It’s time we ask one of the biggest questions about Returnal: Is it worth $70? In my review, I scored the game an extremely high 9.5. Returnal is an excellent game, and also a special experience to explore. For more details on that specifically, you should read the review to get a sense of what you’re in for if you do choose to play Housemarque’s grandiose bullet-hell. If we want to cut to the chase, the answer is yes, I consider it worth $70, as it has experiential value beyond simply existing as a great game.
Obviously, you can get a lot for $70, and the new “standard” price point is intimidating, and concerns have been raised about Returnal’s “roguelike” structure somehow making it less of an experience or a game. You can absolutely get months and months of Game Pass for the same price, but you can’t get Returnal. Entertainment dollars are not 1:1 like objects, and one dollar spent on one entertainment experience isn’t the same as another. You could get a ton of double cheeseburgers instead of a steak dinner too, but the steak can be worth it. It depends on what you’re looking for.
Not everything with a price tag is simple conveyance of an owned product. Tours have price tags, theater plays have price tags, hikes up mountains can have price tags. Games are more than an object for simple purchase like a boot, a hammer, or a writing desk. Games can convey feeling, tone, and value beyond shooting the bad things, picking up loot, and making numbers go up. With a game like Returnal, you do need to be concerned about whether the experience of discovery, failure, and eventual triumph and release is a correct fit for your dollar, but you do not need to worry about the quality of the game or whether or not it “feels” like it’s worth $70.
Somewhere along the way, the perception of roguelikes has become they shouldn’t be full-priced titles due to their very nature, likely spurred on by the deluge of wonderful roguelikes that have found their way on Kickstarter, early-access programs, or wound up on services like Game Pass. That doesn’t mean roguelikes can’t be full, meaty games as well that are worth every bit as much as other titles. Returnal boasts an amazing, complementary soundtrack alongside a journey of atmospheric exploration, rising tension, and gnawing horror. That it has all these things accompanying a slick shooter with responsive controls, awesome boss fights, and plenty of lightning-fast action to master is an achievement that delivers far beyond whatever “another one of those roguelike games” means.
At the end of the day, roguelike is merely a structural framework for other parts and components, and the quality of Returnal absolutely justifies its “full-game” price tag. The conversation about whether games should have experienced a price hike to the new $70 mark is a different one, and this discourse seems to be more about the game/genre/structure itself being unworthy of the “real game” designation. After spending many hours with Returnal, I can in fact answer the question of whether it’s a “real game” worthy of that “real game” price tag. It is. Have a great time (well, an uneasy, tense time to be precise, but enjoyable all the same) on Atropos!
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