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Returnal

GOTY 2021: #8 - Returnal

Housemarque took the roguelike genre, and used it to deliver one of the most impressive examples of a new-gen video game.

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For the most part, the games that we've highlighted and will highlight in this year's Game of the Year articles are titles that are pretty much already on the cards for a GOTY award or nod. But, despite launching to critical acclaim, Housemarque's PlayStation 5 exclusive project Returnal seems to have fallen by the wayside at this year's award ceremonies.

Don't be mistaken, this rigorously refined roguelike is being recognised in a few categories, but it is being routinely snubbed when it comes to the top award on offer, despite being one of the most polished and unique experiences we've seen throughout the entirety of 2021.

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Following the story of the interstellar explorer Selene, Returnal asked players to escape a brutal cycle of death and despair, by overcoming all manners of challenges throughout a vicious alien world. Using a roguelike cycle that sends players back to square one when they fall in combat, Returnal excelled in offering a complex and challenging combat system, mashed up with some of the most striking visuals and scenes we've seen in video games all year, thanks to the title's ability to drown your screen with a tidal wave of multicolour projectiles.

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Built as a tasking title, where players were expected to be pushed to their boundaries, Returnal featured a variety of biomes, each fit with their own cast of killer alien lifeforms and opportunities to explore. Despite being a roguelike through and through, Returnal delivered a deep immersive world, shrouded in mystery and hidden secrets, unlike anything we'd ever really seen before. And this was all complimented by the fluid and tight gameplay systems at its core that gave the player ultimate control over Selene and her arsenal of gadgets and weapons, as they travelled through the many worlds on the quest to see what waited at the end of the journey.

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There's no hiding that the brutal difficulty and the roguelike nature may act as a turn off for some fans, but if you can prepare for the challenge and buy-in to what Returnal was serving up, you can see the care and detail that went into crafting this precise and refined video game. The intricacies, be it the subtle pitter-patter of the rain being simulated by the haptic feedback of the DualSense controller, or rather simply the ways that the lore was expressed through haunting and enthralling narrative-heavy sequences, Housemarque showed its skill in development with Returnal, a skill and attention to detail that has since seen the Finnish studio acquired by Sony, and brought on as a new member of the Sony Interactive Entertainment Family.

On this matter, it's worth bringing it back to Returnal's ability to use the PS5 specific features and the DualSense controller to a new level. Ever since the PlayStation 5 debuted last November, there have been a few games that display excellence in integration of these systems. Death Stranding Director's Cut elevated the immersive quality of the game's movement system with the help of haptic feedback; Spider-Man: Miles Morales used the Tempest 3D audio engine to make the island of Manhattan feel more alive than ever; and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart showed a masterclass in the strengths of an SSD and its faster loading times. But, Returnal looked to excel in all of these categories and more.

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We've already mentioned the haptic feedback and how that was used by simulating the rain and even Selene's footsteps, but Housemarque also used the new-generation controller to enhance its combat system, by integrating adaptive triggers as the primary method of alternating between the firing modes of weapons. Then there was the Tempest engine, which at full effect made the world of Atropos feel ever more terrifying and real, and the SSD implementation on top of this made fast-traveling and moving between various realms of the planet an instantaneous action.

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All in all, Returnal is perhaps the best example of a new-gen video game to date, even if Playground Games' Forza Horizon 5 and its remarkable world is also making a very strong case for that title. While the very nature of roguelikes can often be a turnoff for players these days, Returnal is without a shadow of a doubt an essential PS5 title, and will be remembered as one of, perhaps even, the best and most impressive project the Finnish studio has worked to date.

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REVIEW. Written by Eirik Hyldbakk Furu

Housemarque just raised the bar for visuals, sound, and controls on the PlayStation 5, and the gameplay is amazing as well.

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GOTY 2021: #8 - Returnal

GOTY 2021: #8 - Returnal

ARTICLE. Written by Ben Lyons

Housemarque took the roguelike genre, and used it to deliver one of the most impressive examples of a new-gen video game.



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