Want to test if you’re a sci-fi buff? TheQuiz.com offers a quick-fire exam in which you’re given 25 chances to name a sci-fi movie simply from a still image – and some of the guessing you’ll have to do will take you back a few years. That dinosaur about to chow a car, whole? Jurassic Park, obviously. Matt Damon in a moon suit? The Martian, right. Michael J Fox and a mad, white-haired scientist? Has to be Back to the Future. Tom Cruise getting to grips with the concept of Pre-Crime? Could only be Minority Report. Anyhow, if you, like me, find it difficult to get one wrong, you can rightly take your place in the sci-fi buff’s hall of fame and will already be set up with a genre when you decide to become a gaming pro.
First released by Sony Interactive Entertainment on 30 April this year, Returnal is a third-person shooter type video game that was developed by Housemarque and is intended for exclusive play on PlayStation 5. Love your hot female leads? This game follows Selene (modeled on Canadian actress, Jane Perry), who takes the role of an Astra scout.
Your budget may dictate whether you go for the US$90 Standard Edition, or the US$101 Digital Deluxe Edition. Actually, come to think of it, what’s holding you back from an extra US$11? You’ll score eight bonus features that include, for example, an adrenaline booster and an enhanced digital soundtrack. Already a favorite for its visuals, combat stunts and technical achievements, the plot sees female lead Selene landing on the planet Atropos in search of something called “the mysterious white shadow signal” – but soon sees her caught in a “time loop”. To engage with this thickening plot, read on…
Gaming hardware goes new generation
Your mates who have been into gaming for a while will tell you that Housemarque is a veteran studio with games of the caliber of Resogun, Nex Machina and Alienation already under its belt. “Returnal pushes design, technology and gameplay boundaries”, according to those in the know at Playstation. Below, let’s unpack some of the details about this hardware that everyone’s referring to as “next level” in every possible way.
Work your way through overgrown ruins, forests that have morphed into swamps, a derelict citadel and sprawling crimson deserts. What I find fascinating about the game is how it is impossible to experience the same location in the same way twice over – this time it may be a scorching desert, next time an icy plane. According to technology director Ethan Watson, something called fluid simulation drives the game’s living ecosystem and shifting weather patterns. Added to another setting he refers to as “global wind”, gamers can experience “breath-taking effects not possible on previous generations of hardware”.
If you’re fully into gaming now and have tried out a couple of the previous Housemarque releases, you’ll be able to identify how Returnal is truly elite. In prior games the field of play was flat, but now you’re presented with a third-person view of this alien landscape so that you’re poised to fight, hide or unlock hidden gems with more ease than before. “Think on your feet and don’t stay in any place too long” is the advice of game director Harry Krueger. Beware of unexpected “platforming challenges” and remember to collect all the weapons and supplies you possibly can.
Don’t think you won’t be affected by the way Returnal’s plot winds around the themes of “isolation, trauma and loss” in the mind-blowingly vast reaches of outer space. Want to find out more about Selene and her past? Or the mysterious broadcast signal known as ‘White Shadow’? The scene in which she finds her sidearm (weapon) on the body of a deceased scout is particularly eerie. Was the body of the deceased hers? The helmet’s label did seem to say, “Sel…”. But onwards you go and perhaps you forget, until the next time you encounter something equally shell-shocking.
Rather than being alarmed by the corpses of other players, you’re advised to collect what rewards you can from each of them – within limits. “Death is not always what it seems,” cautions Krueger. Test your impetus in the “Daily Challenges” mode, which requires extensive improvisation. These scores, over and above those of the “main campaign”, are tallied up on the Global Leaderboard so you can compete against other Returnal fundis and challenge yourself in ways that single-player mode simply would not allow.
If this is the way that gaming is going, then those in production right now with new renditions of their own game will need to innovate to keep up. Eye-popping visual effects, ray-traced lighting, 4K resolution, out-of-this-world weaponry, betentacled beasts, gameplay design in which no two runs are ever the same? This and more is yours for the taking when you log on to play Returnal’s fast-paced, free-roaming undertaking – with Krueger advising that they’ve created “something we’re incredibly proud of” as a result of PS5’s three unique features, i.e. Tempest 3D audio, DualSense controller and lightning-fast SSD.
Only a handful of other games released this year are likely to rise in your estimation to the same lofty level. These may include, as just a few examples, Mass Effect Legendary Edition (BioWare), Alien: Isolation (Creative Assembly), Quantum League (Nimble), Alienation (Housemarque), Hades (Supergiant Games), Bioshock Series (Irrational Games), Control (Remedy Entertainment), Doom Eternal (id Software), Bullets Per Minute (Awe Interactive) and Risk of Rain 2 (Hopoo Games).
But Returnal still comes out on – or near – the top for how it makes you come away with a surreal Jodie Foster in Contact kind of experience.