Returnal Takes The Time Loop Mechanic To Next Level

Integrating the time loop into the storyline and the gameplay is Returnal's best decision.

returnal takes the time loop mechanic to next level
Returnal takes the time loop mechanic to next level

Video games regularly explore new ideas and gameplay mechanics to enhance players’ gameplay experiences. I mean, that’s how we get the innovation in the industry. While these new additions are not well-received all the time, they do make the way for future improvements. Similarly, many new ideas immediately create a space for themselves.

Key Takeaways

  • Returnal took the concept of time loop mechanics to the next level by including it not only in the gameplay but also in the storyline.
  • Thanks to its integration into the storyline, players find themselves completely restarting their whole campaign in a new world with new challenges after they die in the game.
  • To give players leverage, the game allows the players to keep the upgrades from the previous campaign when restarting in a new world.
  •  Unlike other games with the concept of a time loop, Returnal has a variety of bosses to challenge players in multiple ways.

Housemarque’s Returnal follows one such idea and does an excellent job of solving the time paradox in video games. It pushes the boundaries with its innovative use of the time loop mechanic. I think it is a big reason fans love Returnal and maintains a rating of 9/10 on Steam.

Even though the foundation for the time loop was laid initially by The Outer Wilds, released two years before Returnal, Returnal took it to new levels with its innovative incorporation into the storyline. Let’s take a look back at the innovative time loop mechanic and see how it is better than the ones we’ve seen in other games:

Integration In Gameplay And Storyline

What I like most is that Returnal smartly incorporates its time loop mechanic into its narrative and gameplay elements. Many games incorporate it and limit it to mere gameplay gimmicks. In Returnal, however, it also serves as an important aspect of the protagonist, Selene’s journey.

Returnal gameplay
A screenshot from gameplay (Image credits: Steam)

What’s more impressive? Unlike traditional time loop games where environments remain static, Returnal introduces procedural generation. It makes sure that no two loops are ever the same. This not only keeps players on their toes but also adds an element of unpredictability and excitement to each playthrough, that’s what the developers had to say in an interview.

A few would find this boring and frustrating, I agree. However, the way the whole scenario, challenges, and even villains change with each restart makes it very much interesting. It also makes the story more challenging and gives it more depth. 

Repeated New World Generation

One of the most impressive features of Returnal’s time loop is its repeated new world generation. Each loop not only resets the world but creates a whole set of new challenges. This not only helps in revealing more about Selene’s past but also the mysterious planet she finds herself trapped on. 

With each loop, not just the challenges change but also the layout of the Atropos shifts. It presents players with completely new problems to solve and opportunities to avail. This dynamic generation not only keeps the gameplay interesting and unpredictable but also encourages exploration. Again, it is not to everyone’s taste buds.

As the world keeps changing, players must adapt to new challenges. The most impressive part for which even developers deserve lots of appreciation is that no two playthroughs are ever the same.

Replayability is one thing but the sense of always feeling alien in a hostile world makes it even more interesting. Except for your skills and a few other things, you will always find yourself confused, learning, re-learning, and discovering new perspectives of the storyline. It makes it easy for players to connect with Selene on a personal level. Well, that’s what Mikale Haveri and Returnal’s narrative director Greg Louden revealed in an interview.

Risk-Reward Gameplay

I think the developers understand that it can get frustrating to restart from the beginning without anything. That’s why they ensured players didn’t lose their upgrades with each new loop. Players unlock new weapons, abilities, and upgrades while they progress through the storyline, and these upgrades remain still when they restart their campaign in a new world.

It creates a sense of progression and growth, as players become more sensible in managing the challenges of Atropos. Moreover, these upgrades make it easy for them to conquer the new world and quickly recover their progress.

Furthermore, Returnal introduced a risk-reward system where players must weigh the benefits of getting powerful artifacts against the possible consequences of corruption. Consequently, players must carefully make their choices in order to survive.

A Roguelike With a Variety Of Villains

Fighting aliens in Returnal
Fighting aliens in Returnal (Image credits: Steam)

Many time-loop games feature only a single antagonist to defeat. However, Returnal breaks the chain by including a diverse and unpredictable pool of bosses. Each loop brings a different combination of bosses. This forces players to be prepared for anything. The boss fights themselves are masterclasses in bullet-hell design. You can overcome them only if you master movements and practice Hawkeye’s aim. 

Now here is something that makes the whole experience even more immersive and enjoyable. The brilliance lies in how these bosses subtly mix into the narrative. You will be able to find hints of the past events that shaped Atropos and Selene’s connection to it whenever you enter an arena.

All of this creates a sense of interconnectedness, where the ever-shifting world commends the tragic storyline of the game, all thanks to the amazing time loop mechanic.

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