Returnal Review (PC) | Worth Returning To

Nearly two years later, Returnal is finally available on PC, and it still delivers challening and adrenaline-pumping gameplay.

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Back in April 2021, PlayStation and Housemarque released Returnal, a third-person roguelite that was incredibly challenging yet totally compelling. While the fact that you had to start over (as with any roguelite) is a brutal game mechanic, the game makes each loop compelling to play, making it a surprisingly good way to get into the genre; provided that you have the patience of course.

Aside from great gameplay, Returnal was also one of the first true showcases of the PS5’s capabilities as it took advantage of the console’s fast SSD for short loading times, as well as its DualSense and 3D Audio features. Even now, it’s still one of the best games to play if you want to enjoy the PS5’s unique features.

Now though, Returnal is available on PC nearly two years after its initial PS5 release. Given that the PS5 is pretty much like a PC in many aspects (we’re no longer in the Cell architecture of the PS3 days after all), it’s expected that Returnal should also run well on beefy gaming PCs.

Of course, the question is, did Housemarque do a good job in porting Returnal to PC? And does the game hold up after nearly two years since launch? Well, that’s what we’ll find out in our review!

NOTE: As we have already played and reviewed Returnal, we will not go in-depth into the game’s systems and gameplay. Instead, this will be focused more on if the gameplay holds up well. If you want a more detailed breakdown of gameplay, you can check out our PS5 version review as it is still reflective of our opinions on the game.

Returning After Nearly Two Years

Returnal Review – Yes, it still holds up today.

Back when the game was originally released, I was assigned to review the game, despite my lack of experience with roguelites. In fact, it’s fair to say that I wasn’t a roguelite fan back then as I found the main mechanic of permadeath to be either daunting or annoying.

But when I played Returnal, I definitely had a great time. Sure, there were still frustrating moments when I died with the boss so close to being defeated. But I was always eager to jump back in again thanks to its incredibly compelling gameplay.

The game’s shooting combined with its dash mechanic made it a tough and fun game as I found it easy to get in this “flow state” where I was just near-instantly reacting to the various projectiles that are sent my way. There was just something about how the gameplay flowed. Despite being hectic, it had an addictive quality to it that made it hard to put down. In fact, I remembered the hours simply whizzing by fast while I played the game.

Returnal Review – Still incredibly challenging.

Going back to the game now on PC, I found that it was the experience was still just as good. While the brutal permadeath (even if you do retain some abilities) is not for everyone, and the game’s frenetic pace may be too fast and frantic for some, Returnal is an incredibly well-made game in a mechanical sense.

Housemarque said in developer interviews and updates that Returnal is an arcade game at its core. You’ll understand this when playing it as it does often feel like a compelling arcade game in the heat of battle, especially when you enter that “flow state”.

It also helps that the game’s visuals are worlds are stunning to see. The enemies and especially the boss battles are visual treats. In particular, the boss fights are memorable and epic in scale, making them some of the most exhilarating fights I’ve played, maybe ever.

When returning to the game on PC, I didn’t really find the roguelite features annoying, though as with most games in the genre, an element of luck is still a major factor in any good run. If you get a weapon with helpful traits like Leech Rounds (that can replenish your HP) or useful artifacts that repair HP when in low health, you’ll have a much easier time getting through the levels. This can be annoying to some, but it’s something you just have to live with.

One thing that I wish could be improved though is the story. Back when I first played the game, I was intrigued by its mysterious story. But playing it again, I wish that there were more concrete details. Sure, there’s fun to be had in piecing together a narrative, but Returnal can be a bit too vague in this regard.

As a bonus, the PC version also comes with the Ascension DLC for free which adds the co-op mode as well as the Tower of Sisyphus “endless” game mode. Personally, I still liked the solo campaign experience best, but these are welcome additions that add lots of replay value.

The PC Experience

Returnal Review – It has a nice photo mode.

As I already mentioned, Returnal was an excellent showcase of the PS5’s capabilities. Thankfully, it also doesn’t disappoint with its PC release.

Given that the PS5 has a fast SSD and capable graphics processing within its SoC, you will need a fairly beefy rig to run the game. This is unlike the PS4-era PC releases from PlayStation like Spider-Man which can run on even lower-end hardware.

If your PC meets the system requirements, you should be happy with the game’s performance. We didn’t have any issues running the game on our test rig, and it even ran at the Epic graphics setting with an average FPS of over 100.

Take note though, we were playing on a PC with a 10th Gen Intel Core i7 and an RTX 3080 GPU. We also ran the game only at 1080p. But if you have a powerful rig, you should be able to run the game at higher resolution while still maintaining a high framerate. For NVIDIA card users, the game also has DLSS for this use case.

For refence, here are in-game benchmark results of Retunral on our rig:

Returnal Review – Here’s our in-game benchmark result.

Of course, the performance in actual gameplay is slight lower, but the average FPS is still over 100. While there were some dips in framerate, we weren’t really bothered by them enough to impact gameplay.

Other features that the PC version has include 21:9 ultrawide monitor support (which is always a nice touch), as well as several surround sound options. It’s nice that there are multiple 3D audio options to choose from here. Though in my testing, I’m not sure if the headphone 3D audio options were as good as my experience with the PS5.

Speaking of PS5, the game also supports haptic feedback and adaptive triggers if you play with a DualSense controller connected on PC. Sure, the game is very much playable without it, but it definitely adds a lot to the experience if you have one. While you can play the game with keyboard and mouse controls, we preferred the DualSense as smooth movement is more helpful than precise aiming for us. But if you’re more used to keyboard and mouse, you can definitely play this game. And arguably, you’ll have an easier time thanks to the more precise aiming that you get.

Returnal Review Final Verdict – 9/10

Returnal Review – Worth a buy for sure.

Nearly two years after its launch, Returnal is finally available on PC, and it definitely holds up on this platform. The game is still an excellent roguelite shooter that is tough yet rewarding, making it a compelling game even for those who may not be into rougelites.

The only real thing to consider is that this game is not for everyone. Its labyrinthine story may be fun to think about, but it would’ve been nice to get more details. Plus, despite how fun it is, this type of game simply isn’t for everyone.

Still, if you haven’t played Returnal yet and are itching for a game that will put up a good challenge and get your adrenaline pumping, this is definitely a good buy. It also helps that the PC version is just as good (if not better in some respects) as the PS5 version.

This review was made with a review code for PC provided by the publisher.