Welcome to our Gameluster Top 10 of 2021! After our deliberations on the Game Busters Podcast, we’ve settled on an unranked list of the top 10 best games of the year. Each of these will be a short write-up on why our team is so passionate about these games, so stay tuned!
I'm convinced it takes a particular sort of nerd to truly enjoy the curlicues and inherent puzzles of a "time loop" scenario. Gamers of a certain age are perhaps better conditioned for this sort of thing, the result of endless hours of getting 1-Up mushrooms in Super Mario Brothers. For everybody else, it's simpler: either they keep trying until they complete the task or they give up in frustration, misquoting "the definition of insanity" as they stomp off in a sulk. When it's done well (Majora's Mask, Steins;Gate), time loop stories give players a chance to explore while also setting specific milestones which have to be completed. Unlike 12 Minutes, Housemarque gave us a time loop story done well with Returnal.
Taking on the role of interstellar scout Selene Vassos, players must explore the forbidden planet of Atropos, scavenging alien weapons and technology, confronting hostile wildlife and equally hostile sophonts, and attempting to unravel the mystery of why Selene is even on the planet in the first place. Housemarque's previous work in twitch shooter Resogun is definitely present here, as players need to have fast reflexes and deft timing to take out their opponents. Some have compared Returnal to the Soulsborne games for the demanding challenge and oppressive atmosphere, but to my mind, it's a close cousin to the original Metroid in terms of gameplay and visual style. And like Metroid, you're in for some surprises throughout Returnal, all the way to the end.
Perfection, in any game, is impossible. Returnal is no exception, certainly when it first came out. Trying to get a "perfect run" while also collecting various artifacts, lore chunks, and unlocking Selene's memories requires patience bordering on masochism. Particularly when you consider that you couldn't leave the game in the middle of a run until fairly recently. And there's just so much ground to cover, you're not going to be moving quickly by any stretch of the imagination, whether it's traversing large stretches of road or getting lost in the wonder of alien ruins. For a game that isn't perfect, Returnal comes closer than most, and a lot of that comes down to the intricate environments, the easy-to-pick-up mechanics, and the adrenaline-fueled boss fights. Housemarque tapped into the unique curiosity inspired by roguelikes while also giving players enough familiarity within sections of the environment to feel confident they're going in the right direction. Perversely, they also mess with your head a little bit by making arrangements which are similar to previous instances, but just different enough to throw your expectations off.
As one of the first games on the PS5, it's understandable people may not have heard of Returnal, and haven't had the chance to experience it. Hopefully, Housemarque can convince Sony to put it out for PC and bring one of the first games of the new generation to a much larger audience