Returnal for PC untethers the game from its PS5 exclusive constraints, unlocking better controls with keyboard and mouse, higher frame rates and flexible resolution options including super ultrawide 32:9, and bumps up the visual quality to an even higher standard. PS5 owners might have been first to play this mysterious bullet hell roguelike, but PC players get to enjoy it in its definitive state.
Returnal PC vs. PS5
Returnal is one of those shooters that benefits enormously from PC performance and peripherals. The more frames you can get, the smoother the experience, and the more fluid and responsive movement and aiming become. Though a DualSense controller is supported, it’d be foolish to forgo the accuracy and versatility of a keyboard and mouse.
Playing Returnal on PS5 with the DualSense was immersive, sure, but I found myself forced to use weapons with homing properties, so as to alleviate some of the frustration that comes with using analog sticks to aim. On PC, every weapon feels lethal thanks to the mouse.
While most players will opt for lower visual quality to keep the frame rates as high as possible, those with higher-end systems can use their investment to make Returnal look sublime. The alien environments come alive with the generous number of graphics options all cranked to the max, and Returnal quickly cements itself as one of the best-looking games out there.
Most environments are darker which contrasts brilliantly with the neon-lit attacks. Newcomers may find it tough to track and dodge enemy bullets with the sheer number of particles on screen but, as is the case for most bullet hell games, experience over time will make encounters easier to read and less overwhelming. Just get used to dying a lot, as this game leans heavily into trial and error.
Smooth, except for when it isn’t
Aiding low to mid-tier hardware are the many upscaling options. The developer has confirmed that DLSS 3.0 and FSR 2 are on their way in a future update, but players can already make use of smart upscaling to gain additional performance. This is a huge benefit to those holding off upgrading their PC and trying to get a couple more years out of their current specs.
Following a patch deployed close to the game’s launch, performance has been smooth 99% of the time for my 3700X/3070/32 GB rig. This is largely due to the exceptional graphics options menu, which overlays the gameplay and immediately showcases changes. This pairs with the superb benchmarking run to make honing in on perfect settings as simple as possible.
The other 1% of the time, performance suffers from occasional hitches when moving between areas. This is also present on the PS5 version and, after a few hours, you do get used to it. It normally isn’t an issue, as I’m rarely in combat when moving quickly between rooms, but on the rare occasion where it does hiccup during a fight, it can be very frustrating. Avoiding hits is a huge part of Returnal’s gameplay as it impacts both weapon enhancements and maximum health, so any performance problems become extremely noticeable.
Once keyboard and mouse controls are configured and graphics settings are fine-tuned, the planet of Atropos awaits players. There are mysteries to be discovered around every corner and it’s this curiosity for story progression, while getting more powerful gear, that will keep players engaged with this roguelike. Not only are there alien enemies, but the environments themselves have their own unexpected characteristics, alongside pickups that can be either a help or a hindrance.
This roguelike demands trial and error not just through its challenging combat, but also in the items players pick up. It’s easy to accidentally nerf yourself for the next few encounters, making for an extra layer of danger when deciding which alien artifacts to equip or to outright avoid.
There’s a surprising amount of story to absorb in Returnal, though much of it is open to interpretation through the symbols and hints laced throughout the game. Even the main character, Selene, is shrouded in mystery and not entirely trustworthy as a narrator. This horror show quickly turns into a psychological thriller and I found the downtime between fights, where you learn that little more about what’s going on, very compelling.
However, for those who just want to shoot things, perhaps with a buddy, the Tower of Sisyphus mode is the place to let loose. This is where the Returnal’s longevity lies. It cuts out the story and replaces it with endless waves of enemies and the upgrades needed to help deal with them.
Thanks to a recent patch that fixed the majority of performance issues that I was having, I can happily call Returnal on PC the “definitive version.” It has the looks, the performance, and the best controls, ready to reward those who waited for the PS5’s timed-exclusivity period to end with a compelling, mysterious story and top-tier bullet hell gameplay.