Defining the actual meaning of the term “roguelike” has been a topic mired in debate for over a decade. Roguelike games are commonly associated with the style of play that sees our digital protagonist slashing their way through endless enemies, with the threat of permadeath lurking above their heads.
Things like resource management and random level generation are also taken into consideration, but defining a modern game as pure roguelike has become essentially impossible. The creation of advanced game technology allowed creators to implement genres and gameplay unrelated to the spirit of classic roguelike. Return2021’s roguelike-infused psychological sci-fi horror drama game, represents the latest evolution of what has become one of the most ambitious and creative genres in the world of video games.
Housemarque’s horror thrill ride seemingly betrays the very essence of what we all think of as roguelike or even roguelites at first glance. Boasting next-gen graphics with a familiar setup of a traditional third shooter, Return is almost dizzying in the way it presents itself as the next big AAA franchise to grace our systems. The hostile, ever-changing alien world that traps our protagonist Selene in her slimy clutches is packed with story due to the surprisingly huge and in-depth world-building. There’s never a time when the environment doesn’t tell a fraction of the world’s supposed story.
Roguelike games often dabble in world-building, but complex narratives tend to take precedence over the gameplay itself, with each run focusing on the player unlocking new weapons to use and new paths to unknown level configurations. Roguelike games function as endurance tests for players, encouraging replays with permadeath and heavy trial and error. If the narrative isn’t strong or compelling, the gameplay is there to make up for it.
Return uses many of the same features your typical roguelike game has to offer. Selene, the scout forced to fight for her life after landing in the mysterious alien world of Atropos, returns the moment she wakes up from the accident each time she perishes in battle. Her surroundings are constantly changing, forever leaving her path of escape confusing and convoluted with loads of grotesque creatures to greet and stop her. Different paths unlock different weapons, as well as augments that provide a wide variety of passive abilities ranging from increasing weapon damage to turning world currency into health. Classic roguelike elements are still cutting edge Return.
Where the game starts to veer off the beaten path of roguelike is its cinematic story, which slowly turns into a dark psychological horror character study. As Selene progresses through the loop, she receives recurring visions of a mysterious astronaut connected to her past, even encountering an exact replica of her childhood home on the planet. The house itself can only be entered by obtaining the keys and subsequent passages will indicate its access through the porch lights on.
As new areas are explored and bosses defeated, the house will open up again to reveal more fragments of Selene’s past, in turn becoming an incentive to keep looping and progressing further. in history. As with most roguelikes, a larger inventory of items, artifacts, and weapons are unlocked to refresh future runs. Corn ReturnThe strategy to encourage replays goes beyond the roguelike genre with the type of story one would expect from a AAA game, connecting a stronger connection to Silent Hill 2 only with a Enter the dungeon.
ReturnThe insistence on presenting this story as a genuinely complex character study helps it stand out from the sea of indie roguelikes that preceded it years. The mix of recon journals from previous series detailing Selene’s mental descent with her stubborn stubbornness to escape creates a roguelike that manages to stay sufficiently grounded in the real world. The realism doesn’t stop at the stunning visuals that bring us closer to the real world, though it certainly helps to take the game further out of the constraints of what we’ve come to expect from a roguelike.
The 2010s saw the emergence of roguelike games in popularity, becoming a staple of the indie scene throughout the decade. The roguelike was one of the gaming industry’s worst-kept secrets, as the constant release of acclaimed games like the Chance of rain series, dead cells, The Binding of Isaacand underworld to name a few. This latter game in particular has been widely praised for blending roguelike elements with a firm narrative structure to keep players coming back for more runs. underworld and Return stepping out so close to each other seems like a pleasant consequence of fate, given their similarities in incorporating a heavy narrative base as an incentive to return.
This attention to storytelling and storytelling is ultimately Returnthe secret weapon. As enjoyable as the story threads are for the many traditional roguelike games that paved the way, their strengths are closer to the technical gameplay itself. Enter the dungeon can also be a time-loop story that encourages you to unlock characters and learn more about their pasts, but the real appeal is in the hundreds of weapons that can be unlocked through multiple runs. Return (and underworld besides) trust the audience to engage with the fate of the characters. The frustration of re-doing an entire run is shared by Selene, dragging us into our own roguelike hell with her.
All this torment and yet Return always manages to make every race exciting and unique, without ever losing sight of the fun that can be had in a roguelike. It’s a genre that has inspired rage, confusion and tears in even the most experienced players, but the feeling of finishing a long run is unparalleled. The catharsis of finally being able to rest after almost destroying your fingers. Corn Return is always a dark tragedy of a story, finishing a race in this hellish world feels like real victory. We are Selene, as she is us.
Selene is trapped in a hell she can’t escape, living in the most immersive roguelike game we’ll ever know. Return takes the genre that is often associated with frustration, repetition and rage and incorporates them into Selene’s journey. Roguelike games have gone in dark narrative directions before (i.e. The Binding of Isaac), but Housemarque’s fast-paced third-person shooter reinvigorates the genre, expanding on what we thought was possible in the world of roguelikes.
With the announcement of cooperation for the game, it seems that Return plans to stick around for the foreseeable future. As of this writing, the game has sold over half a million copies with its fair share of accolades. It is too early to say what kind of impact Return will have on the future of roguelike games, but it still remains an example of what can be done in a roguelike game. Even if the roguelike games of the future are a far cry from what Return is all about, I’d be hard pressed to consider that a negative for the game or the genre.