Returnal Review Roundup: What Are The Critics Saying?
Housemarque's creepy PlayStation 5 exclusive blends elements of survival horror, bullet hell shooters, and roguelites. How well does it marry these concepts?
The PS5-exclusive Returnal from Housemarque makes its debut this week. The action-adventure game has been highlighted at Sony events as a major part of the PS5 lineup, marking a more ambitious scope than we've generally seen from the indie studio. Returnal incorporates elements of bullet hell shooters, a nod to Housemarque's history with games like Super Stardust HD, alongside its creepy survival-horror and roguelite elements.
You play as Selene Vassos, a survivor of a crash on an alien planet who quickly discovers that whenever she dies, she returns to the site of the crash to start again. There's more to this alien planet than meets the eye, and Selene unravels the mystery slowly as she continuously makes her way through diverse biomes.
The reception to Returnal has been generally positive, with critics especially praising its atmosphere and unique blend of elements, while some have dinged it for sharp difficulty spikes and runs feeling repetitive. Several reviewers have also noted how it makes especially great use of the PS5 DualSense's haptics.
"Returnal is a hard game to pin down," Mike Epstein wrote in GameSpot's Returnal review. "On the one hand, it is very much a pastiche of existing game genres: Play one run and you will see how it very clearly draws elements from roguelikes, Souls-likes, metroidvanias, action-platformers, bullet hell shooters, and horror games. But while it borrows from all those genres, its unique flow ensures that its chaotic shooting galleries and creepy storytelling feel decidedly new. A shifting, but not jarring pace, an unpredictable narrative, tough-as-nails gameplay, and a constant sense of ambient terror--Returnal's many moving parts coalesce into a rare shooter that grabs you with its mechanics and its story and never lets go, seducing you with its challenges and a foreboding sense of dread every step of the way."
Returnal is coming to PlayStation 5 on April 30. For a broader range of critical impressions, we've compiled reviews from around the industry. For even more, check out GameSpot sister site Metacritic. And if you're planning on picking the game up, be sure to check out our guide covering essential tips to know before playing.
- Game: Returnal
- Platforms: PlayStation 5
- Developer: Housemarque
- Release Date: April 30
- Price: $70 / £70
GameSpot -- 9/10
"Returnal is constantly unsettling and consistently challenging. Its mysterious story and demanding action feel intense, urgent, and fresh. The fast-moving combat manages to appear incredibly daunting, bordering on overwhelming, without ever actually becoming insurmountable. Every moment is a rush, either because you just barely evaded a giant purple laser or because you have no idea why there's an Apollo-era astronaut following your every move. Do you need to be a little brave to play Returnal? Yeah. Do you need to be glutton for punishment? It helps. They say that anything worth doing should scare you at least a little bit. I'm not sure if that's always true, but Returnal makes a strong case." -- Mike Epstein [Full Review]
GameRant -- 5/5
"Returnal is an excellent video game flirting with perfection. It has the most satisfying gameplay loop Housemarque has crafted to date, which says a lot considering the studio's pedigree. If PlayStation's other PS5 exclusives feel even half as satisfying as Returnal does, fans are in for one hell of a console generation." -- Cameron Corliss [Full Review]
Game Informer -- 9.5/10
"Returnal is a relentless nightmare that’s a dream to play. The journey is full of horror and terrible discoveries, but also unbridled curiosity and wonder. If you have the taste for it, this is an adventure that begs to be experienced." -- Daniel Tack [Full Review]
VideoGamer -- 9/10
"Complex systems are made simple, by committing their clutter to muscle memory, and play—good play, at any rate—requires that you, like Selene, ride its enigmatic loop." -- Josh Wise [Full Review]
Push Square -- 9/10
"Housemarque has delivered the PS5 promise with Returnal. All the console's bells and whistles enhance the experience, making this a real showpiece for the hardware. But more than that, the game is a force to be reckoned with; the breathless combat, super slick gameplay, and the subtle but unsettling story combine for an experience of surprising scale. Rogue-lite aspects mean it won't gel with everyone, but for those looking for a challenging, addictive arcade shooter, this comes highly recommended." -- Stephen Tailby [Full Review]
Telegraph -- 4/5
"Returnal is a punishing game which revels in the brutality of its challenge – and given the randomness baked in to the roguelike conceit, it doesn’t always feel like a fair one. Extreme difficulty spikes abound and ultimately twitch-like reflexes will only get you so far; the success or otherwise of any given run can often depend on which weapon types, buff-bestowing artefacts or consumables appear early on. I managed to blitz through one of the game's six biomes, boss-fight and all, at the first attempt thanks to a fortuitous combination of auto-healing augmentations and a launcher blessed with homing ammunition. Conversely, soldiering on with a sub-optimal build can be a dispiriting struggle." -- Dan Silver [Full Review]
GamesRadar -- 4/5
"Returnal can be messy, tough, and perhaps a little too uncompromising for a $70 game. And yet, despite the moments of pad-clenching exasperation, it remains a moreish experience even after you’ve plummeted its depths." -- Ben Tyrer [Full Review]
VG247 -- 4/5
"While Returnal’s marriage of rogue-like loops and serpentine story isn’t perfect, it’s a dark, engaging, and innovative experience which provides plenty of gameplay grunt to match its brain-teasing plot. There’s symbolism to ponder, Easter eggs to spot, and tons of memorable moments across the 20 or so hours it’ll take you to reach the end the first time, with yet more to unlock and mess with after you’ve mastered the core concepts on your initial clear." -- James Billcliffe [Full Review]
Video Games Chronicle -- 4/5
"Returnal's constant action and clever semi-procedural structure make it an engaging adventure, not to mention a visually stunning one. The lack of any difficulty levels may unfortunately exclude less experienced gamers, but anyone who doesn't mind dying a bunch of times will thoroughly enjoy themselves." -- Chris Scullion [Full Review]
GamesBeat -- 3/5
"I now plan replicate this build on every run, and if the world doesn’t give me the necessary gear to do that, I’m going to feel like it’s wasting my time again. This is not a fatal flaw. But it is one that I think turns significant chunks of Returnal into a slog. And that reduces what is otherwise a great game into one that I merely like." -- Jeff Grubb [Full Review]
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