Returnal launched last week to much fanfare, being one of a select few PS5 exclusive titles available since the console launched. Fans of grueling gameplay have lauded the roguelike that packs Housemarque’s signature bullet hell combat into a sci-fi shooter.
Layered with the mystery of why Selene is stuck in her live, die, repeat cycle, Returnal hits the sweet spot of solid, fun gameplay that fuels a fairly loose narrative seeped in mystery and dripping with horror. The challenge comes in running each cycle to get to the boss, hoping that the RNG gods will go easy on you and kit you out with everything you need to get the job done.
If you die, your progress is reset, including the procedurally generated map — with the exception of a few items that carry over. Anyone familiar with the roguelike formula knows the drill, but thanks to a questionable choice by Housemarque when it comes to game saves, a larger conversation is being spurred on in the realms of social media: Should Returnal feature an auto save? And the answer is quite patently “yes.”
In case you haven’t been following the Returnal drama, when you die, your cycle resets. If you suspend the game and turn off your console, your cycle resets. If you switch to another game, your cycle resets. If you leave your game suspended and your console on, or in rest mode, your progress is safe. Unless, of course, an update rolls out in which case, your cycle resets. You can see the problem.
Unless you’re willing to leave your console in rest mode, and have Returnal be the only game actively being played on your PS5 (at least while you’re mid-cycle), your progress is inevitably going to be reset and it’s not going to be because you need to ‘git gud’.
Housemarque has only highlighted the ludicrous situation it’s created with its PSA to players on how to keep their progress intact. The secret? Aside from never turning off your console or closing the game, you can go into your PS5 system settings and disable auto-update for every application on the console. The absolute audacity in thinking that a system-wide inconvenience like this should be so casually implemented because game updates will wipe player progress is truly astonishing.
This line of thinking also dismisses a whole swathe of gamers who don’t have the luxury of dictating who is playing what on their consoles and when. Or households in which rest mode for any appliance is a no-no because of power consumption.
What seems like a glaring misstep has transformed into some warped meta game about who can inconvenience themselves and everyone around them for longest. Your chops as a ‘real gamer’ are no longer determined by in-game proficiency like we saw with the Souls series. We’ve shot past that toxic cesspool into a fresh hell of determining who can keep their game suspended longest, avoid powering down their console, and refrain from enjoying any other title except Housemarque’s shooter.
Adding an auto save, or save and quit option would nip all of those problems in the bud without taking anything away from the gameplay or the kernel of the developer’s vision. This kind of basic functionality can be seen in games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance, or Binding of Isaac.
There should be no situation in which a dev’s creative control over a game extends beyond the product they’re delivering and into what’s transpiring in my living room. For the proportion of you clamoring that this is a valid form of game design, think about how absolutely ridiculous what you’re saying is.
If you think a developer should be indulged in being so precious about their game that they’re encroaching onto their customers’ lifestyles, and into areas that their player base can’t necessarily even control, that’s a massive issue.
So really my options are “only play Returnal”, which I can’t do, or “not play Returnal”, which then is the only available option.If you can play Returnal, god can I recommend it. If you’re like me, the only option is waiting for a lull in games or waiting for a save function.May 2, 2021
Game dev Rami Ismail summed up the situation on Twitter, saying that the lack of auto save means that his options are “‘only play Returnal’, which I can’t do, or ‘not play Returnal’, which then is the only available option.” This is going to be the case for a vast number of gamers, who are likewise “waiting for a lull in games or waiting for a save function.”
Ultimately, the lack of an auto save is a huge barrier to entry that serves no purpose whatsoever other than to be used as a badge of honor for having no other games to play, and no one to share your console with. So congrats!
How this is a reflection of skill, or how it ties into Housemarque’s creative vision is something that’s being bandied about on Twitter still. But I suspect this is from a younger crowd who think ‘loyalty’ to console manufacturers or game devs is actually a thing. For the rest of us who have bagged a PS5, having a game make itself unplayable like this is unfathomable.
Returnal truly is a great game, serving up a hot slice of next-gen goodness. But the conceit in thinking your game mechanics should overreach like this is a problem, and one that Housemarque should address in its next update — provided that it doesn’t crash your game and (you guessed it!) reset your cycle.