The Top 10 Games Of 2021: Returnal
In space, no one can hear you scream - over and over again. Giving us a bit of Silent Hill, with a dash of Alien and Groundhog Day, Housemarque's Returnal was another surprise hit for Sony in 2021.
The roguelike genre is everywhere right now, but if escaping the bowels of the Underworld in Hades doesn't float your boat, how about blasting off into the icy depths of outer space for some good ol' sci-fi horror? Combine that with the beefed-up prowess of the PlayStation 5, and you're onto a winner.
Returnaling To The Scene Of The Crime
Housemarque might seem like an out-there choice to produce one of the year's big AAA titles, but this isn't the developer's first foray into this kind of world thanks to 2016's Alienation and 2017's Matterfall. These and the various other games released during its lifespan are nothing compared to Returnal - which (literally) takes something familiar and revamps it with every playthrough.
Suiting up as astronaut Selene, she's marooned on the alien world of Atropos with only her memories and a well-equipped spacesuit for company. Selene manages to blast her way through waves of alien scum while heading in search of the mysterious "White Shadow", but as Returnal progresses, get ready to die A LOT.
Each time Selene dies, she finds herself transported back to her crash on Atropos, with the planet's surface littered with yet more of her own corpses. The story unravels in a particularly uncomfortable style, and while some of the big twists are signposted early on, there's still enough to keep you guessing.
Be warned, Returnal isn't exactly one of those feel-good games that will leave you warm and fuzzy. Prepare for a cold and isolating journey with this Gwendoline Christie lookalike. A particular highlight is exploring the Atropos recreation of her childhood home. Trust us, you'll want to spend your time here!
X Housemarque's The Spot
One of Returnal's big wins is the fact it fits the AAA template without feeling like it was shoehorned into it. Added to this, it's not just Astro's Playroom that showcases the potential of the PS5's DualSense controller. Spatial audio and haptic feedback are firing on all cylinders here, as Selene blasts her way through the monsters of Returnal.
Like any good roguelike, you progress through the game and upgrade your arsenal. Previous areas that seem impossible to conquer soon become child's play. We've also got to praise the alien types in Returnal. The way they weave around and fire projectiles in colourful waves makes Returnal a treat for the eyes.
Was it any wonder that Returnal was nominated for Best Action Game at the Game Awards? Facing stiff competition like Deathloop and the lasting legacy of Far Cry 6, it was something of an unexpected honour to see Returnal to make the cut.
Like any of 2021's "best" games, Returnal isn't without its flaws. The roguelike mechanics were always going to alienate some, however, others feel the addition of the Update 2.0 to "suspend your cycle" and save was unnecessary.
Still, Returnal took its Metroidvania style and blasted off with what's held as one of the first big-budget roguelikes. If this is what a post-Hades future holds, we say, let's have it.