Shoot-'em-up specialist Housemarque will enter new territory with its upcoming third-person roguelike (and PS5 exclusive) Returnal, and the studio's not only been working on the game for several years, it's been waiting to make something like it for even longer.
As we covered in our Big in 2021 deep-dive on Returnal, we recently spoke to narrative director Gregory Louden and game director Harry Krueger about Housemarque's goals with Returnal. Louden explained that, despite its relatively fresh announcement, Returnal has been in active development and testing for years – yet even after all this time, he and other Housemarque staff are still surprised by their own creation.
"It still surprises me after years of playing how it plays out with every cycle and the surprises we have set up," Louden says. "Returnal's dark sci-fi time loop setup is so exciting narratively for us because the premise of Selene, our deep space scout repeating the crash, allows us to add lots of hidden layers narratively that are uncovered through repetition. The cyclical nature of the narrative design means the more you push forward, the more you discover Selene. What does the cycle do to someone? What is the planet's history? Why are things beyond Selene's comprehension appearing here? To me great stories are loops and are about revisiting and progress for characters. Our premise allows us to explore this from the start."
Touching on the origins of Returnal, Krueger added: "At Housemarque we’ve always been drawn to dark sci-fi and horror themes, and it feels like we’ve always been waiting for an opportunity like this to let those sensibilities shine."
Overall, the two describe Returnal as a work of cosmic horror that was explicitly designed to be replayed over and over again, and Louden stresses that its layered narrative ensures that it's "definitely not your usual sci-fi game." Returnal remains one of the most interesting upcoming PS5 games, in no small part because Housemarque is now adapting its trademark bullet hell gunplay to third-person action, and we're excited to see how it balances what Krueger describes as a "dark world, bright gameplay aesthetic."
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