Sony’s latest first-party game is Roguelike bullet hell that’s both satisfying, frustrating, addicting, and a dream to control on the DualShock 5’s adaptive triggers.

With Hades taking home the best game awards this year, it’s clear the Roguelikes and Rogue-lites are here to stay. For those unfamiliar with the Roguelike genre, these games involve going through levels while gaining powers at a rapid pace. The catch is if you die you lose everything and have to start over at the start of the level.

Rogue-lites take this concept and apply it to various other subgenres to make it more interesting. Returnal takes elements of Rogue-lite and mixes them with another sub-genre called “bullet hell,” something Finnish games studio Housemarque is very good at.

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  • Developer: Housemarque
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Price: ₹ 4,999 on PlayStation 5

Returnal’s setup plays out like Tom Cruise’s setup Edge of tomorrow, and if you have watched Love death + robots ‘Beyond the Aquila Rift’ episode, it’s going to echo here. You play as an astronaut named Selene who is stuck on the planet Atropos. You relive the moment when his spaceship crashed in a loop. There are two characters in the game – Selene and the ever-evolving Atropos.

If you’ve seen the first one Extraterrestrial movie or Prometheus by Ridley Scott, Atropos seems to have jumped off the planet where they discovered the Derelict. Replacing HR Gieger’s organic art with some pretty generic architecture, the vibe is still there, as every area is shrouded in a thick haze, with all manner of creatures. This game is a study of great environmental storytelling.

Screenshot of the video game “Returnal” | Photo credit: Housemarque

Fight the fight

From a gameplay perspective, Returnal is a cross between Control, Contra, and Hades. Being bullet hell game, you dodge various models of orbs and shiny fireballs shot by various aliens as you take various bullet trajectories to kill enemies in a fun way. It’s the same here, except the game has plenty of customization options to help keep things fresh.

In every race you need to equip Parasites (creatures that perform both functions and malfunctions), so it’s up to you to assess the risks. The objective is to cycle through the levels, which are familiar areas laid out differently each time, with certain objectives in mind.

Screenshot of the video game 'Returnal'

Screenshot of the video game “Returnal” | Photo credit: Housemarque

If you die, you repeat the level from the starting point of your ship with nothing. You can keep some abilities permanent, half the fun is finding the perfect build for each session. Returnal, in that sense, literally makes you play it safe even in bullet hell.

A dream for the PS5

It can seem frustrating and sometimes it is, especially when you think you are in a good position and the boss is simply blowing you up. However, what will keep you coming back is the quick and responsive fire and dodge mechanics. The DualShock 5’s adaptive triggers seal the deal here, and after that I can’t go back to a normal controller.

Each weapon is tactile and the left trigger has a dual aim and fire mode; holding down gives you a tactile click and it switches to a powerful Alt-Fire. A touch of feather will go into aiming mode, which takes some getting used to but always keeps me coming back.

Read more | PlayStation 5 review: let the next-gen gaming begin

Being a next-gen PlayStation 5 exclusive, Returnal looks stunning, even playing at 60fps in 4K. Dark levels and bio-luminscent creatures look great, but deadly falls are hard to tell apart, resulting in embarrassing deaths.

Returnal, which makes you want a PS5 even more, is a clever mix of genres that go well together. While this can be a frustrating endeavor at times, the rinse-repeat structure does not become obsolete.

The writer is a tech and gaming enthusiast who hopes to one day finish his sci-fi novel