Here’s a little confession for you. I hated Groundhog Day when it came out back in 1993. I didn’t think it was funny. At all. Now, my opinion has changed significantly 30 years, though I would say I find the movie more consistently amusing rather than hilarious. The concept, though, the concept of repetition, THAT I get, even more-so now in Covid-19 times. While I’m lucky that I don’t have too many issues staying in the house, surrounded by cats and dog, the Biff Bam Pop! Princess half the time, along with more movies, comics and music than I know what to do with, the fact that I can’t really go anywhere has led to a repetition that could be mind numbing. The key to not going mental is finding the things that you can change or do differently day to day.
In many ways, that’s also the key to Returnal, the absolutely stunning new game from Housemarque and Sony Interactive Entertainment for PlayStation 5. In it, you play as Selene, an ASTRA Corporation explorer who winds up crash landing on the planet Atropos, where she is caught in a seemingly never-ending timeloop. Each time she dies while investigating a mysterious “White Shadow” signal, Selene begins her story again from her crash landing while the world around her changed. It’s psychologically daunting as Selene finds traces of her previous experiences strewn across Astropos.
And really, that’s all you need to know about Returnal, and that’s more than I knew when I started playing the game for the first time; that was by design, mind you. I tend to like going in blind to new games. Quite frankly, the story feels somewhat minor when compared to gorgeous graphics the game delivers immediately with its cinematic opening. Designed specially and exclusively for the PS5, Returnal is clearly making use of all the power the new system possesses. It looks and feels epic, and moves quickly with no discernible load times. That means that when you die (and you will die, many, many times) you’re back into the game almost immediately. It’s exciting and, to be fair, a little exhausting as well.
The planet of Atropos feels like its a living, breathing thing, thanks to its constantly changing map, while the aliens and landscape you encounter, littered with bodies, writhing tentacles, and strange statues give Returnal a decidedly Lovecraft meets Prometheus feel to it (hold on, wasn’t Prometheus Lovecraft meets Alien?). Either way, it works incredibly well, and I’m hoping by the time I somehow manage to reach the end of Returnal, that there are a few Old Ones waiting for for me.
Speaking of which, in the weeks leading up to the release of Returnal I’d been spending time with Frogwares’ The Sinking City on PlayStation 5, a game that, unlike Returnal‘s less overt inspiration, is explicitly devoted to the work and worlds of H.P. Lovecraft. In this open world detective game, you play as private investigator Charles Reed, who has come to the waterlogged city of Oakmount, Massachusetts in hopes of uncovering the reason for nightmarish visions he’s been plagued with. Reed sets up shop and winds up uncovering the occult secrets of Oakmount. There is much investigation to be had, and it’s imperative that you keep your eyes open nail down clues across the giant city.
Originally released in 2019 on Xbox, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, the game recently got its PS5 upgrade, complete with lightning quick load times, better lighting and environmental effects, 4K resolution, 60fps and all of its previous DLC content. I played The Sinking City on the Switch last year, but it took this excellent rebirth on the PS5 for me to really delve deep into the game. While it may not be full-on next gen gorgeous like Returnal, The Sinking City has gotten a significantly stronger coat of paint. As well, the load times which plagued many a gamer across multiple devices are non-existent on the PS5, which makes for an overall better experience.
I’ve found myself spending hours delving into every corner and mystery presented and I can tell you that The Sinking City is an outstanding exploration of Lovecraft Mythos; possibly the best I’ve ever encountered in a video game. The vibe, the art, and a main character who is constantly in danger of losing whatever sanity he possess are all delivered spot-on. Along with the main story, there is so much to see and do and solve that it feels as though The Sinking City has the depth of the Necronomicon itself.
While on first glance one may not think that Returnal and The Sinking City have much common ground, that Lovecraft inspiration bonds them in a way that makes both of them worthy purchases for your PlayStation 5.