Returnal review [PC] | Housemarque’s masterpiece belongs on PC

I never got around to playing Returnal when it launched on the PS5. It’s something I had always wanted to try, but there are far more games out there than there is time to meaningfully dedicate to each one. When you combine the mysterious marketing campaign, along with the fact nobody could actually get a PS5 in April 2021, the game might have missed out on the recognition it deserved at the time.

But now, almost two years later, I’ve started playing Returnal’s PC version and have had a blast. Combining fast-paced shooter gameplay with interesting lore and intricate boss designs is the right formula for a well-structured roguelike. And Housemarque understands this. The more I played, the more invested I felt in Seline’s story and the increasingly difficult biomes she is thrown into.

Now, after playing around 15 hours of Returnal’s PC port, I’ve realised that this game was meant for this platform.

Credit: Housemarque

I’ve tried the game with both a DualSense and a keyboard and mouse setup, and as much as Sony brags about the extra capabilities of its gamepad, I vastly prefer aiming with a mouse. The game’s buttery smooth controls and fast-paced combat makes using the mouse a must, allowing you to quickly defeat enemies with higher precision than you would with a thumbstick. Sorry to the controller purists out there, but I simply can’t play a shooter with a gamepad.

Of course, that’s not to say the DualSense features are bad. From what I played with it, the combat feels pretty incredible when using a controller. Every enemy encounter brings with it nudges and rumbling cues through your fingertips thanks to the controller’s advanced haptic feedback. Similarly, the trigger effects that occur when shooting are equally immersive and enrich the shooting experience.

This is also backed up by the game’s pick-up-and-play attitude. After a long day at work, I don’t wish to spend another few hours at my desk playing through a big RPG or simulation game. Spending 80% of your waking hours sat at a desk is unhealthy. But once you’ve cleared a biome in Returnal a few times, you can play in short 20-minute satisfying chunks that are much easier to digest.

Credit: Housemarque

And of course, Returnal now being on PC means I can explore the game’s beautiful and twisted alien worlds in greater detail through its native ultrawide support. There’s an uncompromising sense of immersion that comes with the sensation of moving through these spaces while being able to see more of what’s happening on the screen. When the action picks up, it’s also useful in being able to see all the enemies surrounding you, allowing you to take the right precautions.

There was some fear that the high system requirements for Returnal would result in an uneasy port. Asking for 16GB of RAM and a GTX 1060 (or equivalent) as a base minimum is certainly on the higher side. My PC meets these specs and was able to run the game perfectly fine at 1080p 60fps with the highest graphics settings.

At 4K and in ultrawide, there was the occasional stutter but nothing to be too concerned about. It usually happened when loading a new area rather than during combat. Finally, we also tested the game on Steam Deck, and sadly have to report back that this is a poor way to experience the game. If you’re getting Returnal, you might just want to double check your PC’s specs.

I’m very glad I’m only just now getting into Returnal. Similar to other PlayStation games that have since been ported to PC, like Spider-Man and God of War, you’re getting a more complete experience with all the bug fixes and additional content that has been patched in since the original release.

Credit: Housemarque

Returnal is quite substantial in this regard, in that many big problems for players at launch were addressed in later patches. Update 2.0 introduced a Photo Mode and the ability to suspend your cycle, allowing you to pick up your current run at a later date. Beforehand, you weren’t able to do this, meaning you had to fit an entire run in your play session. You couldn’t quit and come back later, and if you wanted to play something else you were tough out of luck. In 2021, Inverse said the 2.0 update made it a “serious GOTY contender”, and I agree. It’s fantastic that PC players haven’t had to worry about this at all.

Similarly, Returnal’s later 3.0 update brought with it a co-op mode as well as a new endless “Tower of Sisyphus” mode, true to Housemarque’s arcade roots. It’s more padding on an already complete title, but additions that nonetheless enhance the experience for players who beat the story mode.

I’ve raved about how amazing it is that we can play PlayStation exclusives on PC before, and with Returnal I feel that this is the very encapsulation of Sony’s goal. Returnal is a chaotic delight to play, and fits perfectly with the setup and mindset of a PC gamer. I’m already looking forward to trying my next run.


For our Returnal review, a PC code was supplied to GameByte by Sony PR.

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