Right here at Sport Informer, we get an opportunity to play video games. Loads of video games. Surprisingly, I discover myself right here in 2021 speaking about one other game-of-the-year high quality title within the roguelike style. In truth, roguelikes have taken my GOTY slot pretty commonly over the previous few years, from Slay the Spire to Hades. Whereas roguelikes have at all times featured compelling gameplay, now we’re getting story, worldbuilding, and different narrative designs on high of methods and mechanics that the framework is thought for. If roguelikes had been ever ready for his or her second to go totally mainstream, Hades was actually that flashpoint.
Now, Returnal is a considerably totally different expertise from Hades, nevertheless it does include probably the most necessary components that contributes to it being an unimaginable expertise, and that’s cohesion. The inventive parts of Returnal really feel like they’re drawn from the identical united effectively, resulting in a sport that may one way or the other be lightning-fast arcade bullet-hell motion and atmospheric, uneasy horror on the similar time. These disparate components come collectively to create a unified expertise that feels prefer it was all reduce from the identical material. Artwork, music, gameplay, and so forth are elements of each sport, however not often do they sing collectively so effectively.
First, take a look at the Returnal evaluate, as a result of we’re going to delve into some minor spoilers right here as we talk about just a few points of the sport. We received’t be going into story spoilers, however we might be discussing a few of how Returnal ties varied gadgets along with just a few examples, so concentrate on that earlier than studying on. There’s one battle in Returnal that I believe captures the essence of what I’m speaking about with unified components greater than every other, and that’s the Hyperion combat on the finish of Biome 4. With out stepping into too many particulars, the thriller arc of biome 4 duties the participant with figuring out the supply of mysterious music, a haunting underpinning tone that grinds in the back of your thoughts as you seek out a number of “boss door” keys all through the zone, a gameplay mechanic that’s pretty normal in Returnal.
When you unlock the door, the participant is tasked with climbing to the highest of the tower because the music intensifies and will get louder. Whereas an ascending tune isn’t essentially the most superior mechanic ever seen in trendy gaming, you need to perceive how this worms its approach into your thoughts all through the course of all the zone and has additionally been mildly inserted into your unconscious by way of storytelling glimmers earlier than this level. Not solely does the sport zone of Biome 4 construct to the Hyperion combat, it represents a end result and a payoff. We get the track. We get the bizarre, song-themed boss battle the place an natural terror hammers on a organic organ with lethal, lovely riffs that blast you with beams from hell. Synchronization of components. Whereas most of Returnal’s boss battles are multi-phase encounters with rising stakes and shifting sounds, Hyperion’s is one of the best instance due to its direct relationship.
As with most fights, the battle will get extra intense as time goes on, together with increasingly hypnotic projectile formations to dodge, spectacular terraforming, and watching Hyperion rush again to the organ to belt out some lethal notes. The combat is firing on all cylinders once you’re in it, blasting your thoughts with haunting hymns, working your muscle reminiscence to dodge a zillion issues, and conserving you rapt at consideration as you anticipate the following upcoming mechanic or potential. Whereas the precise “story” in Returnal isn’t going to win any Shakespearean awards, the breadcrumb thread that the sport retains you nibbling on is an ideal match for the sci-fi horror vibe that’s laden with gnawing uncertainty and deliberate, ascending unease. The little lore bits and weird worldbuilding do a greater job at nudging the story alongside than a heavy-handed exposition. Atmospherically, it sells the shifting and ever-changing alien world immaculately, pulls you in, and by no means lets go.
Horror as a style usually fails to stay a passable ending. Returnal’s ultimate biome, the Abyss, is a terror theme park that ties up essentially the most threatening mechanics with scary, lethal new enemies that embody the deep darkish that the Abyss represents. Horrible tentacles at midnight as you go down deeper into the reaches of the unknown. The sport builds as much as this horrible zone and doesn’t disappoint, because the reaches are stuffed with hidden terrors and a satisfying ultimate combat. Returnal’s “much less is extra” story that’s informed in small, esoteric slices works much better than an specific, streamlined narrative as you’re consistently trying to fill within the gaps your self whether or not it or not, and all of it goes into the worry stew that’s being served right here. It’s not a jump-scare type of horror, however when it’s working you are feeling actual nervousness and trepidation once you go additional into the depths.
In Returnal, it’s in regards to the gameplay but in addition a lot extra. Returnal, because the sum of its wonderful elements, qualifies as an expertise. One you shouldn’t miss.