Returnal, the new Housemarque game, arrives exclusively on PS5 on April 30, 2021. We review the history of the studio and compile all the information available about their new and promising work.
During the presentation event dubbed The Future of Video Games, Sony announced by surprise Returnal, the new Housemarque game exclusively for PS5. This Finnish studio has always been closely associated with PlayStation consoles, and it is worth dedicating a few lines to their trajectory to find out where they come from and why Returnal is their most ambitious and promising project to date.
If you are regular users of PlayStation consoles, it is very likely that you have played one of the Housemarque titles... Maybe even without knowing it. Do you remember Dead Nation, for PS3? It was one of the games Sony gave away as part of the "Welcome Pack" offered as compensation after the infamous PlayStation Network hacks in 2011.
In other words, "thanks" to the hack, many were able to discover for free this title developed by Housemarque in which the main quality of the studio could already be easily appreciated: direct action with an arcade flavour. In this case, through a shooting game with an aerial perspective that faced us with hordes of zombies. Perhaps due to the success of Dead Nation (a success due to the circumstances, but a success nonetheless), Sony enlisted Housemarque to develop a launch game for PS4: Resogun, a side-scrolling shoot'em up. The arcade flavour was even more evident here since we are talking about a title strongly inspired by killers like Defender or Datastorm. You can consult our Resogun analysis to find out what we said at the time.
The game that finally reaffirmed Housemarque as artisans of arcade action was Nex Machina, also for PS4 (and PC), a little gem of the "twin-stick shooter" that they developed with the help of Eugene Jarvis, a visionary designer who worked in shoot'em up legends like Robotron 2084 or the aforementioned Defender. If you are interested, we leave you our analysis of Nex Machina.
But it is enough to take a look at the available images or videos of Returnal to realize that the independent character of their previous works has almost completely disappeared, being replaced by a style close to that of any AAA. The latest trailer, with Spanish dubbing, makes it clear that Sony is treating it as one of the most powerful PS5 releases in 2021.
But despite the fact that production values have increased (and as a consequence expectations are much higher), that characteristic arcade style is still clearly appreciated and action that shines for its intensity... and the number of bullets on the screen.
On the Edge of Tomorrow
After suffering a forced landing, the space explorer Selene is trapped on an alien planet. Shortly after leaving the ship, something attacks him and he dies. But for some mysterious reason, he comes back to life to relive exactly the same sequence of events: "over and over again, I relive my first moments on this alien planet. The accident. The attack. My death", recounts Selene herself in the Returnal's first trailer.
The protagonist (who reminds us of Ellen Ripley, but with heterochromia) is trapped in a time loop, something like "Groundhog Day" but exchanging Punxsutawney for a strange world and its inhabitants for bloodthirsty xenomorphic creatures. Of course, it is also the key to Returnal being a roguelike.
At first, it may shock that Housemarque opts for this type of approach, but the truth is that the cycle of "Live. Die. Repeat." fits perfectly with the spirit of the studio. That is to say, if we examine them carefully, roguelike are the modern version of arcade games: direct action, quick games, power-ups and a constant desire to go a little further.
What's more, playable, Returnal will offer something very similar to the studio's previous works: third-person shooting and a great emphasis on mobility to dodge enemy attacks. What is most striking is that instead of representing an aerial perspective away from the character, in Returnal the camera is placed behind the back, ensuring a higher level of spectacle (in addition to being more striking).
The shooting mechanics have been adapted to this change, with the possibility of shooting from the hip or aiming, but the bullet-hell character of enemy attacks has been maintained. Do not count on being able to breathe calmly after coverage; In Returnal, the key will be to keep constantly moving and find the hole through which to avoid the sea of laser rays that cover the screen, thanks to movements such as jumping or quick dodge (or dash).
Another interesting detail and in the line of the roguelike, are the procedural scenarios. So that the gameplay does not stagnate, it is usual that in this class of games the design of the scenarios changes in each game... and Returnal will not be different in that regard. The planet will change to make each game different and unpredictable, both in structure and visual design. At the moment, we have seen areas where nature mixes with the remains of ancient civilizations and desert wastelands with a characteristic reddish hue, but above all, they stand out for a dark and twisted style (again, it is inevitable to remember Alien and the iconic HR Giger designs).
There will be no lack of power-ups, so common in Housemarque games, adapted to the roguelike style. Like the scenarios, its character will be random so that each game is different also at the controls. We know that they will be grouped into four different categories (weapons, devices, tools, and unknown) and that depending on the category they will have different statistics. For example, weapons differ in their damage capacity, duration of overheating, and rate of fire. It will also be possible to attach alternative firing modules.
The devices are structures that we will find in the scenarios that act as a kind of vending machines, such as the monoliths known as Cthonos or the damaged fabricators, devices with alien technology that offer random objects in exchange for a small price. Regarding the rewards they produce, we have seen from a consumable object that generated a shield to protect from the next shot or a new function for Selene's costume in the form of an explosive counterattack.
Tools, as their name suggests, are useful objects that can get us out of a good predicament. For example, we will find a grenade that eliminates all hostile beings within an area or a spike of energy that arises from the ground and impales the closest enemy. And although Returnal is above all a shooting game, we will also find melee weapons, such as an especially useful sword against enemy shields.
Finally, the "unknown" section includes the power-ups that act as a double-edged sword, such as the alien parasite that allows us to recover health with each loss we cause, but which causes the corpses to leave behind a pool of acid. They are the kind of improvement to choose wisely because depending on the situation they can be very useful... or lead to death.
As confirmed by Housemarque, and as expected given that it is an exclusive PS5 game, Returnal will also take advantage of the DualSense functions, with different responses on the triggers depending on the weapon we use. If we press the L2 button lightly, we will aim the weapon, and if we press it completely, we will activate the alternative firing mode (if it does not convince us, it can be changed from the settings). And of course, you will also take advantage of haptic vibration and 3D sound. But without a doubt, the feature that you will take advantage of the PlayStation 5 will be the SSD, whose loading speed will allow reboots to be practically instantaneous.
Finally, it should be noted that it seems Returnal will also attach great importance to the story. It is perhaps the most striking element of the whole set because Housemarque games do not usually stand out in that aspect (or it is usually relegated to the background), but also because it is not the strong point of roguelike...
... Or it wasn't until the arrival of Hades, last September, a rogue-lite that integrates the narrative with great success within the game cycles. At the moment we don't know much about Returnal's plot, beyond what we have already told you, but in the trailers, you can see first-person sequences. As well as scenes that take place on Earth, or something like our planet. What is clear is that Selene's psyche will play a very important role; surviving a nightmare that seems to have no end without losing your mind will be your greatest challenge.
And so far everything we know about Returnal. Everything? Well, a fairly important piece of information is missing: the release date. After suffering a slight delay, Returnal will finally arrive on PlayStation 5 on April 30. Will it manage to stand out from all the quality roguelike without losing the Housemarque identity? Soon we will leave doubts.