I played the hell out of Returnal when it landed on the PlayStation 5, and I loved every minute of it. It was tough, gritty, and kicked my ass countless times. Now, Housemarque has ported the game to the PC, which may as well be the game’s definitive version, as we’re getting access to everything that made the PS5 version so damned good, including the Tower of Sisyphus DLC. But is it worth double-dipping if you already own Returnal for the PS5?
Game Name: Returnal Platform(s): PC (reviewed), PS5 Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: February 15, 2023
The release of Returnal for the PC is a huge moment for PC and PlayStation gaming, as this represents the first PlayStation 5 game that has been released for the platform. Sure, we’ve seen several PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 games, such as Days Gone, Death Stranding, and the Uncharted Collection, released recently. I had previously talked about when PS5 games would hit the PC, and the release of Returnal onto the PC, confirms that we will see PS5 games being released for the PC. Whether this is the first game in a long time, it doesn’t matter; the PlayStation 5 games are coming, and I couldn’t be happier.
Returnal tells the story of a space pilot Selene, who crashes her ship, Helios, onto an alien planet called Atropos. Typical stuff, right? Except this planet is stuck in a time loop, meaning that every time Selene takes a dirt nap (there is dirt on this planet, right?), she finds her brought back to life, starting over from when she crashed her ship. Determined to figure out what or how this is happening, Selene sets out to explore and battle her way across the planet, possibly ending this time loop and hopefully escaping this nightmare.
Except, it isn’t as simple as Selene thinks, as every time she dies, the planet changes things up. Taking place throughout six different biomes, each with a different environment that will differ every time Selene dies. Returnal also has an interesting physiological horror story that I don’t want to spoil, though I’m sure by now you’ve probably heard or even played the game. That said, if you haven’t, I’m not going to spoil it. That said, you’ll be dying constantly, but that’s part of the charm and actually how the story progresses. There are a lot of secrets here to uncover, and the game is definitely going to make you think, while you’re also trying to survive.
Rise and Repeat Gameplay
Returnal is the love child of a roguelike and bullet-hell action game, with a massive emphasis on the action; that’s the best way to describe the game. As you attempt to get through all the levels, you’ll experience some of the best gaming I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, regardless of the platform. Scores of enemies will try to take you down, while the environments themselves don’t provide you with any favors. However, it’s the bosses that truly test you, as they are merciless, though not unbeatable if you can figure out their patterns before they do you in.
You won’t be completely helpless, as you’ll come across several weapons, and upgrades, and perhaps Returnals best offering, its risk/reward system called Parasites. Just like it sounds, you’ll come across parasites that you can attach to your body, which will buff you and provide a penalty to you. For example, one parasite will restore your health once you drop to a certain threshold, but will also cause any chests that you open to hurt you. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as you can clearly see what each parasite will do, and can keep track of how many you have sucking away at your body.
The downside to all of this is that Returnal is procedurally generated, meaning nothing will ever show up in the same place. Early on, I assumed that whenever I found an item that I felt was worthwhile, I thought could head back there and retrieve it when I died, but that wasn’t the case. Returnal is heavy on the RNG, which makes things quite a nuisance. Especially if you find a setup that works for you, and then you never find those items on the next 10+ runs.
There’s something to be said about playing this once-PS5-exclusive title on the PC, on an ultrawide screen monitor, at 120 frames per second. This stuff makes me happy that the PC gaming scene is alive and well, albeit if the cost of entry is much higher than it should be. While playing the game, I was torn between using the DualSense controller and taking advantage of the haptic feedback functions and using the laser precision aiming that the Keyboard & Mouse combo afforded me. However, I do have a lot of experience playing Returnal with the DualSense with the PlayStation 5, I was also customized to playing the game that way as well. That said, when the heck is PlayStation going to provide official DualSense support for the PC, unlocking the full abilities of the controller, wirelessly?
Then we get access to the DLC that was added to the PS5 version, the Tower of Sisyphus, which is an endless survival mode that challenges you to survive its frantic and chaotic fights — it’s so good. There are times that I’ve fired up this mode just to experience its fast and rewarding gameplay, without any worry about processing a story. The runs are fast, they’re mostly satisfying (if you live so long), and it’s fun. Why was this a DLC, when it should have been part of the same from the jump?
And yes, the co-op works just fine!
How’s the PC Performance?
This isn’t a simple port, and I’m glad to see that Housemarque didn’t skimp on the options. On the PC version, you can adjust damn near every option when it comes to the controls, gameplay, video, graphics, and audio. We’re talking FOV, limiting the FPS, lots of lighting options, and so many others that we’d be here for a while talking about it. For you audio heads, Returnal supports 3D Audio / Atmos, and Raytraced Audio, which really brings out the audio in the game – assuming you have the hardware to enable and support it.
There is also a benchmarking tool, which will tell you just how well your PC will perform while playing Returnal, at whatever visual settings you’ve entered. It’s really handy to see just how much you can push your PC before the frame rates become unacceptable, and I’m happy to see more developers incorporating this.
Yes, ultrawide support is also in, and it’s been great to play this gem on such a big monitor. Sure, 4K is nice and all, but give me those wide screens over 4K, any day.
Returnal has been a nearly perfect experience on the PC. I say nearly because there’s one flaw that I’m on the fence about recommending over the PlayStation 5 version, and that’s stuttering. Yes, yet again, that damned beast that seems to make an appearance in PC games is front and center in the PC version of Returnal, and it’s frustrating.
Upon testing the game on two different PCs, one with an AMD Ryzen 9 7900x + RTX 4090 and my laptop with an Intel i7-12000k + RTX 3070, it didn’t make a difference. I’ve experienced stuttering while in combat and while running around levels. It’s more apparent when you reach a threshold when you’re about to move into a different location. I noticed less stuttering when Ray Tracing was disabled, and that’s a shame, as this is one of those features that this game does a fantastic job of showcasing. Apparently, there are incoming patches to address this, but I’d disable RT until the game is patched. I’d even go as far as to say that if you’re on a mid-range PC, then perhaps wait until those patches are released.
Returnal on the PC is just like it was on the PlayStation 5, just a bit prettier, and more experience. If you never had plans to own a PlayStation 5, but always wanted to covet its games, then this is the first, and it’s a damned good starting point. I just wish the game didn’t suffer from the stuttering, and I’m hoping that Housemarque can get those issues ironed out.
If you’ve already played Returnal for the PS5, there’s nothing new here for you, and there’s no reason to pick this up again unless you want to support more PlayStation games arriving on the PC as I do. Thanks for checking out The Outerhaven’s Returnal PC review! Are you as excited about the future of PlayStation 5 games on the PC as I am? Sound off in the comments and let us know.
Review Disclosure Statement: A Returnal PC code was provided to us by PlayStation for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Returnal was great on the PlayStation 5, and it’s equally as good on the PC, with its punishing, yet enjoyable gameplay. There’s also something to say about being able to play this on an ultrawide monitor. I just wish the game didn’t stutter as much.