Returnal is out today! It’s absolutely brilliant, as well as incredibly frustrating in equal measure. The idea of a AAA rogue-like may sound ballsy, but the studio behind incredible games such as Alienation and Nex Machina has managed to do so in grand style, creating a tense and sweat-inducing experience that brings out the best of the PS5 console.
Before you get started though, here’s a few pointers to help you survive the long fight ahead of you.
Lie down, roll over, try not to cry
It’s going to be hard my dudes. It’s okay. Embrace the difficulty, learn to live with it, and accept that some things are outside of your control. Like a giant tentacle gorilla performing energised elbow drops on your face whenever it gets the chance to do so. It’s going to be okay.
Dash forward, keep moving, and never stop
Rogue-like fans will know this mantra by heart, but it goes double in Returnal as taking a last stand is pretty much a death sentence. The aim of the game is to stay in motion, using the environment to your advantage as you funnel enemies into chokepoints where you can unleash some bullet hell of your very own.
Selene also happens to have a handy dash ability, one that renders her immune to almost all attacks for a brief moment (later stages will slap the dash apart with purple attacks). When used with a push-forward mentality to close the gap, you’ll be able to pass through enemy projectiles and land a devastating melee attack after you’ve unlocked the sword upgrade early in Returnal.
It’s a handy trick, and one that can instantly take out cannon fodder enemies while staggering tougher mini-bosses in the process. Agility is a primary key to survival, and against foes which are designed to annihilate you with attacks that home in on stationary moments, it’ll become second nature in no time.
Malignancy in the early stages is worth risking
Looking to get a leg up before you tackle the more dangerous stages of Returnal? You’ll often come across malignant items, which will offer resources or weapons provided that you’re willing to deal with a suit malfunction. In the later stages, that’s usually a terrible decision to make but in the early goings of the game it’s not too risky.
Taking damage from falling, enemies leaving behind pools of acid, and other hazards that will only be cleared once certain conditions have been met, are usually easy to clear in the forest biome where Selene starts every cycle. The rewards are worth the extra effort, especially when you’re preparing to finally complete a certain hurdle.
Grab all the health vials and resin
Seeing a bunch of health pick-ups scattered around a room, you could be tempted to leave them behind just in case you want to double back and restore some suit integrity after a tough fight. The trick here, is that there happens to be two types of health restorationa vailable: Vials give back some health, while resin pieces add to Selene’s health bar, extending it and giving her slightly more integrity over time. If you happen to have a full HP bar as well, all vials will automatically become resin pieces, further extending the suit’s ability to soak up damage.
Higher-tier weapons may not always be the best weapons
Weapon proficiency in Returnal builds up as you score kills, allowing for more powerful guns to be recovered from treasure boxes and mini-bosses. That being said, just because a gun has a higher number next to it, doesn’t mean that it’s automatically better. One of the better tactics is to get comfortable with a particular class of weapon, only switching when a higher-tier version is available with an alternate firing mode that complements your playstyle.
After all, why go from a trusty assault rifle-type weapon that can fire off homing rounds, to a grenade launcher that lobs acidic rounds after a lengthy charge-up and instead shoots a horizontal barrage as a last resort? That upends a session entirely when you’re late into a current run, especially when every action matters on a grand scale.
Gold rooms are a gamble, but the rewards are worth it
Planning to farm the game a bit before taking on a boss? You’ll occasionally spot gold challenge rooms, which are top-tier arenas that throw everything and a kitchen sink at you that’s crawling with tentacles. Make no mistake, you’ll be locked in a room with no escape save for death, but surviving these rooms could have you set up for a marginally easier run in the next biome. Plenty of resources drop, you could get a high-tier weapon, and your weapon proficiency will shoot through the roof.
If you’ve got the skills, these rooms might just pay the bills.
Go for the weak points
It might seem counter-productive to swith from hip-firing to ADS as it slows Selene down, but for those rare moments when you can afford to be a little less nimble, aiming down the sight will reveal weak spots on enemies. Focus fire on those sections, and you’ll do increased damage as well as stagger them long enough to deliver a killing blow.
Focus on perfection
Just like in MMA, getting hit is usually advisable. In Returnal, that goes quadruple as any damage you receive will immediately reset your Adrenaline bar. As part of Housemarque’s arcade passion, notching up kills increases this meter and by extension the skills available to Selene, allowing her to deliver more damage and stay focused. That drive for perfection will help you survive many a room, as well as feel like a badass overall once your gun unleashes multiple homing shots at maximum level. Try to keep it that way, yeah?
See those rooms with shielded sections? There’s a trick to them
See the room with an impassable yellow shield? There’s usually a switch nearby that you can shoot to bring the field, and score some sweet loot. Simple as that, and it took me like 15 hours to figure it out.
There are shortcuts, but be wary
There is nothing that crushes a person’s soul more than having spent an hour building up to survive a biome and then getting caught with a bad case of lasers to the face. The plus side here is that you can reach one of the other levels and side-step a boss fight if you’ve already beaten that barrier. For example there’s a portal to the Crimson Wastes from the Forest, or you can use the grappling hook to reach a location that takes you straight to the Citadel.
You’ll be able to grab a healing vial and weapon proficiency from these points, but you’ll still be rocking a low-tier weapon until you can find something better.
Learn the rhythm of a boss fight
Returnal’s main event offering is a series of boss fights that will thoroughly wreck your day. Pure bullet hell, unrelenting, and brutal in nature, these fights aren’t as difficult as they might appear to be. Quick reflexes will of course save you, but learning to spot the signs of a particular attack will do you much better in surviving these encounters.
It’s incredibly challenging to attack and dodge, but knowing when windows of opportunities will open up? That’s the prime time to strike, and staying on the defensive long enough to know when its time to pull the trigger, will have you wax these fights quickly. Not easily mind you, but at a level where you’ll at least feel like a champion as you combine Selene’s agility with her dash ability to whittle down a few health bars in each encounter.
Last Updated: April 30, 2021