Or Spaceborne as I have been thinking of it as.
As a first PS5 exclusive, the hopes were high. Indeed, I wasn’t going to buy this straight out of the gate BUT…. Seeing all the positive reviews and early looks/screenshots and videos I was sold. And was I glad that I did?
… because this game is a pain in the arse! Just when you think that you are getting a handle on it, you come across a new selection of enemies or just a clump of enemies and you die. And this game doesn’t fuck around, you go straight back to the start. Crash ship and emerge onto Atropos. Or re-emerge as it were. Damn it! Now I have to do it all over again.
And this is where the similarity to Bloodborne comes in, for me at least. Having died in Bloodborne I would dust myself off and try again. Fortunately the whole process of dying is a learning one and you come back stronger. Kind of the same in Returnal, except those dastardly programmers and game-makers decided that not only do you go back to the start but you’re going to experience things differently next time: shifting terrain, shifting enemies, no two runs will be the same. I mean, why would you do this? WHY??
It does force you to get good though, and that is a good thing as you adjust and learn how to take on the enemies no matter the scenario. It’s just soo frustrating to have to do it all again, and especially when you make good progress (I just died to the first boss, Phrike and now have to do it all again!).
The feel and flow of this game is superb though. Smooth transitions between rooms, easy traversal of levels/layers, multiple enemies and projectiles handled on screen with no bother. And this game is stunning to look at and causes no end of problems as you are mesmerised by the pretty neon orbs that are shooting your way, only to realise (too late!) that they are enemy projectiles that you need to avoid!
Gaaaaaaah! this is an annoying game! Getting so far then dying and being thrown right back to the beginning again. Soooooo frustrating. But yet, I just keep on going. Pick myself back up again and get back into the fight.
Damn 20th Century House. Need the damn key. Where is it? Where is it? Why won’t you give it to me RNG?????
Ooooh, a Gold Door. Must be some good loot in here. AREA IN LOCKDOWN!!!!!!!!!! Multiple spawning enemies with the associated growls/grunts/screams.
Wave after wave of bad guys and not just the little ones either. Lots of running around and firing Alt-Fire when it’s reloaded. Thank god for the blade too. Very nice, very nice.
Worked my way through to the boss fight again, Phrike. If you haven’t seen this thing in action, it looks a lot harder/worse than it actually is when you are in the arena. That being said, there are a few pinch points where you are monitoring so many projectiles and Phrike’s movement and next barrage. But I felt in the zone, watching more on the projectiles, keeping the assault on and then I get slammed with a melee attack. Damn thing. Whittled it down to the last phase and then died with about 1/4 of its health bar remaining.
Back to the start.
What I’m finding is that the pressure is really on, especially when you find yourself some good gear, you’re so wary of dying and losing it all. But then with the better gear, comes a better chance of killing and being alive after an encounter.
Finally some good gear and a good run! The Tachyomatic Carbine is my favourite (so far) and I got a level 3 drop and tied in with some good consumables I was motoring. Add in the fact that I’m learning (skilling up) how to fire and hit the reload successfully most of the time, whilst dodging and aiming (basic I know!), but it feels like progress to me. So, with a big gun in my hands and not picking up too many Malfunctions/Malignancies, I was off. Playing smarter and feeling more skilled (not actually, but I felt great!) I set off again. Again.
This time, I got the god damn House key. Yes! I took down multiple enemies without worrying too much, picking them off, then blasting them when it gets too much. When this happens, the game is a dream. You forget about the whole starting again thing, just fighting for your life and keeping your shit together. Literally!
The House section is a nice aside, some backstory, a different playing perspective and a little Astronaut figurine (more on this later). So, everything was falling into place. I had the weapon. I had the suit integrity. I had the augments giving me more damage and extra healing. I. WAS. READY. This time. This time I was going to do it. For sure.
Got myself back to Phrike again. Powered up and ready to take it down.
It all started out so well. First phase knocked off without taking a hit. Alright! Second phase, a few sloppy moves from me removed some of my buffs but I had an integrity heal consumable and that came in handy. Now, just to get composure again. Chipped away at Phrike’s healthbar consistently and got to third and final phase. Damn thing! Took me down about half way through that last phase. NOOOOOOOOOO! But wait! What’s this? Little astronaut guy giving me another life? Another chance to continue? Oh, it’s on! And with that little extra help I was buoyed and finished that bastard off.
Not quite the relief of my first Bloodborne boss kill, but it was pretty close and it was pretty intense.
What now? Well, you get the Crimson Key to open up the next area. Praise be that you get teleportation devices in this as the map gets pretty sprawling after a while! Back to the portal and through I go………
….. to a sand filled wasteland. The Crimson Wastes. Wonder what delights await me here? Not much it seems as I had a good long walk before anything happened! Then I got them. Square robot octopusses. Flying ones at that. Not too bad it seems, what’s that lurking behind those ruined walls? Oh, it’s a huge one, like many, many times bigger and with more firepower. Yey! Keep my distance and keep the barrage going and not too shabby if I do say so myself.
And this was how it continued for a while. Picking lone enemies off, taking down larger enemies from distance. A decent tactic it appears. Then I get to meet The Severed. Large beings with huge, glowing sabres who zoom around the room and dole out big hits. How I don’t like these guys! One is kind of ok, later on it was two which was manic and scary, but I managed. I don’t want to know if you ever come up against three together!! And then, suddenly (and surprisingly) I was at the boss fight. Good ol’ Ixion. Looks like a big lump hanging from some wires. Let’s do this!!
Well, that first impression was nothing like what was to come. This is basically Icarus with speed and lethal projectiles coming out of every orifice. I have no idea what I was really doing here as I was just doing my best to avoid all the neon colours that were being painted across the screen. I didn’t even know where Ixion was half the time, I just aimed at where all the death balls were coming from!
And even more surprisingly, I beat him! HA! Huge relief but mostly surprise that I’d gone through a whole biome without dying. Guess that is the power of a good build, eh? Speaking of, you get a grappling hook after the fight here. Really useful at reaching those hard to get to places. And now: Biome 3! Derelict Citadel…..
Fuck the City is what I’ve got to say! From the aerial bomber flying types through to the massive arsehole robots. Fuck. The. City. I’m going home (and starting all over again).
An interesting mechanic to come out of this is do you jump straight back into biome 3 after restarting or do you try to build up as much as you can beforehand? Tough choice as sometimes it isn’t easy to build back up again either!
Biome 3 eventually broke me before I broke it. Gave the game to a friend for a while to give me some space (cos I don’t have the willpower to resist having my arse handed to me repeatedly!). And you know what? It did the world of good. With new perspective and a new plan (the new plan was basically use the Rotgland Lobber!) I was ready. 2nd run after getting the game back after a couple of weeks and, what’s this? Nemesis boss battle? Already? Well I never!
OK, so he beat me that first time. And the second time, but on that 3rd occasion I blew his mountain-sized ass to kingdom come. This is a really cool fight though, grappling and flying around whilst avoiding projectiles and shooting for all you are worth. Awesome!
So, Act 2 begins with you back at Helios again, injured and what? Where’s my awesome weapon gone? Goddammit, I’ve got the pistol again. Thankfully, with my newfound skills and outlook on Selene’s life I went all the way through this Biome first try and only just fell to Hyperion, but the next run….. He got taken down big style! Or I beat him and also managed to die at exactly the same time (Bless those reconstructors!), but that’s not important really.
Biome 5. Frozen Wastelands. Oh how you tried your best to fight it out with Biome 3 for the title of arseholiest biome of Returnal. 3 keys needed this time, involving much room-clearing and multiple mini-boss fights (There’s those Severed blokes again causing me no end of pain) and a Challenge Room that is unavoidable. Oh, and those drones are back again and in greater numbers. Yey.
Again, after a great number of runs I did manage to get past those multiple challenges (thanking the Electroplyon Driver this time). And descended down into the depths of, hold on. Where was the boss to Biome 5? What’s that? We got time off for good behaviour? Excellent. I feel refreshed and ready to take on this new Biome! We’re underwater? That’s fine, it can’t be that differe…. What’s up with the jumping? Oh, this is going to be interesting!
Biome 6 is actually one of the best and most challenging in the whole game and with that comes the fun, the excitement of nearly dying around every corner. And the boss-level weapons that you get do very nicely to try to combat the combat. There are the underwater equivalent of the drones in the squid-type things that are numerous and don’t care for their own wellbeing and there are also multiple behemoths floating around these deeps, who have a nice (read: not very nice) trick up their many sleeves.
Ophion. The denizen of the deep. The King under the Sea. The Smackin’ Kraken. Only, he’s quite tame compared to the others, or it could be that by the time you reach this boss, you yourself are such a boss that it seems easier than those that have fallen beforehand.
With the fighting done, it’s time for the story to wrap up. Although it doesn’t quite do that and draws you back in for more fun and high-jinx, which was nice. Up to a point. As I was so close, I decided that the Platinum trophy for Returnal was going to be mine and I set off with excitement and hope. Only those things were soon wiped out as I was quicky left with only a handful of ciphers to collect and, due to the RNG elements of this game, they weren’t showing up. No fault of mine, I was blasting through the biomes taking out all comers, gliding past mini-bosses, traversing great distances in search of a little wall-painting. Many, many hours later, as I was just about to express my displeasure at this luck element to a very skill-oriented experience so far, I got one of the remaining 2. Laugh? I nearly cried! Then on my next run to get the final cipher from Biome 6, it turned up in another room that I had never seen before. And I was done. Dusted. Spent. Happy!
So I deleted the game from my PS5 and moved on. Well, that’s not quite right as I reinstalled it last night and dived back in for a bit more of the running and gunning, trying different weapons out, different combat styles. Having reached the point of being able to run through biomes 1-3, then 4-6 multiple times without dying and actually having fun with it, it eventually felt like the game had run its course with me.
I thought that the Plat would be the end of it but it seems that Returnal still managed to keep a hold on me and in this it truly deserves its moniker in this house of SpaceBorne.
All our times have come….