Weekend Whammy: Returnal Impressions & Sony Is Doing Great

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Welcome back to another Weekend Whammy, my friends. Hopefully you’re doing good, having fun, staying safe and all that good stuff. This week I’m chatting a bit about my initial impressions of Returnal, a bit of Titanfall 2 and then jump into the news where we have some interesting Microsoft insights to chat about, Sony financials, a Sony-Discord deal and more.

Still working on the Outriders review. It’s getting there, I swear. I finished up the game, did some Expeditions, found a few Legendary items and now I feel quite happy with the whole thing and have little desire to go back to it, although I might because I want to check out the other classes. That, though, is a good thing because I like that Outriders is not a live service game with no ending in sight.

Returnal is finally here, only the second triple-A PS5 exclusive we’ve got and the first one to release outside of the console’s launch. It has been a bit of a drought, but at least Returnal is proving to be worth the wait thus far. I’m maybe 5 hours in or so and I don’t think I’m in love with it as much as a lot of reviewers have been, but it’s still early and I am most definitely having a lot of fun with it.

It’s a gorgeous game, certainly, and as atmospheric as a really atmospheric thing. But it’s also surprisingly fast-paced in its movement. Sprinting is Doom levels of speed, letting you leap around like like a 3-year-old that found the bag of sugar in the cupboard. It makes combat dynamic and fun.

Speaking of which, the combat is excellent. Housemarque do an outstanding job of bringing bullet-hell style combat into the fully 3D space. I just love the way walls of projectiles fly at you, letting you weave and strafe. The key is that Housemarque have managed depth perception damn near perfectly, making it feel natural to judge the spaces and gaps. It’s frantic and fast and exciting. But the lack of enemy types is a tad disappointing.

I’m not sold on the rogue-like elements, though, probably because I keep mentally comparing it to how exceptionally well Hades does the whole live-die-repeat thing. So far, it doesn’t feel like I’m making a lot of progress on my runs, and death lacks the same excitement as it does in Hades where getting splattered means getting more cool story stuff and wicked upgrades. Each run also takes quite a long time, so when you do eventually snuff it, it’s a lot more of a punch in the solar plexus, especially when you realise you’ve not really progressed in any meaningful way.

Still, the steadily growing mystery of the strange alien planet and the time-loop keeps dragging me forward like a wife dragging a reluctant husband through the clothing department. I want to know what’s going on. I want to know why Selene’s house keeps appearing, and who the astronaut is, and what it all means. And I want to know why Selene is far too willing to touch random alien objects, add them to her suit and even allow parasites to latch on to her. She’s worse than the bloody scientists in Prometheus.

I really appreciate how the game uses the capabilities of the Dualsense controller because outside of Astro’s Playroom we haven’t seen them used to much effect. Returnal does so much with the controller, using little pulses and vibrations and sound cues to immerse you into the world. And the idea of pulling the left-trigger down halfway to aim, and all the way for alt-fire is absolutely awesome. I’d imagine other games will adopt this, although multiplatform games might not.

Interestingly, Housemarque have stated some form of save function is coming due to community feedback. This has pissed off a lot of people who are justifiably worried about save scumming and such potentially ruining the core concept of how Returnal works. I have mixed feelings; I do think they can’t just implement a standard save and load system, but with that said Returnal’s runs are much, much longer than a normal rogue-like and it’s annoying to have to lose a load of progress because you have to put the controller down and go to bed, or go do something. Sure, you can leave the PS5 in rest mode, but I’m not a fan of leaving stuff on overnight when I don’t have to. If nothing else, I like saving on electricity where I can. Quite a few times I’ve done a run in Returnal and done much better than I had anticipated, and mourned the lack of a save function.

How could they combat it? Maybe something like you can only load a save once per session? Or autosaves with no manual load function? I don’t know. Housemarque are much smarter than me, so hopefully they can figure something out.

Between sessions of Returnal I’ve been playing Titanfall 2 in preparation to do a Best of Xbox Game Pass on it, and by Jesus and all his carpenter chums I had forgotten just how brilliant the campaign is. I just wrapped up a stunning level where you wall-run, platform and shoot your way through a humongous factory, and now I’m straight into a section that plays around with jumping around time. The variety of the design is nothing short of excellent, the combat is utterly absorbing and stomping around in a massive Titan is more fun than that whole sex thing. Seriously, the fact that Titanfall 2 got widely overlooked by people is sinful, and I demand the human race be made to repent.

I maintain hope that a Titanfall 3 might yet happen, though. Apex Legends is set within the same universe and has done tremendously for Respawn Entertainment, and they’ve also put out Jedi: Fallen Order which obviously did great while proving that Respawn seem capable of turning on a dime. They’re such a versatile company, and I would love for them to get a chance to return to Titanfall.

NEWS

Before we get to some of the industry news, let’s get caught up on what games Playstation owners will be getting for free in May provided they have an active PSN subscription. These are available from May 4th (baffling that there’s no Star Wars stuff) and as long as you add them to library you can download them whenever you like, so long as you still have a PSN membership.