A lesser known PlayStation 5 game called Return is coming to PC, and while it hasn’t had as much fanfare as big-ticket titles like Spider Man, The last of usWhere Horizon, it’s definitely the one you should try. It’s part throwback to classic arcade action games, part PC-style Roguelike, part tech showcase for modern systems, and part homage to moody 1970s and ’80s sci-fi novels and movies. But above all, it’s a good game.
Published by Sony and developed by Finnish studio Housemarque (now owned by Sony), Return was one of the first PS5 exclusives when it launched in early 2021, and it was a major step into the big leagues of triple-A gaming for Housemarque, which had previously released arcade-style games like Super Stardust HD and Resogun.
At The Game Awards on Thursday, Sony announced that, like many of its other recent first-party titles, Return will launch on PC with PC-specific enhancements that have yet to be named. The port is managed by Climax Studios and the release window is “early 2023”.
While it was first a PS5 game, ReturnThe DNA of can be traced back to multiple PC gaming traditions, and its themes and aesthetic also draw from some of the same backgrounds that PC games were based on.
ReturnRetro influences and PC games from
The gimmick of the game, if you will, is that your protagonist is trapped in a time loop similar to that of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect”. Each time she dies, the cycle begins again and you go back to square one. But some of the knowledge you gain (and a very limited number of other character-level upgrades) carry over from cycle to cycle, allowing you to win a bitter war of attrition against your circumstances through very many deaths.
Environments, enemies, and loot are (largely) randomized, and the player is regularly faced with tough choices with clear pros and cons for each option following them for the rest of the cycle. These are of course all the elements of a Roguelike, a genre that goes back to the made-of-ASCII Thug on personal computers in 1980. Thug went on to inspire several genres, including DiabloStyle action RPG.
Return borrows significantly from contemporary Roguelikes that have thrived on Steam, especially games like nuclear throne—yet another way, it’s firmly in a PC gaming tradition.
Beyond that, Return plays like something from a very specific lineage of PC third-person shooters – a tradition that includes everything from MDK at Max Payne at Jedi Knight Star Wars: Jedi Academy and Control. Of course, most of these games were also released on consoles, but they always felt most comfortable on their main development platform, the PC.
Housemarque is known for creating arcade-style games inspired by games like Galagaand some of that DNA survives in Return, so there’s a hard retro bent here. Basically, if you like retro or PC games, Return might have your number, especially if you like 1970s and 1980s sci-fi, the influence of which underpinned many of these classic games.
Aliens, Solarisand classic sci-fi horror
Fast-paced action games aren’t usually loaded with atmosphere or even storytelling, but Return is an exception. The game draws its aesthetic, themes, and overall presentation from brooding or horrifying sci-fi like the Extraterrestrial films and the works of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, who made atmospheric films like Solaris and stalker.
You spend most of the game battling enemies in grim environments like the humid, decrepit forests of an unknown world or the blasted ruins of alien civilizations lost for countless eternities. These are designed more to create a mood, an unsettling vibe vibe same – than telling an explicit story, but they draw heavily on horror novels and science fiction films of the 1970s and 1980s. The game’s aesthetic also bears some similarities to more contemporary science films, such as edge of tomorrow and Annihilation.
The actual storytelling mostly takes place in an eerie take on the protagonist Selene’s home, somehow anachronistically generated in this alien world. For these scenes, you step into the first-person perspective and explore Selene’s life through cryptic and incomplete glimpses. The disturbing strangeness of these sequences is clearly inspired by the interpretations of author Stanislaw Lem and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky Solarisa story about an unfathomable extraterrestrial intelligence that communicates with the protagonist producing bewildering, dreamlike interpretations of events, places, and people locked in the annals of his memory.
Some of this feels unusually poignant because the game features a middle-aged female protagonist, which is quite unusual in big-budget video games. It’s an interesting and welcome departure from the default in this genre of games, and it contributes to the personal nature of the story. There’s also Bobby Krlic’s outstanding soundtrack, which couldn’t be more inspired by blade runner. Enough said, right?
Return was already a technical showcase
Among other things, the PC gaming platform is cutting edge technology. Many of the platform’s native games exist more or less as showcases for expensive hardware. Return was it on PS5, of course – the 60fps action game could never have been the same experience on PS4 – but it could also be the case on PC.
Yes, Housemarque claimed very limited ray tracing for Return on PS5, and the maddening complexity and scale of its hellish battles is something you don’t often see in a 3D game with this level of detail and production values. But Housemarque – and by extension, Return– is also known for its frankly bonkers particle effects, which are used for things like a transporter that disintegrates the character into thousands of weird tiny blobs. It’s hard to describe, but when you see it in-game, you’re likely to at least say, “Huh, that’s neat.”
Sony, Housemarque, and Climax Studios haven’t detailed what will be unique to the PC version, but we’re hoping for more robust ray-tracing support, Nvidia DLSS or AMD FidelityFX, and more. Additionally, the game’s lightning-fast and jumpy combat lends itself well to high refresh rate monitors. The PS5 supports them, but the PS5 version of Return doesn’t, so the PC could be a place for this game to really shine.
A big caveat: Return is not for the weaklings
There is a reason Return might not be a slam dunk with some PC gamers: it’s viciously difficult. The game is about learning from failure, and you will fail many times. Battles can be overwhelming and small mistakes can be punished with massive damage that is hard to come back from. Combine that with the fact that some late-game lives last up to 45 minutes, and you have a potential recipe for frustration.
The game has collected some comparisons with the likes of dark souls when it first came out because, well, dark souls became shorthand for “extremely difficult game”. But in truth, Return bears little resemblance to Dark souls. Software games like dark souls and elderberry ring are challenging, but their worlds and encounters are mostly deterministic, and they’re all about developing muscle memory and tactics to respond to clear, recurring patterns.
There’s a bit of that in Return too, but the game has a greater random element. Thus, while players who die in dark souls can almost always ignore that death, knowing it was because of a mistake they can learn from, Return can sometimes seem capricious and unfair.
As long as you’re able to accept the premise – that you’ll die a lot, and sometimes it’s just bad luck – there’s a lot to enjoy. I recommend giving it a shot. Just… get ready. Return is very difficult. But again, so were the classic and contemporary games that inspired it.
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