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Up till recently, I’d yet to find a game that took advantage of the Sony PlayStation 5’s immersive capabilities. Control, a 2019 game updated for next-gen to get the most out of the PS5’s Dual Sense controller, came close, but it still felt lacking.
That is, until the release of Housemarque’s latest PS5 exclusive, Returnal.
The action shooter roguelike has already drawn favourable reviews for its toughness and gameplay, but it’s really its stand-out sound design and the way it uses the Dual Sense’s haptic capabilities that hooks you in.
I’ve been playing the game since release, and the game had me right from the get-go.
The controls feature a half-touch trigger for its alt-fire and aiming — I really felt like I was in control of the in-game alien weapon. Stronger alt-fire modes also feel like you need a stronger press, giving a satisfying crunch as it fires off.
The controller (which now also comes in two different colours) also reacts to subtle environmental effects, such as rain.
You get a gentle soft patter not unlike raindrops falling on Returnal’s main character’s suit. It also pulses when you’re near an alien device, mimicking the power hum as it activates to teleport you somewhere.
You can tell Housemarque put in a lot of effort into taking advantage of the Dual Sense’s haptic features. It doesn’t just quite buzz for fun, or a straight out boring buzz like the older PS4 controllers.
Then, there’s the sound. The Sony PlayStation 5’s Tempest Engine delivered an amazing 3D audio to really make the game come alive.
There were many times where soft subtle audio cues, together with the haptic buzzes, let me know where a switch was, or when the soft quietness meant I was safely alone in a room.
While it works great with the Sony Pulse 3D Wireless headset, you can also plug in any other wireless headset, such as the Logitech G Pro X Wireless Gaming Headset. Alternatively, you can also plug in a 3.5mm headset into the Dual Sense. That works as well.
Together, the sound and haptic features deliver an immersive experience almost as good as VR. I really felt like I was in a completely different and alien world.
It sounds super hype, but you have to try it for yourself. Just be mindful that Returnal is extremely difficult, and does not have saves (apart from restarting with some permanent items).
It’s hard, but the experience makes it so worth the effort.
Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com
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