked are gone. Luckily, you will always start with your side arm back. And some upgrades, like your space suit, will be permanent as well.

+ Jaw-dropping graphics and visuals
+ Amazing audio effects and soundtrack
+ Makes full use of PS5 DualSense Controller
+ Incredible replayability

– No way to save game progress
– No idea how long each game session will take

The planet’s environment will change after each death. At times, it will be some Avatar-like lush forest with luminous plants and ruins of an ancient civilisation. Other times, it becomes a Mars-like desert with red sand and more ancient buildings.

Thus, no two runs will be the same. In fact, you will also be meeting new enemies during each run and devising new strategies to counter them.

Oh! Hi again, you ugly beast… (Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Not to mention, you will not know how long you are going to survive. In fact, you cannot even plan the time you are going to spend on the game.

Unlike other games where you can save your progress and go for a toilet break or sleep, you will find yourself going on and on because you cannot save the game. Unless you die of course.

This is all in the hope of finding the boss, defeating it (good luck with that) and so you never have to fight it again. Furthermore, you will get some good loot when you defeat the boss.

And before you know it, it is 4.30am in the morning.

You will die often in these kind of battles. (Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Making each run worth the trouble is the jaw-dropping graphics and awesome audio soundtrack. It is noteworthy that the developers have somehow make the game world eerily gorgeous and beautifully horrifying at the same time.

You will find the environment of each run to be different. (Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Adding to the atmosphere is the superb soundtrack that makes each step you take even more frightening. Furthermore, all the audio effects are top-notch, from the enemies’ cries to your weapon’s fire.

Furthermore, the fantastic haptics feedback of the PS5 DualSense Controller ups the immersive factor by several notches. You can even feel the rain drops on Selene through the rumble of controller.

Perhaps, the best thing about Returnal is you always go back to square one. You have to start from the crash site again. Its most undesirable trait is also its main plus, as you have to go again and again. This means it offers plenty of replayability. Especially when you are as bad a player like myself.

Being a typical kiasu and kiasi Singaporean, the thought of playing a game that makes you die and repeat in a continuous loop is really counter-intuitive to me.

But Returnal has somehow make it entertaining, engrossing and exhilarating. If you are lucky enough to own a PS5, give yourself a treat and buy Returnal to play.

RATING: 9/10 (SGEEK Editor’s Choice)

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.

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