Returnal’s co-op mode on PS5 is something of a disappointment

Selene and Selene stand back-to-back fighting tentacle monsters in Returnal's co-op mode.

image: house brand

When return landed on PlayStation 5 with a splash last year, I just wanted a chance to play it co-op with a friend. Well, since such a mode is here? meh

returna third-person roguelike about that seventh greatest classic rock song of all time, is an unrelentingly difficult game. You play as Selene, an interstellar scout who has crash-landed on a planet overrun by vicious tentacle monsters. return smells like Housemarque’s family tree – which includes such Bullet Hell masterpieces as Resogun and matter fall– so of course you are not allowed to go in for a minute return without facing a barrage of projectiles. If you’re new, you probably can’t last two minutes without getting hit. Every time you die, you restart the cycle and relive Selene’s crash.

Housemarque rolled out this week return‘s free update 3.0, officially called “Ascension”, which adds support for two-player co-op play. it’s good enough But it’s not a revelation. (“Ascension” also adds an endless mode that might be a bit to aptly the “Tower of Sisyphus”. Didn’t get a chance to play much of it myself this week, but did get some feedback on the game dedicated subreddit suggests that steadfast fans are obsessed.)

As with the rest returnStarting a co-op session doesn’t mean bringing up a proper menu. Instead, you interact with an in-game object—in this case, a giant, pulsing blue orb—located at the start of each biome. You’ll see options to host public, private, or join a public session. Once you match, Selene stands stunned and watches as another Selene comes out of that orb.

Getting back into a session when you lose connection is less easy, even seemingly impossible. Once you’ve started a session, you won’t be able to access the multiplayer options, even if your partner drops out. When you travel back to the big blue orb, all you get is an “already used!” pop-up. (When Sony was asked to comment on a workaround, they had nothing to add.) Not ideal given PlayStation’s recent problems with its online services! It’s all a microcosm of returnDesign sensibilities of : Trading comfort for the always elusive, ill-defined goal of “immersion”.

Selene and Selene shoot guns at a tower in Returnal's co-op mode.

Even with a friend, towers still suck.
screenshot: house brand

But if it works return‘s cooperative is useful enough. the The best co-op games– from blockbusters like gloriole to indie darlings like Wizard of Legend– They force you to refine your game to develop a different strategy than what you would resort to when playing alone. return, during which it feels like posting at a bar with a friend, only for the two of you to be on your phone all the time. Sure, you’re together, but you’re doing what you would do alone.

Remember, the things you do alone — the running and falling and shooting and ziplining — are still a joy. There’s just a little too much going on in each fight for any strategy other than “point and shoot and do your best to survive” to meaningfully coordinate. Maybe that will change over time, but after more than half a dozen runs it doesn’t look like it returnThe gameplay of lends itself to sophisticated co-op strategies.

return grants both players all permanent upgrades, including unlocked gear and biomes, of the host player, allowing someone who’s sunk in the game for dozens of hours (hi) to drag along a less-experienced player for an escapade of digital tourism in the later stages of the game . A “See that third biome? It sucks. So does the fifth. And the sixth”, kind of a deal. “But hey, isn’t the grappling hook pretty cool?”

Volatile upgrades are handled confusingly, however, since return does not communicate effectively what is and is not shared between players. Health pickups can only be looted by one, but Obolities (the in-game currency) go to both players, as do disposable items that increase weapon proficiency. Buy something from a shop and it will still be listed on your partner’s screen, but if you pick up a weapon from a chest or a defeated boss, it will disappear from your partner’s view. If voice chatting with randos isn’t your thing, the lack of an effective ping system means there’s no way to point these things out other than to fall back on the age-old determination Trick of just shooting it until your friend notices.

Selene stretches a hand towards the camera at night in Returnal.

“Come with me if you want to die right now.”
screenshot: house brand

How many co-op games return features a revive mechanic where you walk up to a dying teammate and hold a button to revive them in a matter of seconds. (Initially Housemarque planned Forcing the living Selene to sacrifice some health in order to revive the dying Selene (removes that feature because it was too “mean”) But all revived teammates come back with just a touch of health, meaning they’re the same again die fast. Most of the time, a better strategy is to just leave your downed partner where they are and focus on your own survival. So much for team spirit!

shortcomings aside, returnThe foray into co-op mode underscores a welcome new trend among PlayStation’s first-party single-player games. A few months after the release of Spirit of Tsushima on PS4, developer Sucker Punch released a free four-player co-op mode, Spirit of Tsushima: Legends. It was absolutely at the forefront, expanding on what had made the base game so great while introducing a robust set of new features. (legends became available as a standalone game last fall.) In comparison return‘s “Ascension” mode does not leave such a positive effect. Still, I’m thrilled that it even exists, even if it misses the mark. Playing is lonely enough. Returnal’s co-op mode on PS5 is something of a disappointment

Curtis Crabtree

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