A Returnal Exploit Allowed Me To Enjoy One of 2021’s Finest

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Whether or not or not you fall in love with (and grasp) a difficult online game is commonly tied to the quantity of free time you have got. Some tough video games require you to have pinpoint-accurate hand-eye coordination, whereas others are so advanced that they take cautious planning and a deep understanding of their methods to determine.

I’m no stranger to overcoming difficult video games, supplied I’ve the spare time to determine them out. In highschool, I not solely handed each Guitar Hero III music on knowledgeable, however I earned 5 stars on all of them — together with By the Hearth and Flames. In school, I earned the platinum trophy in each single Souls recreation on PlayStation, from Demon’s Souls all the best way to Darkish Souls 3. This was a interval when free time was considerable.

What makes Returnal so difficult?

Quick ahead to 2021, when free time isn’t as available. This was the yr Returnal came out. It’s a PlayStation 5-exclusive roguelike shooter game that is known for its difficulty and was developed by Sony-owned studio Housemarque. In Returnal, you play as Selene, an astronaut stranded on a planet called Atropos. The planet is divided into several biomes, which are home to some nasty creatures. It’s a third-person shooter, but the catch is that you must restart from the very first biome each time you die — and dying happens frequently.

Each run randomly generates a new stage layout, with different weapons, enemies, and items that fill the biome. At the end of each biome is a deadly boss that will test your skills. There’s also a constant underlying feeling of unease always present. There are no checkpoints (except for a couple of exceptions here and there), and even if you die on the second biome, you must start back at the beginning of the first one, with very few of your items carrying over.

It’s also a game that — much like the Souls RPGs — is shrouded in mystery. Returnal doesn’t tell you much. Sure, it has basic tutorials, but so much of the allure is discovering little tricks that get you one step closer to the end. This means a lot of trial and error will come into play, taking up more time. Unsure if you can swim? Jump into the water and find out? Not sure if a particular cliff will lead to your death? Jump and pray.

Because of all this, it’s difficult to make progress in Returnal. I remember spending hours and hours on the first biome alone before finally reaching the boss and dying halfway through the fight. Making it this far in the game without having anything to show for it is demoralizing, causing me to abandon ship several times. Something about this game always piqued my interest, but I could never make steady progress. I convinced myself I’d never get through it.

An excellent exploit

Selene walking in Returnal.

In October 2021, Returnal received a 2.0 update that implemented a photo mode, along with the ability to suspend the game. Previously, there was no way to quit out of the game without having to start back at the first biome. If you closed the app in the middle of a run or if your game crashed, it was game over. But with the new suspension feature, players are now able to create a temporary save point, quit the game, and jump back in where they left off. If they die after that, it’s game over, but at the very least. it allows them to play another game in the meantime without having to start over in Returnal.

As soon as this update was announced, I instantly knew what I’d be able to do. Since the suspend feature temporarily saves your game, I figured you’d be able to upload a file to a USB drive or the cloud to preserve it forever. I was right.

You can essentially use this to continuously have a backup, meaning you’ll never have to start from the beginning. Each time I got past a difficult area — whether it be a tough platforming section or a challenging wave of enemies — I would create a suspension point, upload the latest Returnal save to the PlayStation cloud, and then dive back in. If I performed badly on a particular section or if I died, I’d simply download the save and start back at the last suspension point instead of at the beginning of the first biome.

This, of course, isn’t how the game is intended to be played. You’re supposed to master the game to the point where you can adapt to any biome layout and enemy encounter while thinking on your feet quickly. The problem is that I — and many others — don’t have the time to devote to Returnal to play it this way. It’s a shame because the fundamental way it’s designed automatically makes it so that a large portion of players will never reach its end, or even its second area.

Not playing ‘correctly’

When I tweeted about this, the response was largely optimistic, however a handful of gamers criticized me for not taking part in the sport “appropriately.” Whereas I can see the purpose about this being an unorthodox solution to play, I’m not hurting anybody by utilizing the exploit. This isn’t a aggressive multiplayer recreation with clear winners and losers. It’s a single-player journey that’s meant to be accomplished. The exploit doesn’t make you invincible or change the gameplay — it simply makes it simpler for gamers with little free time to get by it.

Returnal‘s design is respectable. I recognize the roguelike components and all of its nuance. In school, I might have performed this recreation the meant means and would have completely liked it. However now, as somebody who merely doesn’t have the time or power to grasp a recreation the best way I used to have the ability to, it’s good that I can nonetheless get pleasure from one among 2021’s greatest video games. I’d quite cheese the sport and nonetheless be capable to play it as a substitute of lacking out on an unimaginable expertise.

That’s the factor about Returnal: As soon as it clicks, it’s probably the most memorable and satisfying video games of the previous a number of years, with or with out an exploit.

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