Returnal: The Game You May Not Be Able to Play

Returnal is a Sci-Fi roguelike featuring an alien death loop and enemies reminiscent of the mimics from Live, Die, Repeat. And you might not be able to play it. 

I bought the game during a recent Steam sale, excited for a new roguelike to sink my teeth into. When I pressed play for the first time, a message popped up saying that my computer did not meet the graphics requirements. 

Disappointed that the store page had no information stating that graphics requirements were so necessary, I tried to soldier on and play Returnal anyway. I would soon find out that Returnal’s graphics requirements are a must. I would strongly advise ensuring your computer meets the requirements before buying Returnal, or purchasing it on your console.

An image from the PlayStation website showing the recommended specs for running Returnal.

The Requirements

I am not handy with computers. I’m the kind of person who needs to look up how to find what version of Windows I’m running. If that sounds like you, the graphics requirements for Returnal will make no sense to you.

I tried to look up the graphics requirements to see if I could update my computer in order to play Returnal but was quickly overwhelmed. If you’re not computer savvy, you’ll likely not be able to use the graphics requirements list on the PlayStation site to figure out what your computer needs to play Returnal.

An image from the Benchmark Test

Benchmark Test

When loading up Returnal, you can run a graphics test in-game (called a benchmark test) to see what experience you’ll have if you don’t meet graphics requirements. The option to run this test comes before ever loading into the game while you’re still configuring settings such as brightness. 

Running the benchmark test will then run a preset environment with visuals meant to test your computer’s ability to run Returnal. The test features several sections, with each testing your computer’s ability to handle a certain element of the visuals, such as reflections or the enemies. While the graphics test was shaky at the beginning, after a while it started running much more smoothly with minimal lagging.

Due to the graphics test results, I thought that while my computer lagged in some places, I would be able to endure it and enjoy the game. I was incorrect. Take my advice: when the game says you don’t meet the graphics requirements, you should listen. These graphics requirements are not a suggestion.

The benchmark test also has more information for those more experienced with computers. Once the test concludes, the test will give you a readout of what it discovered. For those more advanced than I, this can be a useful tool to tweak your computer’s performance.

Experience

I started Returnal despite the graphics requirements warnings. Unfortunately, I ran into several issues that you’re likely to experience if you attempt to follow in my footsteps. First, any cinematic lagged terribly, and the audio was often out of sync. This meant that central moments of the game were barely comprehensible.

The next issue I encountered was lagging. Whenever I initially entered a room with an enemy, just like in the graphics test, there was a period of jittery lagging. This wasn’t the worst, as I could usually wait out the enemies until the game stopped lagging. I still continued playing despite periodic lagging.

The next issue that crept into the game was that textures started loading flatly. Many surfaces and items lost their detail. It’s not entirely jarring and doesn’t completely spoil the experience, but it certainly makes some moments less visually stunning. At least, that was the way I thought until I encountered the first boss.

An image of Returnal's first boss.

The First Boss

This moment convinced me to stop playing and go buy Returnal on a console system. By this point, the textures were completely failing, and the game was lagging through each new phase in the boss fight. The bosses’ projectiles, which should have been glowing, pulsing orbs of light, became mostly flat colors with an edge of shadow

The first boss encounter was when I realized: the game was not meant to be played like this. Continuing to play with my graphics settings would turn breathtaking moments into featureless slogs. I felt like I owed it to myself to experience the game the way it was meant to be played.

Returning

I would like to play Returnal one day. Returnal provides interesting twists on the roguelike genre. Returnal offers mechanics that allow you to take items that give you both buffs and debuffs, or take a valuable item but suffer a near permanent debuff. The game also features some options to prolong a run that make the game feel fresh.

Returnal’s story also has promise. With a story mostly told in audio recordings and alien writings you have to decipher, Returnal lures you in with mystery. With the reasons for the death loop being shrouded in mystery, this story is no doubt to have a compelling twist. Whatever it is, I’m eager to see what happens.

Before long, I will get the urge to return and fully experience Returnal on a console that can support it. But until that day, I highly recommend making sure your computer can support Returnal before you buy. 

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