Housemarque details rogue-like sci-fi shooter Returnal’s loop mechanics and combat

Developer Housemarque, known for the celebrated likes of Resogun and Nex Machina, has shared new details of its upcoming PS5-exclusive sci-fi shooter Returnal, this time focussing on the looping structure and combat driving the game’s moody, rogue-like action.

Returnal sees Housemarque moving away from the small but perfectly formed arcade experiences that have earned the studio huge acclaim over the years, and instead opts for something a little more blockbuster in outlook. The end result, which follows space scout protagonist Selene as she attempts to escape a hellish loop of endless resurrection while stranded on a deadly planet at the edge of the galaxy, blends third-person action and platform elements with a strong focus on narrative.

It’s not been entirely clear how Returnal’s rogue-like looping premise would work in practice based on previous showings of the game, but now, writing in a PlayStation Blog post, Housemarque has explained that Selene will be sent back to the start of the time loop on every death – moments before crashing down onto the planet – at which point she’ll lose most abilities and items collected on the previous cycle.

Some elements will persist, however, ensuring there’s always a sense of progress, including a strange alien device known as the Cthonos. This mysterious artifact constantly tracks your progress and permanently adds a new item to your loot pool whenever you cross a specific threshold. Items revealed so far include the smartbomb-like Dismantler and the Kinetic Siphon, which restores Health through melee kills.

As for combat, Housemarque previously promised Returnal’s shooting action would feature “volleys of bullet-hell projectiles along the way”, and it’s now gone into more detail regarding what it calls the game’s “fast and frenetic combat and intense gunplay”.

Selene has access to a mix of her own weapons and others she’s found along the way – although she’s only able to hold one at at time – and these all begin as familiar weapon archetypes which are slowly augmented by unlocking and applying various type-specific Weapon Trait modifiers.

The living Spitmaw Blaster, for instance, is a shotgun-style weapon that can be expanded to use exploding shells or shots that generate acid pools on impact. The Electropylon Driver, meanwhile, can be improved to extract extra loot from enemies or generate shields. Housemarque notes that traits are stackable, leading to “many surprising results that can have unique advantages and playstyles to explore.”

To give you some idea of the variety promised, Returnal is said to have 10 base weapon variants, over 90 three-level Weapon Traits, and 10 alt-fires. The latter are randomly assigned to a weapon from a diverse pool “ranging from the electrical impulses of the Shockstream to the tentacles of the Tendrilpod”.

Housemarque has also teased a particularly risky item, known as Parasites, that can found while exploring the planet of Atropos. These have both positive and negative effects on players, meaning you’ll want to think carefully before adding them to your arsenal. You might, for instance, find a Parasite that will regenerate your health when it’s low, but it’ll also cause enemies to leave behind a pool of acid upon death.

You can see a range of Returnal’s items and weapons in action as part of Housemarque’s newest trailer, and the developer says to expect more news, including details of the game’s various modes, in the run-up to its 19th March release on PlayStation 5.