Lightyears of Anguish
Returnal is a fresh and exciting new IP added to Sony’s expanding collection of exclusive games. Furthermore, this intriguing and unique gameplay experience is specific to the PS5. As such this beautiful game really comes to life with super-fast load speeds and gorgeous visuals complemented by stunning lighting. Truly a spectacle to behold, that is, in the moments where you’re able to appreciate it, and not dodging for your life!
This one-of-a-kind mashup of FPS, Roguelike, and Bullet Hell gameplay offers an exciting but, ultimately, challenging platinum journey. The long path to the platinum, at least for me at launch, was long, brutal, and laced with bugs.
Returnal Platinum Review
One of the first things I noticed from Returnal was how this is the best use of haptic feedback since Astro’s Playroom. As Selene picked herself up from the ground at the start of the game, I could feel every single raindrop that hit her suit.
When Selene looked down at her wrist-mounted touch-screen interface and wiped the raindrops from its surface, I could feel her do it. Across the right side of the controller, as if she’d brushed my hand. I was blown away.
As I continue, I feel every footstep and every raindrop simultaneously, as though the two sensations have no bearing on each other at all. As though the controller has dedicated foot-step rumble motors and completely separate raindrop ones. As I move across the terrain and am momentarily sheltered by the rain here and there, I feel it in my hands.
Equally, when using the handgun for the first time. I felt every shot. I could also distinctly feel the mid-point on , which indicates a switch of firing modes once that ability is available, as the trigger pushed back against me to let me know where it was.
My first cycle went pretty much exactly as expected. It appears as though the first cycle is always the same–with the same layout–despite the procedurally randomized mechanics of the game. So, everything that happened was exactly as it did in the gameplay trailer footage I had seen.
I even died in the same place, against a large red-colored monster with far too much health and an incredible amount of speed. It felt like the right place to die, to be fair.
I collected a bronze trophy for experiencing my first cycle restart, and then woke up back in my ship. The real game had begun.
My second cycle was a total and near-immediate failure.
I was drawn to some enticing items underwater and so, obviously, dove right in. However–as I would later learn–I need special equipment to go underwater. I took a huge hit, and that tiny amount of remaining health didn’t last me long.
My third cycle went much better. I collected a few trophies for discovering and experiencing new things and survived about two hours. I managed to experience the first “House Sequence” (events taking place in a mysterious 20th-century house, completely out-of-place in this alien jungle) and I even reached the first boss.
That was, unfortunately, as far as my skills would take me. The boss had an insane amount of health, and it took everything I had to reduce just one of its three health bars to zero. I would need to be better prepared next time…
One of the best things I acquired during that first run was a melee weapon. This permanent equipment stays on my person even when I die. With it, I can access areas and resources I wouldn’t have been able to on previous cycles. This way, my subsequent runs are a little quicker as I have easier access to better resources.
That’s about as much progression as you get in Returnal. You can unlock certain items so that they can be found later, but essentially everything you collect is lost when you die. The exceptions are a handful of permanent pieces of equipment–such as the aforementioned sword–and story progress. Given that Selene actually experiences and remembers all of these Groundhog-Day-style resets, the game is able to have a linear story despite its looping and repetitive gameplay.
It was a while before I faced the first boss again, but once I did, the boss managed to out-survive me with just a small slither of health remaining. On my third attempt at the boss, the stars had aligned; I had a powerful weapon, full health, and an Astronaut Figurine (these allow you to respawn upon death and keep the fight going).
That was it. The first area cleared. The first boss defeated. I’d made real, permanent progress. Onward I went, to the Crimson Wastes.
My foray into the Crimson Wastes went about as well as I could have hoped. I died. Pretty quickly.
Fortunately, though, now that I had the Crimson Key, I would be able to head straight into the Crimson Wastes if I just find the gateway when i start a new cycle. The only problem is that everything in there is hella tough, so I would still need to spend a long time preparing for the worst before heading in.
My next cycle lasted hours. I cleaned out the first region of resources, headed back into the Crimson Waste, mopped up all the resources there, beat the boss on my first try, and even made it a good long way into the third region before I, unfortunately, lost my life once again.
Getting sent back to the start this time didn’t feel so punishing. With another permanent tool in my arsenal, I would be able to traverse quicker, reach more resources, and make a lot more progress towards a 100% survey trophy for the first area (I would later discover that 100% was not possible).
The next 6 hours of gameplay were fruitless. I just couldn’t make it through the third area to the third boss. I tried and tried, repeatedly making my way through the Overgrown Ruins to reach the Derelict Citadel, just to have a rough time. It felt like my luck was really stacked against me.
When I finally managed to reach the third boss, I was battered and bruised. I had already used an Astronaut Figurine just to get there, and my health was at half. I managed to deplete the boss’ first health bar, but then it entered its second phase, and I wasn’t prepared at all. I went down like a sack of spuds with nothing to show for my efforts.
I called it quits. I’d spent 14 hours back-to-back to reach that third boss. I was impatient, and I was rushing each run because of it. I’d become very sloppy, so I thought a break would do me good.
The Second Day
I came back to the game refreshed. Not that it did me any good.
Still, I struggled. In about 20 cycles, I had only reached that third boss twice. Each time, I came so close to defeating it only to fall at the last hurdle. I took a small break and cleared my head, stretched my aching body, and waited for the adrenaline to leave my system so my hands would be steady again.
This must have worked, as my next run went very well. I seemed to find every piece of gear I could hope for, and after about an hour and a half, I was triumphant. Third boss down. Here, I picked up my trophy for clearing Act 1, and then everything changed…
Some very unexpected events transpired (which I won’t spoil for you, but they’re very cool), resulting in a change to the first area, and indeed the second. They’d become the fourth and fifth areas now, and dying now would not send me back to the start of the game. This fourth region was my new home for a while.
I would now start each cycle at Weapon Proficiency level 15 (meaning my guns are stronger by default), and I had a newfound motivation. I did it. I surpassed the third boss despite my impatience and poor reflexes. The hours I spent practicing were not in vain.
Moments later… I died again. And again. And… Again.
For the life of me, I couldn’t reach the damn boss. I just kept being repeatedly knocked down by powerful minibosses, known as “Malformed Hostiles”.
I cleared my head once again and played much more carefully when I returned. The stars aligned in my favor once again. I was finding the best gear and weapons I could hope for. At a certain point I began to feel invincible, and it really showed. I demolished the enemies in the fourth area, including the fourth boss (on my first attempt).
I even kept things going after that. I blasted through the fifth area, making a mockery of the enemies and tanking everything with my ridiculous 250% health bar. I had something to heal me when my health was low, something to heal me when I shot enemies, a gun that had a chance of healing me with each shot… It was the perfect setup, and it carried me about 50% through the sixth and final area too.
That is until I came across one mean bastard of an enemy; “Typhonops.” Armed with missiles that could stick me with malfunctions (randomized debuffs with difficult removal conditions), lightning-fast speed, and a lot of health, I didn’t stand a chance.
Time for another break. I would pick things up again the next day.
The Third Day
My first run on the third day went on for several hours. Once again, I was slow, patient, and greedy. I collected everything I could and built up a good set of equipment. Enough to reach the Malformed Typhonops miniboss that had killed me the day before… And get killed by it again.
Luckily I had spent some Ether (a permanent but rare currency that stays on you when you die) for a revive at a nearby Reconstructor and was brought back there with full health. Even more fortunate is the fact that minibosses don’t heal if you leave the fight, so I could finally get rid of that pest and reach the next objective; more permanent progress and another permanent tool!
Which is just as well because it wasn’t long until I died again. There’s more than one Typhonops. Two, in fact. And I managed to find them pretty much back-to-back. As I was limping away from one fight, desperately searching for health items, I heard a screech from behind me, and there it was—Claw in the air and a barrage of malfunction-applying projectiles on their way.
I couldn’t help but begin to wonder… Am I even capable of completing the sixth area? I had spent almost a full day trying to reach the boss at this point, but those Typhonops just would not let me past…
Again and again and again, I tried, descending into the depths of the sixth area, failing each time. Each time I went down there I had better gear than the last, but it was never enough.
I even tried running away whenever I saw one of those tentacled giants, but they would chase me no matter where I went. Every time I went in, they got the better of me. Every time I ran the gauntlet, I failed to reach the boss.
The only fact keeping me going is that I kept getting closer and closer to the boss. Each multi-hour run felt worth it in some way. Even though I didn’t have any permanent progression to justify my hard work, I felt like somehow I was getting better at the game. Even after 25+ hours of gameplay at this point, I was still improving.
That being said, the biggest change was that I just wouldn’t take any risks anymore. If it had a slight chance of giving me a malfunction, debuff, or mild inconvenience, I avoided it.
Despite all that, despite everything I would do to survive, luck was ever-so-rarely on my side. In fact, I got so unlucky that during a perfect (and I mean perfect) run, when I finally got close to the boss… I was hit with a completely unpredictable bug. Selene went deaf. I couldn’t hear anything. Suddenly the hard work the developers put into the 3D audio was completely wasted, I could no longer use it to determine the hazards surrounding me and had to play completely deaf.
Needless to say, I died. It took me about 4 hours of dying and retrying to reach that point again and you know what happened? The audio cut out. Yes… Again.
This time, though, it appeared fortune had truly favored me. I had an absolute beast of a weapon, capable of shredding the dreaded minibosses in mere moments. Couple that with all the damage upgrades I’d acquired along the way, and I was a force to be reckoned with.
Through sheer force of will, I finally reached the boss (still deaf) and defeated it without even using my Astronaut Figurine. The last boss. Dead on my first try. I was elated! And to have done it all while still marred by my inability to hear anything… Well, I was damn pleased to say the least.
I enjoyed the final cutscene (with subtitles on because the audio still wasn’t cutting back in) and then I let the credits scroll as I basked in my achievement.
The game wasn’t done, nor was my platinum journey, far from it in fact. However, knowing that I’d never need to worry about facing bosses again (or, at least, believing that) was such a great feeling. I could just focus on getting the Survey trophies and the 6 Sunface Fragments (one from each area) needed for the final House Sequence and the end of Act 3.
My elation soon wore off when I realized that my trophy for beating the fourth boss never unlocked. I would need to beat it again.
Well, as much as it sucks, I’m just glad the bug occurred on a fairly easy boss and not one of the more difficult ones. Besides, nothing was going to break my good mood after finally overcoming the odds and beating the sixth area.
The next cycle went very well as I took my newfound confidence all the way to the fourth boss (collecting my first Sunface Fragment along the way) and swiftly gave the boss the ass-kicking it deserved for withholding my trophy the last time I beat it.
Happy with my accomplishments, I made my way to the fifth area where I met my untimely end without a Sunface Fragment.
There’s not much more to say about my next few cycles. There were no bosses to defeat, no particular objective. I just had to survive in each area until I found the Sunface Fragment there and could take my leave.
The Last Day?
I spent the next day collecting the Fragments. This took longer than I’d hoped it would but I actually started to feel like I finally had the game figured out. I was really flying through the regions, making short work of every enemy I faced.
Armed with extensive knowledge of the game, its enemies, the projectiles, and what gear is worth using, I started to have an effortless time. I even beat the second and third bosses again just for the hell of it. Laughing at how easy it was now, despite the trouble they’d given me before.
Armed with my six Sunface Fragments, I experienced the last House Sequence, collected the relevant trophy, and headed off to find a hidden area from where I could use a newly-acquired key to get the game’s secret and final ending.
The one little snag here was that I’d have to beat the final boss one more time to reach it. This was no longer a daunting idea. In fact, I had spent so long in that final area by now that I had no trouble with the Typhonops anymore and I blasted through the region–and the boss–in no time at all.
All I would need to do now is collect a couple of misc trophies I still needed, and get 100% Survey data for all 6 regions. How Naive of me to think that…
Plat Get Denied
It wasn’t long before the game’s day-one bugs caught up with me. I realised that there was one Scout Log collectible in the first region that I wouldn’t be able to acquire. After wasting hours and hours doing run after run looking for Scout Log 009, I decided to give Google a try.
As I suspected, I wasn’t alone. Many others, too, were unable to find this Scout Log and it was looking like the only way to get it would be to completely reset my progress and start from scratch.
I started playing more casually from then on. I was still working towards the other trophies, but I’d given up on my race to unlock the platinum quickly. If a full replay of the game would be required then any attempt to be quick about it was futile. I collated my findings into a Returnal Trophy Guide and then spent the next few days playing in quick 2-4 hour bursts until I had every other trophy.
I was waiting for a big patch the developers had planned. Hoping it would fix the Scout Log so that I wouldn’t need to do another full playthrough. When it finally came through and I played on the anticipated v1.3.3, something happened to force my hand into playing the whole game from scratch…
With my save file corrupted, I had no choice. I buckled in and went to work.
My second playthrough blew my own mind. Something which had taken me about 30 hours to achieve previously I had no achieved in just two runs across 4 hours. It hadn’t really sunk in just how much I’d grown accustomed to the game. I breezed through bosses and enemies which had given me such a hard time in my first run and managed to do it all with only one single death.
After beating the final boss again, I had the tools and equipment I needed to fully Survey the Overgrown Ruins finally and collect my Platinum after just an hour of collectible farming. Plus, I’d already collected Scout Log 9 within the first 30 minutes of my run.
It was finally over. And I honestly loved it. Hardships and all, this game is incredible.
Returnal Trophy Guide
If the cautionary tale present in this review hasn’t put you off getting the platinum for yourself, our Returnal Trophy Guide is the ultimate guide to collecting the platinum trophy, and may even help you cope with and/or avoid some of the bugs marring this title’s reputation.
Looking for Scout Log 9 or Scout Log 10? Check out this guide for finding them.
If you enjoyed reading this review, please do let us know, it means the world to us when we hear feedback, and we love engaging with people over the game we just completed!
You can follow us on Twitter @GetPlat and Instagram @platget, where we’ll be sharing updates, screenshots, upcoming reviews, and general gripes about the games we’re working on, so feel free to follow us or use it as another channel for feedback!