Roguelikes have been getting a ton of love lately. One of the biggest games of 2020 was Hades, Supergiant Games' roguelike inspired by Greek mythology. Hades has already had its day in the sun, but the roguelike genre isn't going anywhere. One game that's still on the way is Returnal, the new IP from Finnish developer Housemarque. This PS5 exclusive has been turning heads for a few months, ever since it was revealed last summer in the heat of Sony and PlayStation's battle for console supremacy. It tells the story of an astronaut trapped on an alien world that seems to reincarnate her whenever she dies for reasons unknown to her.
Returnal's premise is interesting enough. It looks like a fairly frightening take on the sci-fi shooter, filled with grotesque monsters that stand in the astronaut Selene's way. Sony clearly thinks the game has a lot of potential, too, considering how regularly it's made time to advertise Returnal at official PlayStation events. The question on PlayStation fans' minds for now is if Returnal will actually deliver. This game is a major break from Housemarque's most common fare, so there's really nothing on Housemarque's resume to compare it to, and roguelikes are a tricky type of game to get right overall. Returnal could be the deciding factor on whether or not Housemarque becomes a household name in the gaming industry.
Housemarque's main claim to fame is in making shoot 'em ups, especially twin stick shooters in recent history. As far back as the early 1990s, Housemarque has been making these kinds of isometric and multidirectional shooters. Although many of these titles have been warmly received, they haven't made Housemarque particularly famous. These kinds of shooters aren't as popular as they used to be, so they haven't been getting Housemarque the attention it might want.
Housemarque's biggest break from this genre in recent history was Matterfall. This game was a sci-fi shooter, like the majority of Housemarque's projects, but it was a side-scroller instead of a top-down game. Unfortunately, critics weren't huge fans of Matterfall. It must have been disappointing for Housemarque to fail to make an impact when it finally decided to step outside of its comfort zone. However, any disappointment doesn't seem to have been enough to discourage Housemarque from trying new things. Returnal might be even more different from the studio's favorite genres than Matterfall was. That means it's an even better opportunity for Housemarque to show players what it can do.
There's a lot of general interest in Returnal. The more information that Sony and Housemarque reveal about the game, the more intriguing it sounds. It seems like the gameplay is a lot more diverse than initial clips of gunplay implied, with psychological horror segments meant to explore Selene's memories. Balancing all these different kinds of gameplay and connecting them with a compelling story would definitely make Housemarque memorable. It already looks like a graphically impressive game. Fans just want to know if Housemarque can follow up on its chilling setting with plot and characters that keep fans playing.
In the video game industry, ambition is a good quality. It pushes studios to innovate and take risks in order to capture the experience they've envisioned. Still, risks are risks. It's always possible that Returnal turns out to be a little too far outside of Housemarque's comfort zone and becomes trouble for the company. Hopefully this isn't the case. Housemarque is a group with a lot of potential, and it's got a good concept on its hands with Returnal. The PS5 can always use more strong exclusives, too. Making Returnal a success would mean a bright future for this Finnish group, likely working closely with Sony to deliver more projects of the same caliber. If Returnal is everything it's chalked up to be, then there's more great opportunities around the corner.
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