Returnal (video game)

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Returnal cover art.jpg
Publisher(s)Sony Interactive Entertainment
Director(s)Harry Krueger
Producer(s)Jari Hokkanen
Designer(s)Henri Mustonen
  • Ari Arnbjörnsson
  • Markku Velinen
  • Ville Kinnunen
  • Suvi Järvinen
Writer(s)Luke Maulding
Composer(s)Bobby Krlic
EngineUnreal Engine 4
Platform(s)PlayStation 5
ReleaseApril 30, 2021
Genre(s)Third-person shooter, roguelike

Returnal is a third-person shooter roguelike video game developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It was released exclusively for the PlayStation 5 on April 30, 2021.[1] The game follows Selene, an Astra scout who lands on the planet Atropos in search of the mysterious "White Shadow" signal and finds herself trapped in a time loop. Upon release, the game received generally favorable reviews for its visuals, combat, and technical achievements.


Pre-release gameplay of Returnal

Returnal is a third-person shooter video game[2] featuring roguelike elements and covering the psychological horror genre.[3][4] Set in a futuristic science fiction setting, the player controls Selene (Jane Perry),[5] a space pilot, equipped with a suit and armed with high-tech weapons, who is stranded on the alien planet Atropos, and stuck in a time loop. After every death, Selene is resurrected, following a pattern of traversing across foreign environments and combating extraterrestrial entities with growing visions in an ever changing world.[6]


Disobeying orders, ASTRA Corporation explorer Selene Vassos attempts to land on the off-limits planet of Atropos to investigate what she dubs the "White Shadow" signal, which somehow seems familiar to her. Upon arrival, Selene's ship suffers heavy damage and crash lands. Unable to contact ASTRA, Selene explores the planet and is shocked when she comes across corpses of herself. She learns that every time she dies, time loops back to the moment she crashed, sending her back to her starting point. The planet seems to change with every loop, and Selene begins experiencing vivid visions.

Resolving to find the source of the White Shadow, Selene presses on, fighting hostile alien lifeforms and scavenging alien technology left over from the advanced, extinct alien civilization that used to reside on Atropos. As she tracks the White Shadow, Selene comes across what appears to be a replica of her childhood home. Every time she enters it, she recalls old memories and repeatedly encounters an astronaut wearing an antique space suit. Selene eventually learns that she apparently used an alien cannon to paradoxically shoot down her own ship which caused her to be stranded on Atropos.

Eventually, Selene tracks down the source of the White Shadow. Afterwards, ASTRA is able to receive her distress call and sends a rescue ship. Selene returns to Earth and eventually dies of old age, only to reawaken back on Atropos, having looped back to the crash. Dismayed that she has failed to escape Atropos, Selene continues to explore the planet. Eventually, her search leads her to an underwater abyss below the planet's surface, where she finds a replica of an old car. From this point, the game diverges based on whether Selene fully investigated her house and recovered the car keys from it.

  • If Selene did not recover the car keys, she proceeds to the bottom of the abyss where she encounters a massive, octopus-like alien creature. She is then shown a vision of a middle-aged woman, who looks similar to Selene, driving through a forest at night with a young child (whose motion capture actor is credited as "Helios" in the game's end credits) in the back seat. While passing over a bridge, the woman sees the astronaut standing in the middle of the road and swerves to avoid it, driving the car off the bridge and into the lake below. The woman attempts to reach the now unconscious child but is pulled out of the car by dark cloud-like tentacles. A first-person perspective of the lake surface from below is then shown. The cloud-like tentacles reappear, pulling the viewer away from the surface and deeper into the lake.
  • If Selene recovered the car keys, she opens the car and confronts a pregnant humanoid creature seated in a wheelchair. Selene fights off the creature and is transported back to the car crash from the perspective of the astronaut, implying that she is the astronaut that the driver swerved to avoid. Selene then finds herself underwater and swims to the surface, crying out the name "Helios" as she does.


Returnal was developed by Housemarque and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.[7] The game was in development for more than four years.[8] It takes advantage of the PlayStation 5's DualSense controller and Tempest Engine to support advanced haptic feedback, 3D spatial audio, and real-time ray tracing effects, enhancing the player immersion experience.[9][10] With the increased processing power and inclusion of a custom solid state drive storage in the PlayStation 5, the game features reduced loading times and a wide variety of enemies, visual effects, and objects within gameplay scenes.[11] Additionally, the game runs at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second.[10] Returnal's native resolution is only around 1080p. Housemarque says they then used temporal upsampling to get to 1440p and then checkerboard rendering to get to 4K.[12]

Returnal features an original score composed primarily by Bobby Krlic.[13]


Returnal was revealed at Sony's PlayStation 5 reveal stream on June 11, 2020.[14] The game was exclusively developed for the PlayStation 5.[15][16] The game was initially scheduled for a release on March 19, 2021.[17] On January 28, 2021, it was announced the release date was pushed back a month to April 30, 2021.[1] On March 25, 2021, it was announced that the game had gone gold.[18]


Critical response[edit]

Returnal received "generally favorable" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[19]

In a review for IGN, Mitchell Saltzman enjoyed how the gameplay integrated with the story, writing that "It makes Selene an interesting protagonist who's in this weird repeating-but-different scenario along with us." Saltzman criticized the need to replay sections in order to reach a higher weapon proficiency, saying that it made the game "ridiculously difficult" and the only way the player could succeed was by grinding to reach a higher level.[29] Writing for The Guardian, Keza MacDonald gave the game a positive review, praising Returnal for its challenging difficulty, its rewarding combat, and engaging gameplay loop. MacDonald also praised the game for its visual and audio design, writing that "The planet looks and sounds extraordinary, each new area a distinctive biotechnological nightmare."[30]

The game's roguelike gameplay, which requires players to repeatedly play through levels following an in-game death, has been a divisive point among critics and players. In particular, Returnal has received some criticism from players for its lack of a save feature, while critics have been more mixed on its absence. Jon Bailes of GamesRadar+ wrote that the lack of a save feature should be understood as a deliberate choice which highlights the game's themes of mortality. Bailes stated that "Selene's traumatic endeavours were in tune with my attempts to finish the game. The lack of a save feature and extra stuff to do added another dimension to the emotional experience."[31]

Eurogamer's Chris Tapsell wrote that "checkpoints only work once per run, so you better be sure when you spend half a day's resources on one."[32] He also noted that at one point during his time with Returnal, "I'd paused the game while on my best-ever run, and came back not two minutes later to find my loaner PS5 in the middle of an auto-update. I lost all progress on the run, roughly a whole morning of my life. Turn auto-updates off!"[33] Criticism of the save system from players and reviewers alike resulted in developer Housemarque issuing a statement that they were working to address the issue but did not know what form a save feature may take.[34] In October 2021, Housemarque released Update 2.0 which allows players to "suspend cycle" to save their game during a run.[35]


Returnal sold 6,573 physical copies within its first week on sale in Japan, and was the 15th-best-selling retail game of the week in the country.[36] Based on physical sales of the game in the UK, the game debuted at no. 2 on the sales charts for the week ending May 1, 2021.[37] As of July 18, 2021, the game had sold over 560,000 copies.[38]


Date Award Category Result Ref(s).
November 23, 2021 Golden Joystick Awards Best Audio Nominated [39][40]
PlayStation Game of the Year Nominated
December 9, 2021 The Game Awards Best Audio Design Nominated [41]
Best Action Game Won
Best Game Direction Nominated


  1. ^ Additional work by Climax Studios
  2. ^ Based on 111 scored reviews of 122 total reviews.


  1. ^ a b Gilliam, Ryan (January 28, 2021). "PS5 exclusive Returnal delayed to April". Polygon. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
  2. ^ Fingas, Jon (June 11, 2020). "'Returnal' for PS5 is Housemarque's most ambitious game yet". Engadget.
  3. ^ Makedonski, Brett (June 11, 2020). "Housemarque's first PS5 game is Returnal, an alien psychological horror third-person shooter". Destructoid. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  4. ^ Purchese, Robert (June 11, 2020). "Housemarque reveals PS5 science-fiction mind-bender Returnal". Eurogamer. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  5. ^ Louden, Greg (March 17, 2021). "Returnal: Four mysteries from the new story trailer answered". Playstation official site. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  6. ^ Gilliam, Ryan (June 11, 2020). "Resogun creators announce PlayStation 5 game, Returnal". Polygon. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  7. ^ Walker, Alex (April 20, 2021). "Returnal Continues To Look Like The PS5's Coolest Exclusive". Kotaku Australia. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  8. ^ Lyons, Ben (May 20, 2021). "Returnal was in development for "four years plus some"". Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  9. ^ Saed, Sherif (June 11, 2020). "Returnal is Housemarque's new PS5 shooter". VG247. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Doke, Shunal (April 21, 2021). "Returnal Will Support Ray Tracing and 60 Frames Per Second at 1080p Resolution upscaled to 4k". IGN India. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  11. ^ Pepito, Christan (July 4, 2020). "Returnal to Take Advantage of PS5 Hardware and Peripherals for Relentless and Immersive Gameplay". Sirus Gaming. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  12. ^ Birch, Nathan (April 30, 2021). "Returnal's 4K Image is Upscaled from 1080p, Performance Mostly 60fps With Some Drops". Wccftech.
  13. ^ "The music of Returnal: an interview with composer Bobby Krlic". PlayStation.Blog. April 9, 2021. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  14. ^ Faulkner, Cameron (June 11, 2020). "Watch the 24 biggest trailers from the PS5 event". The Verge. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
  15. ^ Carr, James (June 11, 2020). "Returnal Is An Upcoming PS5 Shooter From Nex Machina And Resogun Devs". Gamespot. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  16. ^ Stedman, Alex (June 11, 2020). "PlayStation 5 First Details Revealed: New 'Spider-Man,' 'Horizon' Games Unveiled (Watch the Trailers)". Variety. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  17. ^ Sheridan, Connor; Wood, Austin (December 20, 2020). "Returnal release date confirmed in new gameplay trailer at The Game Awards". GamesRadar+. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  18. ^ Williams, Callum (March 25, 2021). "PS5 Exclusive Returnal Has Gone Gold". GameRant. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  19. ^ a b "Returnal for PlayStation 5 Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved May 31, 2021.
  20. ^ Carter, Chris. "Review: Returnal". Destructoid. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  21. ^ Tack, Daniel. "Returnal Review – Haunting Harmony". Game Informer. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  22. ^ Epstein, Mike. "Returnal Review - Live Die Repeat". GameSpot. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  23. ^ Tyrer, Ben (April 29, 2021). "Returnal review: "Sony's most beguilingly weird blockbuster in a long time"". GamesRadar. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  24. ^ Saltzman, Mitchell. "Returnal Review". IGN. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  25. ^ L'avis de Silent_Jay. "Test Returnal : Le roguelite exclu PS5 serait-il la vraie bonne surprise ?". Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  26. ^ Tailby, Stephen (April 29, 2021). "Returnal Review (PS5)". Push Square. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  27. ^ Grubb, Jeff (April 29, 2021). "Returnal review — like beating your head against a fun wall". VentureBeat. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  28. ^ Billcliffe, James (April 29, 2021). "Returnal Review Housemarque's PS5 Exclusive is all about Control". VG247. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  29. ^ Returnal Review - IGN, retrieved June 19, 2021
  30. ^ "Returnal review – epic dance of death with beautiful, brutal aliens". the Guardian. May 12, 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2021.
  31. ^ May 2021, Jon Bailes 24 (May 24, 2021). "Returnal doesn't need a save system, it needs you to embrace mortality". gamesradar. Retrieved June 12, 2021.
  32. ^ Tapsell, Chris (April 29, 2021). "Returnal review - magnificent and monstrous". Eurogamer. Retrieved June 12, 2021.
  33. ^ Yin-Poole, Wesley (May 1, 2021). "Housemarque says "we hear the community" as Returnal players call for save and quit option". Eurogamer. Retrieved June 12, 2021.
  34. ^ "Returnal Devs Are "Actively Trying" to Address Save Concerns".
  35. ^ Rivera, Joshua (October 26, 2021). "Returnal's latest update fixes the game's biggest problem". Polygon. Retrieved October 28, 2021.
  36. ^ Romano, Sal (May 13, 2021). "Famitsu Sales: 4/26/21 – 5/9/21 [Update 2]". Gematsu. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  37. ^ Square, Push (May 3, 2021). "UK Sales Charts: PS5 Roguelike Returnal Off to Slower Start Than Other Sony Exclusives". Push Square. Retrieved June 12, 2021.
  38. ^ "PlayStation 5 Surpasses 10 Million Units Sold, Remains the Fastest Selling Console in Sony Interactive Entertainment History". businesswire. July 28, 2021. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  39. ^ "The Game Awards Nominees: 'Deathloop,' 'Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart' Lead 2021 List". Gamesradar. October 19, 2021. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  40. ^ Tyrer, Ben (November 23, 2021). "Here are all the Golden Joystick Awards 2021 winners". GamesRadar+. Future plc. Archived from the original on November 23, 2021. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  41. ^ "The Game Awards Nominees: 'Deathloop,' 'Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart' Lead 2021 List". Deadline. November 16, 2021. Retrieved November 16, 2021.