The PS5 exclusive Returnal has arrived, and it's a banger. Sort of. Our Returnal review - which explains how Housemarque built a game on both euphoric highs and confounding lows - is difficult in a rather unique way: you might find you can progress, at least through the first few hours, with relative ease. But a death sends you back a long way, and given the way some things are decided by pure luck, sometimes it can be really quite easy to die.
It's also not the most forthcoming game, in terms of how it explains itself, and so with all this in mind we've put together a few quick and easy Returnal tips for you, that should hopefully get you off to a smooth start on what is undoubtedly going to be a bumpy ride - one with some desperate lows and almighty highs.
Use your consumables
There are a lot of item types in Returnal, if you actually sit down and list them. We won't do that, but what we will say is, seriously, use your consumables. Early on you'll only have one slot, then just two, and eventually three, but even then you'll still have the option to pick up a deluge of consumables if you go for a comprehensive run through a biome. It's smart to save certain ones for bosses (more on that in just a second), but generally, put them to use. This isn't like your fantasy game potion horde where you can just cram a hundred of them into storage and get away with it.
And it's not just the ones that let you restore health that can be useful; an Alt-Fire (basically your super) cooldown being instantly reset by a consumable can keep you alive in a clutch moment, as can weird electro-shocky jumping shoes when enemies get close. Don't let them go to waste!
Voidbeams, barrier consumables, and a tiny astronaut are best for bosses
Weapons in Returnal all come with an 'Alt-Fire' capability, which is a single shot that goes onto a many-second cooldown after use. Some are good for crowd control, and most are pretty versatile. One of them in particular is great for bosses and mini-bosses alike: Voidbeam. It's a continuous beam that deals gradually increasing damage to an enemy the longer you keep it focused on that one foe. It's a boss-melter, especially if you hit a weak spot (these are somewhat hard to pick out in the carnage of a boss fight but they're normally glowing red in some way). Spam it!
The other things we found very useful for bosses are the barrier consumable (the symbol looks like an on orange oval shape with horizontal lines through it), which places a static barrier for you to stand behind that blocks all enemy projectiles, while amping up the damage of yours that you shoot through it. Against more static bosses it's incredibly powerful, especially if you're prone to getting flustered or failing to dodge.
Red tentacle vines can be used to help you get to out-of-reach platforms
Early on, you'll notice quite a few platforms in Returnal's first biome that are purposefully out of reach, normally with an orange glowy bit on them suggesting some kind of future skill could help you out. Some of them are genuinely unreachable, but some of them you can actually get to in the early game with the use of the red vines you see around the place.
Go near one and it'll grab you, gradually pulling you up into the air. But crucially this doesn't do any damage to you, so it won't reset your adrenaline or chip away any health - and more crucially still, the way you escape the vines is with a dash. So, when the coast is clear, deliberately get yourself caught by a vine, wait for it to pull you up to a suitable height, and dash out of it towards the otherwise unobtainable ledge, and normally there'll be some goodies like pickups, obolites or a chest waiting for you up top.
Closed grates always have a way to be opened nearby
Throughout most of Returnal you'll notice closed, barred grates that look like a kind of portcullis, usually with a chest or other goodie behind them. The method for opening them is hinted at during the pseudo-tutorial phase of the game but it's easy to miss or forget. You open them by shooting a nearby yellow light, which will usually be hiding somewhere partially obscured or out of sight, but always close by.
Look around, closely, and you'll always be able to find one. Shoot it and the light turns from yellow to red, and the grate will open, letting you at whatever's inside.
It's good to explore in new areas, but not everything in Returnal is essential
Generally, we found the best practise in Returnal was to explore as thoroughly as possible on early visits to a new biome, including the very first one, getting a sense of where things are, how the procedurally generated areas of that biome work, and grind as much bonus health, weapon proficiency, and beneficial artifacts and parasites as possible.
At the same time though, once you know the lay of the land you can completely skip most of it, and in fact it might be a good idea to. You can sprint from one room to the next in the first biome and enemies can't follow you, and often the sketchy reward of one malignant resin, say, isn't worth risking your current health for if there are a lot of enemies in the room. Pick your battles, basically, and don't feel obliged to re-complete everything you do. (And know that once you've beaten a boss once, you don't have to ever fight them again!).
Keep an eye out for breakable walls leading to secret areas, and listen to your little shoulder robot for hints
Returnal has a lot of secrets, but one of the most easily missable ones is its destructable wall. In our experience these always look the same, appearing in set places, or maybe at random, or both (it's quite hard to tell). They always look like a square of greyish, crumbly-looking wall with red circles on, almost like eyes. Whack it with your melee and it'll break, leading you to a small area behind with the potential for some ultra-rare and useful items!
Oh, and your shoulder robot will make a very cute little beep-boop when you're near something secret, like one of these walls or, most often, an easily missable chest tucked on a ledge or behind a grate. Keep an ear out! A piano key artifact also does this a little louder and more effectively too, if you find one.
You can grind Ether with daily challenges
Ether is an extremely rare, extremely useful resource in Returnal. We found we picked Ether up at a rate of about one per half-hour on average. It costs six to use a single-use checkpoint, and similarly high amounts to clear malignancy from pickups and chests. It's very handy to have some stocked up, basically - you could find yourself in a pickle right before a boss fight, and the ability to clear malignancy from some valuable health restoration could make all the difference.
One way to grind a bit more of it is to do the daily challenge - it does take a bit of time, and isn't something everyone will be bothered with, but it can be fun, and at least you do get that Ether as a reward. It's accessed via the second computer terminal in your crashed ship, which unlocks around the time you beat the first boss.
Think very carefully about risk and reward
Returnal is very much a game about gambling. Do you grind, at the risk of dying clumsily right at the end of your grinding session? Do you sprint straigh to a rematch with that boss? Do you attach that risky-sounding parasite? Do you climb into that very ominous-looking device?
The secret is that not every gamble is worth it. If you've done a brief bit of grinding and already have some boosted max health, a decent weapon, and worthwhile consumables, you have enough to take on a boss. That means opening that malignant chest or picking up that malignant key, as tempting as it can be, is just simply not worth it. Malfunctions can be very benign ("do less damage while static" has effectively zero effect, for instance, given how often you move about), but they have a habbit of suddenly and dramatically turning a run from blessed to cursed. One bad one can push you into doing more risky things, exploring more dangerous corners of the world, and putting you on tilt right when things are going well. Gamble when you need to gamble because there's no other choice - not when you're just feeling greedy!
At the beginning of each biome after the first, you get a free weapon proficiency boost
Weapon proficiency is effectively your 'level' on that run. It goes up when you shoot your weapon at things, and the higher the level, the higher the level of weapons that will drop. What you might not notice is that when you get to a new biome, there is always a large, consumable cannister of health and a weapon proficiency pickup called a Modular Calibrator waiting for you.
It gives you a random amount of proficiency, which can be annoying if you get unlucky, but it's always within a set range. The second biome's always took us to between four and seven proficiency, for instance. The third's always straight to something between eight and twelve. This, along with the odd convenient shortcut, is another reason why you can literally sprint straight to the first portal you find to the biome where you died, once you've got to a certain point in that new biome itself.
The purple alien egg sack thingies can sometimes contain items
Occasionally in the first biome you'll spot these purple, circular egg-like things that make a squeel when stepped on or slapped with a melee. They'll pop, and nine out of ten will be empty. But occasionally one will contain a useful drop, most frequently in our experience a parasite, but sometimes something even better.
There are some side rooms where they appear in bulk, and you can mash through a load of them very quickly, often finding four or five parasites for you to pick from in the process. It's worth quickly doing whenever you find them! Parasites are risky but can completely change the game if you use them wisely.
Spend your obolites
Obolites (we always pronounce them as ooblets, so now you have to hear that in your head every time too), are not something to ignore. Try your best to hoover up as many as you possibly can from every single enemy that you defeat, because they can buy you some game-changing items at each biome's shop.
The first shop in the first biome - which looks like several podiums arranged next to each other in a safe room - is the one where we tend to spend our cash. Get as far as that room, see what's on offer, and see if it's worth spending another ten minutes or so killing enemies to buy something before you move on to your next conquest. Always buy the tiny astronaut, and we found the 25 percent health bar boost was always worth the 350, too, especially as it also heals you for a large chunk at the same time.
Beyond that, anything that heals you with some reliability is always very welcome, and it's good to take note of the health cannisters that are available before a boss fight. What we'd often do is use our offensive consumables on the tougher enemies before a boss, get to the last teleporter before them, and then quickly teleport back to the shop to stock up on health consumables and anything else that might help for the fight.
Use every single thing at your disposal
This may be the most vague piece of advice here but it is also probably the most important. Returnal has a lot of systems, and all of them can help you. If you're a high-skilled player, then using the combo-like adrenaline system - where every three enemies you kill without taking damage bumps you up an adrenaline level, granting buffs until you take a hit - will be key to your playstyle.
If you're struggling, then grinding for Resin, the item which, after every three you collect, bumps up your max health bar a bit, will be crucial (and note that it seems to appear much more frequently when you have full health; and health recovery much more frequently when your HP is low).
It goes beyond that though. Spam your Alt-Fire - you have infinite uses! - and try to get in a habit of landing overloads (successful active reloads, where you tap R2 while the meter hits the middle bit of your crosshair during a reload) as often as possible. Use your dash - both short and long distance ones - as often as you can to abuse its invincibility from attacks. Use consumables as you get them, only saving specific ones for boss fights if you know they're handy. Use your sprint to just run straight past a fight you don't fancy. Best of all, just use everything you've got!