I lost confidence in return until I met the second boss.
After a few dozen runs, the adorable presentation and sense of discovery from my first few hours had gradually subsided. I felt weak compared to the colossal creatures defending their territory from an unwanted visitor. I had seen and used all the weapons available at the time and slowly unlocked new old fire and passive abilities for them, but none had managed to impress me enough. The first boss had only made a couple of tries to conquer, but in the second area I was barely able to make any headway. I ran in circles.
I stopped playing and came back the next day. After a few painful runs, I finally managed to move through enemy lines, dodging lasers in the air, and never giving up fire. I climbed a mountain all the way and faced wave after wave of enemies and traps as I set off. But suddenly the chaos stopped. Up there on the summit, a sleeping creature was waiting for me to enter the arena.
Up until that point, the lessons I had learned seemed unrelated, but they all culminated in that moment. I used all the movement options available to me and carefully planned their execution. The music, which before my arrival had been almost as quiet as the enemy, quickly grew louder. Meanwhile, the boss showed his abundance of attacks, perhaps as a warning of what was to come. In a moment a storm of projectiles would follow my toes. In another case, the creature would fly quickly through the arena. During the final phase of combat, the enemy began to attack at close range in a much weaker stance, raging against the ground, creating shock waves on each hit, using whatever strength was left.
Seeing the boss struggling to stand on his feet as he tried to defeat me one more time symbolized what return it’s about: It is a showcase of the toll that arises through repetition.
This exclusive PlayStation 5 version presents itself as a roguelike for third parties with set levels that reorient themselves in a total of six areas in each run. As you traverse them you will have to face increasingly tough enemies and collect weapons and items as you explore a series of rooms per area. You do this through the eyes of Selene, a space pilot stuck in a time warp on a hostile alien planet, trying to solve the mystery of escape. Roguelikes have ceased to be a niche genre; Meanwhile, more and more games are iterating on loop-based structures to tell stories. This game is an take on the genre that associates horror with almost every aspect of itself.
returnThe bosses take the mess developer Housemarque is known for and undermine it by putting the player’s perspective first. Bullets that usually only plague the screen when small circles (seen from above) come towards you. Melee attacks are much more terrifying when the creature they unleash is three times larger than you and covered in tentacles.
return is hard. Even when you get to the point where you’ve learned all of the pros and cons of a biome, you’ll find yourself in a new one with various hostile arenas and rooms to rush through. And everything starts all over again. Each biome has its own set of set pieces that alternate with each run, changing the placement of the enemy and moving the pool of items that you can find or buy. Aside from permanent spacesuit upgrades that correspond to specific objects and areas in the game and the passive skills you’ve unlocked for your weapons, not much is left after a time warp. Most of the time, I was with my hands on the triggers, trying to ignore the fact that I was facing unequal opportunities.
Selene can only carry one weapon at a time. Each has different passive abilities that can only be unlocked with the weapon, as well as an alternate fire that can be activated by pulling the left trigger on the DualSense all the way down rather than half-squeezing it to aim – a feature that i loved
As for the movement options, Selene can only jump once, and her shot is somewhat limited. While it allows you to dodge through almost any projectile (as long as they’re not purple), it has a strong cooldown. In a game where split-second decisions can save you from a fatal blow, the brief wait for the dashboard to be available again can feel like forever. It takes some time to get used to it, especially since the enemies are not exactly patient.
Item descriptions in roguelikes usually just consist of quick, catchy blurb that is mysterious as it is not helpful. Unfortunately, return keeps this trope going. It’s pretty annoying to see “this affects your dashboard” reflected in a more colorful animation and not much else. Throwing yourself off a cliff or deliberately rushing into an enemy attack is also not a great way to test an item, as you always need to be aware of your health.
Then there are parasites that grant a buff and a debuff. Both are explained before you pick them up. It’s an excellent idea on paper, but it quickly became a nuisance as the disadvantages often outweigh the advantages. These debuffs are also present in some items and chests, but unlike the parasites, you have no idea what to expect there. Sometimes I was lucky, but most of the time I got a debuff that seriously affected my run. I’ve always had the option to get rid of it by completing a certain challenge, but there weren’t many times I could do that before I died.
Towards the end of the game, I started avoiding parasites and objects with possible weakening. I could rarely find reasons to risk my run in the mere hope of getting an item or a cool buff. Some consumables help mitigate harmful status effects, such as: B. one that removes parasites and another that removes all debilitation. The latter, for example, pushed me to go on a rampage before the next fight, and then I only used the item to undo my pre-fight debuffs. That dynamic was refreshing. I just wish such items weren’t that rare.
I had to be smart about the risks I wanted to take on each run, and Selene’s behavior was often consistent with how I felt. She has unequal chances from the moment she enters the planet, and that is clear with every encounter. It makes every victory meaningful and immensely worthwhile to revisit past areas after learning the ropes. But I was particularly impressed, by the way return portrays Selene’s exhaustion, which is increased by the cyclical nature of the planet.
Every time Selene is defeated, she is returned to the first landing site, a crash site where her ship is broken. Before she can try again, however, a series of cutscenes will appear on the screen. They repeat the crash and Selene’s arrival on this planet, but also indicate new events that begin as the story unfolds, making the flashback more poignant and terrifying with each death. These cutscenes repeat themselves a lot, but when I thought I knew what to expect, a new vision shook me to the core and left me with even more questions about Selene’s life before the crash.
Despair and insecurity are ever-present feelings in every run of return. They’re always there when Selene takes a recording from the floor, only to hear her own voice telling events and thoughts that we as players have not yet seen. Perhaps even more terrifying are the moments when Selene keeps finding her own body in different places. This loses some of its relevance at the cost of adding a fun but tricky online component where you can find other players’ bodies and trigger an optional fight if you want to avenge them. Even so, it becomes a frightening constant to see Selene’s body in a few key spots after a few runs, often sitting in silence as if it had been shut down.
After defeating some bosses, Selene finds a house that continues to play with these ideas. It felt a little PT, But the visits were usually short enough and varied enough that I never tired of visiting the house. I won’t spoil any of its surprises, so I’ll say instead that it has always left me with a myriad of emotions. Fear was the bedrock, but there were twists and turns in the story and even new momentary mechanics that surprised me and made me smile on screen, lost in a mix of confusion and admiration.
returnThe greatest achievement is the way she portrays the horror of being stuck in place. It is brave and does not apologize to create its universe, to offset some of its more frustrating decisions by going its own way and realizing its haunting potential. It doesn’t matter how hard Selene fights; She is back in the same place with the same questions as before, if not more. The horror of fighting with teeth and nails, to see her suit covered with snow, mud and sand, her visions tormented her in her sleep – it stayed with me.
After the 26 hours it took me to see the final credits, I was able to relate to Selene’s exhaustion. But when I got to the boss, dodging hundreds of projectiles at once and looking at my health meter from the side, I felt consumed. I hit it on myself in one fell swoop and stood watching the screen as I slowly recovered my breath. Meanwhile, Selene was in critical condition as indicated by a black and white filter, a flashing red signal on her suit, and a slow pace that reflected her injuries. I watched the final cutscene and waited for a big reveal that would hold everything together, but the discovery was just another piece of the puzzle. And, as always, I was sent back to the crash site.
Even after more than 60 runs of returnThe enchanting presentation and the sense of discovery are preserved. I feel vigorous now compared to the creatures that have tried to defend their territory against an unwanted visitor. It only took one try for the last boss to beat it, but I could hardly make any headway to come up with the correct answers. I feel like I’m running in circles But I do not give up.
return will be released on April 30th on PlayStation 5. The game has been verified prior to release using a download code provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Vox Media maintains partner partnerships. These do not affect the editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find You can find more information on Polygon’s ethical policy here.