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PS5's Returnal - What We Know So Far

Sony announced Returnal during its Future of Gaming event on June 11. With so much revealed that day, including a number of other highly anticipated titles, the third-person shooter has largely flown under the radar in the wake of the showcase. But that doesn't imply a lack of features to get excited about.


Developed by Housemarque, Returnal marks a bit of a departure from the company's previous games, which include shoot 'em ups Nex Machina and Resogun. This shift does not come as a surprise, however, as Housemarque announced in 2017 that "arcade is dead." The following year, the studio shared development plans for a big-budget, AAA title, as well as a battle royale-style offering, Stormdivers

In another twist, Housemarque revealed in its January 2020 25th-anniversary post that it had placed Stormdivers on hiatus to shift the focus of its nearly 80-person team to its "most ambitious and biggest game to date." Returnal seems to be the result. So, what do we know about this project so far?


What is the release date for Returnal?

Housemarque revealed in a December 2020 tweet that the release date for Returnal will be March 19, 2021. The date was also announced in the PlayStation blog, where the developer's Mikael Haveri called the game "huge" and said it would explore narrative storytelling and include "Housemarque arcade flourishes."


The release date is well in line with the fact that Housemarque had been working on Returnal for more than three years prior to its announcement: It was expected sooner in the PlayStation 5's life cycle rather than later. Gamers have known since the beginning that Returnal is slated to be a PlayStation 5 exclusive.

You can now preorder the game on the Sony PlayStation site. The standard edition, which includes the base game and two in-game suits for Selene (the ASTRA Model 14 Tactical Suit and ASTRA Model 9 Prototype Suit), costs $69.99. A digital deluxe edition of the game includes the base game, an Electropylon Driver weapon, a Hollowseeker weapon, one Reflex Stimulant consumable, one Pulsating Mass artefact, an Adrenaline Booster, the digital soundtrack, and the two in-game suits for Selene. It costs $79.99.


What is the gameplay like in Returnal?

According to the Announcement Trailer's description, the game "combines action with roguelike gameplay," so it's safe to expect death-centered mechanics and procedural generation in this exploration-style shooter, which will also include some rapid-fire arcade elements, for which Housemarque is known.


Players will be able to "switch instinctively between firing modes using a single adaptive trigger," a press release notes. Every weapon gets an "Alt-Fire mode," allowing players to aim and use a rechargeable alternate attack. Returnal will also leverage the PlayStation 5's 3D audio capabilities and the Dualsense wireless controller's haptic feedback to bring the dark, effects-heavy world to life.

In a late December 2020 episode of Housemarque's HouseCast, the developer showed off gameplay and an interview with game director Harry Krueger. Krueger said the game originated when the developer was collecting ideas for a "dream project," and the footage showed that protagonist Selene will be running and blasting enemies in fast-paced platforming action with help from some interesting abilities. Additionally, Krueger notes that players can expect plenty of explosions, razor-sharp controls, a tight core feedback loop, and the "trademark Housemarque experience, but just augmented and expanded with new dimensions of richness."


What is the plot of Returnal?

Developing a rich and engrossing storyline is not something Housemarque has done in the past, although Krueger notes that its previous games have had a context and story to make sure the rewards were gratifying. The game director called the development of a narrative "undeniably one of the biggest new things for us."


"There was never this large commitment to telling a story, to exploring that emotional space of the characters in the story," he said in the HouseCast video. "And now for the first time ever, we do have a narrative team, and we've been able to produce fairly impressive content to support the story."

Returnal appears to offer a combination of horror and science fiction elements. In the story, an ASTRA space scout named Selene gets trapped in a time cycle on an alien world where she crashes. She continues to die and return to life, over and over again. Every time this happens, though, the planet changes in some way. The planet where the title unfolds appears to be living and hostile.

Does Returnal have a trailer?

In Returnal's announcement trailer, you see a middle-aged woman crashland on an alien planet, while the narration explains that she keeps reliving her first moments — a crash, an attack, and her death. The world seems to be "infecting" her mind and her memories. A few seconds of gameplay here and there show her battling shadowy, spidery creatures with an assault rifle as she tries to unravel the mystery of this world and figure out how to escape the cycle in which she's trapped.


Returnal definitely gives off Alien: Isolation and Edge of Tomorrow vibes, perhaps with a little Death Stranding thrown in. Comments on the video seem very positive about Housemarque's involvement and Returnal's overall mood, which is distinct from most of the other announced PlayStation 5 titles. It will be interesting to see how Returnal develops over the coming months and whether Housemarque becomes one of Sony's first-party studios down the line.