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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
Game is all about resilience, perseverance. Players must possess both as they deal with repeatedly losing progress and restarting.
Positive Role Models
Selene, admirable and courageous astronaut, deals with a nightmarish situation as best she can. She uses violence to protect herself, but it's understandable given how many times she's killed and respawned with memory of her previous deaths.
The protagonist is a white woman who displays courage and independence.
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Ease of Play
Controls should prove simple and intuitive for anyone experienced with third-person shooters, but game itself is very challenging. Players are expected to experience countless deaths -- losing the bulk of their progress each time -- as they slowly work through the story.
Violence & Scariness
Players shoot aliens and mechanical creatures using a variety of sci-fi guns, from pistols to automatic rifles. Enemies screech in pain when hit, and some spurt a fluid that's presumably blood.
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Mild profanity appears infrequently in spoken dialogue, including the word "bastard."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Returnal is a third-person sci-fi shooter with elements of horror available for PlayStation 5 and Windows PCs. Players take on the role of a courageous woman stranded on a hostile alien world. She uses various sci-fi weapons -- a handgun, a shotgun, an automatic rifle -- to shoot and kill alien and mechanical enemies. Aliens screech in pain and sometimes bleed before collapsing and disappearing. It's a difficult game, requiring no small amount of tenacity as players lose progress and loot with every death and are forced to start over again almost from scratch, but it may help teach teens the value of perseverance. Parents should also be aware that this game contains a small amount of mild language.
Is It Any Good?
This fast-paced action adventure isn't for the faint of heart, but it rewards the player's perseverance toward solving what's happening on this mysterious planet. Returnal assumes players understand (or perhaps teaches players the value of) tenacity, and that before you can claim a satisfying victory, you must first fail. A lot. And learn from those failures. The whole premise of the game is to fight to the bitter end, go down with your finger firmly on the trigger, and then wake up and do it all over again -- hopefully a little better. But it's not all doom and gloom. Assuming you make it a little further each time, you'll discover new items and strategies that you'll be able to use going forward, and you'll be rewarded with tantalizing bits of story -- such as alien scripts that must be translated, or a glimpse of Selene's pre-mission life -- that slowly but surely reveal what everything means. These are the dangling carrots that will keep dedicated players going, even after multiple deaths without any progress.
It all hinges on the action, though, which most players will likely either love or hate. The controls are tight and the weapons feel gratifyingly powerful. Developer Housemarque has made admirable use of some of the novel features of Sony's DualSense controller -- which can be used with the PC edition -- including the two-stage trigger for aiming, haptic feedback to quickly convey key information, and the built-in speaker to create a multidimensional soundscape. But the enemies themselves are of the "bullet curtain" variety, which means they emit huge waves of floaty energy balls in complex patterns that players must dodge by running, jumping, and dashing. Judging the depth and distance of these orbs as they approach is challenging at best, frustrating at worst. And since reaction time is vital, maintaining a crisp, high frame rate is key. This isn't a problem when playing on PlayStation 5, but if you try playing on a lower tier gaming PC, the frame rate will likely dip during busy scenes, which makes things even tougher. Even with a steady frame rate, it'll take time and effort to adapt to this style of combat. If you manage to make it through to the other side, though, you'll likely discover the reward to be worth the trouble. Returnal skips the mollycoddling and assumes players can take a bit of punishment, and there are plenty of serious gamers out there bound to take up the challenge.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.