When it comes to Sony’s exclusive releases, they’re usually meant to be enjoyed by broader audiences. Returnal isn’t interested in this in any capacity. The tough-as-nails rogue-lite is Sony’s first PlayStation 5 exclusive to get ported to the PC. And while I’m less impressed by the optimization than I have been of pretty much every other PlayStation game ported to the platform, the game is rather enthralling, even if the difficulty is high enough to scare away anyone without much affection for hardcore experiences. But the question stands: is Returnal worth it on PC, or is this one loop you shouldn’t bother entering?
Returnal kicks off with a woman named Selene crash landing on a strange, alien world. After surveying the wreckage of her ship, she discovers her own corpse beside her missing firearm. The game’s death loop mechanic is completely baked into the narrative and isn’t just something that exists purely for gameplay reasons.
One small dash for mankind
As journey into the unknown, you discover audio logs and learn new things by visiting a memory of Selene’s house which mysteriously shows up; there are some narrative trappings and lore to be found alongside all the dying. Plus, you’ll find alien ciphers that allow you to translate strange writing.
As far as gameplay goes, Returnal is pretty fantastic. Now that it’s playable with a mouse and keyboard, it’s even better. Turning auto aim off is the way to go; the shooting is sublime. Selene is quick and agile, and can routinely do a fast dash that grants her invincibility frames. You find a melee weapon early on that’s also a joy to use, even if you can only do a single swipe. The enemies are strange and threatening, with many of them shooting bullet hell patterns for you to dodge. From a pure gameplay standpoint, the game is a real winner.
One more time
The general structure takes you to multiple biomes. Much like Dead Cells, you’ll gain new abilities that allow you to reach places you couldn’t before. Defeating enemies and finding certain items alter weapon proficiency, improving the strength of the weapons you find. You can also increase your overall health with pickups or healing beds.
Of course, if you die, you lose nearly everything outside of lore info, save for one type of currency and weapon characteristics that you permanently unlock by using that weapon during a run. In the first three biomes, dying means starting over at biome one.
But you can find teleporters that can take you to the second and third biomes without having to fight bosses or search through an entire area. Naturally, there’s a possible disadvantage. You could end up a lot weaker than you need to be to make it through the next biome, though you do get a free boost to prevent you from being too far behind. Still, it’s mostly an option for those who are confident in their skills.
Against a wall
This is easier said than done. Returnal isn’t shy about stacking the deck against you. Rogue-lites are often tough, but a lot of them have the kind of permanent character progression I haven’t experienced in this game.
I’m playing the game with a 3090 and 2600x. It usually hovers around 75 fps on ultra but frequently has stutters that dip into the 40s, which is not something you want in a game that demands precision. But that might be purely down to my CPU, which probably also explains why changing the resolution and presets doesn’t make an iota of difference in terms of my fps.
As for whether Returnal is worth it on PC, that depends wholly on how much you like harder-than-average rogue-lites. If you’re just looking for a fun shooter, you’ll probably get more than you bargained for. But if you like getting your ass kicked up and down the block, this one’s easy to recommend.