Skip to main content

Returnal: Release Date, Gameplay, Next-Gen Features, and Trailers

Returnal: Release Date, Gameplay, Next-Gen Features, and Trailers
(Image credit: Housemarque)

Housemarque is best known for its shoot ‘em ups, Stardust HD and Resogun. The studio is now stepping outside of arcade-style games and trying its hand at a narrative-driven experience. Announced during PlayStation’s “Future of Gaming” event, the third-person shooter/roguelike Returnal features a strange science fiction universe that defies the laws of physics and possibilities.

Returnal releases in early 2021. We don’t know much about this title, but its trailers hint at a truly unique and trippy experience. It’s a radical, but welcome departure from the norm for Housemarque.

Here’s everything we know about Returnal.

Returnal Release Date

Returnal will be released on PlayStation 5 on March 19, 2021. We don't know if it will get a physical release or be digital-only.

Returnal Story

Playing as an Astra space scout named Selene, the game kicks off when you crash land and die on an unknown planet. You return from the dead and become trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of death and resurrection. Selene’s mental state grows increasingly unstable as the game progresses, forcing her to maintain her sanity while trying to break the death-life-death cycle she’s stuck in. Surviving on the hellish planet will not be easy.

(Image credit: Housemarque)

This is all we know of the story at this time. Considering how the narrative is about uncovering the mystery of the planet, it makes sense that Housemarque doesn’t want to divulge too much information. But based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s clear that Selene’s mental state will be a central gameplay mechanic and narrative device. Is what’s happening on the planet real or figments of her imagination? Discovering the truth will no doubt lead to some unexpected and interesting surprises and twists.

Returnal Gameplay

While different from previous Housemarque projects, Returnal retains many of the studio’s hallmarks. In a post on PlayStation Blog, Housemarque’s Mikael Haveri said: “There will be plenty of Housemarque arcade flourishes present, so prepare to be bombarded by volleys of bullet-hell projectiles along the way.” We see this in trailers featuring bright, colorful explosions. It’s not hard to see the company’s DNA during combat, but Returnal offers much more than shooting.

The resurrection mechanic and ever-changing landscape place Returnal in the roguelike genre. It is unclear what items or abilities transfer across different playthroughs or if players have to start completely from scratch after every death. Roguelikes can be hit or miss with different people. Some love to see how long they can survive a playthrough while others find losing hours of progress to be frustrating. We can also expect the game to contain exploration and platforming. Considering how each death changes the world, you’ll no doubt want to explore each iteration of the shifting landscape. You’ll never know what you’ll find off the beaten path.

Returnal PS5 features

Being a PlayStation 5 exclusive, Returnal makes full use of the console’s unique features. This includes the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback, 3D audio, and the PS5’s lightning-fast SSD.

“Not only can you look forward to getting back into the battle almost instantly with super fast loading times, but we’re using the haptic feedback of the DualSense wireless controller to give players extra awareness of gameplay,” Haveri said. “You’ll be able to feel the natural ambiance of this alien planet as the controller mimics its environmental effects."

(Image credit: Housemarque)

He went on to say that the weapons have alternative firing modes, which can be flicked on and off by using the Adaptive Tiggers. Players can move between aiming down sights and activating the Alt-Fire mode: Squeezing halfway down will aim down the iron sights, squeezing all the way will activate the Alt-Fire attack. 

(Image credit: Housemarque)

Haveri also touts the game’s immersion abilities by way of its audio capabilities. “Players should also be prepared to be haunted by the extremely realistic 3D audio capabilities of PS5 with compatible headphones. In Returnal, we have taken audio immersion to new levels, and the soundscape will add a whole new layer of comprehending the action around you,” he states

Returnal graphics settings

Being a PS5 game, we can expect Returnal to feature 4K resolution and HDR implementation. We’ve seen many games feature resolution and quality modes, with resolution focusing on frames-per-second and quality focusing on high resolution and graphical features. It is unclear if Returnal will have these modes or if it runs at 4K/60fps from the jump. However, we can hope for the latter.