I met for the first time Return last June, during Sony’s PS5 reveal, and I admit I didn’t think much about it when it appeared on a generic sci-fi treadmill: Spaceperson crashes on a dark planet and stormy, weaves its way through local wildlife, studio invents ridiculous title; big whoop.
I am happy to report that this impression was largely mistaken. There are so many things to love Return, which was released this week. Or, to put it more clearly: the game offers so much that you can only find in a game, and it got me excited about the future of the medium.
Return stars Selene, an astronaut, who in addition to her fashionable case of heterochromia is visibly normal-looking by game standards, neither a 7ft tall super soldier nor a D&G dummy whose pass times include saving the world. The story set-up is sparse: the game opens with Selene’s ship whipping through navy clouds above the planet Atropos, on the trail of a “shadow broadcast signal. white “. Inevitably, a lightning seems to strike her hull, and Selene descends, into the darkness.
After crawling out of the wreckage, Selene walks past some solemn stone statues of a vanished civilization and admires the blue glow sticks that make up the native wildlife. Then she finds a corpse. But this corpse (cue heavy ropes) is her. Disturbed, yet, like most of the game’s protagonists, ready for war, she grabs the pistol lying next to her corpse and begins to detonate the Metroid– dark and gloomy sprawling beasts that crawled from the hills with the intention of its destruction. It is only when said beasts destroy Selene’s “costume integrity”, and she crumbles into a heap of screams, that Return reveals its central gambit: you’re back to where you started, about to crash into Atropos, with nothing but your memories.
Return is a rogue-lite, or roguelike-like, which are games like roguelikes, games like the game Thug. To put this in English, Thug was an RPG, released in 1980, that students played on giant computers owned by the university. Over the years, similar RPGs appeared in its wake – called roguelikes – until the mid-2000s, when a series of indie games lifted two of the ThugThe best-known concepts – procedurally generated levels and permanent death – to enrich new genres. These games have also been referred to as rogue-lites or roguelike-likes. Recently, Kill the arrow did it for deck building games. Underworld, widely regarded as the best game of last year, did it for ancient Greek mythology, as the main character Zagreus attempted to escape Greek hell, only to emerge from a pool of blood at the bottom after each failure.
Return does the same for the sci-fi third person shooter. Selene’s death causes you to lose (almost) all weapons and upgrades, as the world folds around you like an MC Escher painting. But the story continues: Selene remembers her death and comments on the twisted landscape.
To give an example: in my third game, I found an alien machine gun, the tachyomatic rifle, and started powering it up with various “parasites” – which look like little faces of Extraterrestrial—These attach to your costume and grant mixed blessings: These can increase your weapon proficiency but make item malfunctions more likely. It wasn’t until after the first boss, Phrike, a square-headed serpent, died, and then failed to get close to Phrike the next time, that I realized how badly I had lucked out with my power-on combinations.
The Roguelikes are controversial because they turn the death of the game upside down. Usually when you die the progress is saved, but the story cannot progress. A roguelike is the opposite: progress is lost, but history often continues. Some people hate this inversion. They hate the idea of dying to see more of the story, and they hate the idea that they’ll lose the neat kit they got even more; electric sickle; companion bird; Holy Swole rocket launcher, whatever.