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Returnal was one of the games I was very willing to try but hesitated because I knew that it is very hard. Housemarque is a well established studio and I've enjoyed many of their games. But now it's in the Extra tier of PS+ and I thought, why not? I do have some spare time right now, so it was a good opportunity to try it.

And immediately I was blown away by it. Gameplay, atmosphere, production, graphics and sound design is top notch. It's a 10/10 game and this is something, after decades of gaming, that I don't say lightly. During the first hours I was very happy.

For those who don't know Returnal is a Roguelike/lite. Meaning that each run has random levels, enemies, weapons and items and if you die you go back to the start of the game (the roguelike part), but you keep some progress between runs (that's the roguelite part). Bosses you kill remain dead (or you can fight them again, but it's optional), there are permanent upgrades to your movement etc. But most of the things you carry like your weapons, money, artifacts, consumables, experience etc. reset when you die, making death extremely punishing. This is the point of Roguelikes/lites.

The game is brutal and it quickly shows this to you: Enemies are fast, hard hitting and health replenish items are scarce and weak. After a few runs you become accustomed to the game and you're making progress. You reach the first boss room and after some tries you beat it. Now it's time to move to the second area. You feel happy, but you'd feel very sad if you knew the truth: Killing the first boss is when the nightmare truly begins.

Because the game assumes that since you killed the first boss, you're a good player now and it throws everything it has: The first area, the one you just beat becomes much more ruthless. More and harder enemies spawn in every run. The progress you made is nullified because the enemies become stronger.

"But, you cleared the first area and told us that the boss is now optional, why don't you go to the new area?" That's a fair question and, indeed, Returnal let's you go to the second area without exploring the first fully. But if you don't explore, you'll go underleveled and without items and weapons. You'll die soon in a new area if you don't explore the previous one.

This creates the biggest problem of Returnal: Runs are too long. In a typical roguelike runs are short: 15, 30 minutes, an hour tops. Returnal's runs can last more than two hours. Two hours is more than the time most people have to play a game any day of the week and Returnal demands this time for a run that will give you, ultimately, nothing.

People who defend the game always say that "even if you die, you make some progress, so the run is not in vain etc". This is not the case at all. For the most important story upgrades, you have to reach a milestone, which is most of the times to kill a boss. So, no milestones = no major progress. There are some weapon traits that you unlock but these aren't plenty, so pretty soon you'll unlock them all and have nothing else to unlock unless you reach a new area (by killing a boss). There is also a kind of currency that doesn't reset between runs, but the game offers you so little amounts of it in each run that it's not worth it. There may be some progress, but the time/progress ratio is abysmal. Seriously, games with online passes get so much flak because the grind to progress is brutal and disrespectful to the player, I wonder why the same doesn't apply to Returnal.

And I'm an ok player. Not great, but ok. Do you know how I know it? Currently, 44% of its players (including me!) have beaten the first boss. 56% haven't. The game was released 18 months ago and more than half of its players cannot beat the first boss. There are 6 bosses/areas.

The game has a very interesting story too, too bad most people (myself included) aren't going to see how it unfolds.

Posted by2 hours ago

Going through my PS2 collection, I decided to have a go at an old favourite. This game is a real time strategy game where you choose the Aliens, Predators or Marines. I used to play this a lot when I was a kid and sometimes as a teenager, though often with cheats due to the difficulty. The game often still stumps me to this day.

Where to start?

The positives:

  • I love the stories for all three factions, and that the other two aren't the only enemies you will face. A lot of the levels are based off of comics written in the 80s and 90s, and each loading screen is a different drawn cartoon with a few paragraphs briefing you. This kind of thing is what I love about many older games; that they're based off of previously successful stories while remaining faithful to them and adding more to the original (shout out to The Warriors). The many maps are unique, and present a challenge beyond choke points, ambush spots and terrain that some units have to find an alternate route around.

  • The atmosphere is dark throughout the game. It used to sometimes scare me as a kid, knowing that the Marines were quite mortal against the extraterrestrial aggressors. I had my share of nightmares about a Xenomorph or the cloaked silhouette of a Predator creeping down the shadowy hallway towards my room. All of the OST and sound effects blend perfectly, leaving you feeling that an ambush awaits at every step into the fog of war. You don't know what's moving in the periphery of your army's line of sight, causing the high pitched motion detector to beep...

  • The battles can get pretty intense; screaming Xenomorphs, all of the Predator weaponry seen in the movies, and the Marines have a neat arsenal as well. Though the many unit classes have their differences, they mostly adhere to their faction's basic strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Marines are dependent on their guns and are quite physically weak aside from the Synthetics, but the Exosuits they can recruit during the later levels are juggernauts. This is a stark contrast to the Predators, whose melee warriors don't need to be in large numbers to wreak havoc. The Aliens are mostly the middle ground, using numbers and numerous secondary effects to deal damage.

  • While the graphics are simplistic, I like them. In my opinion, too many modern game makers go hard at graphics while sacrificing playability and the smoothness at which their game runs. True to the PS2 era, the only time this game glitches out is when a massive amount of damage is done, or when too many comatose or Predator killed bodies clog up the ground.

  • The difficulty is more of a positive in my opinion, despite how frustrating it can get. For the population reason mentioned later in this post, it can also be a negative. Having your band of species specific warriors barely survive a huge onslaught, only to be attacked moments later by an equally large enemy force is a bit annoying. It also takes away from the lore unless you're primarily fighting a lot of Aliens. The Predators' ships usually only have about eight of them at the most, and Marine squads aren't too much bigger.

The negatives:

  • While the story and levels are all very good, there aren't many of them. I mostly only replay the later missions because all of the advanced units are available, and the goal is to basically destroy everyone that doesn't belong to your species.

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Posted by5 hours ago

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Created Nov 11, 2011





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