Returnal Failed to Make an Impact on PC

February was a very busy month for gaming this time around. From Sorcerers to Monster Hunters, Robotic Revolutions to Travelers of Destiny, there is something for everyone to enjoy. February 2023 is also important because it marks the next generation of virtual reality gaming, with the imminent release of PSVR2. Sony’s next VR iteration is already a critical hit and is praised as one of the best VR sets ever.

Returnal finally made its debut for the glorious PC master race this February with all the bells and whistles of a modern port. Returnal has some of the best PC settings we have seen in a long, long time (and working. We are looking at you Ubisoft). Returnal is among the very few AAA roguelikes with behemoths like Sony funding the project. The game was well received on the PS5 and is still one of the best games made for the system. Returnal is a crowning achievement for Housemarque studios both in terms of story and gameplay.

Courtesy: Digital Foundry

Returnal belongs to one of the favorite genres on the PC. Roguelikes/lites. Hades and Risk of Rain 2 are fan favourites with a massive positive reception on steam. Both games have sold millions of copies on steam only. The same goes for indie darling, FTL. PS5 exclusive, critical hit, technical masterpiece, AAA roguelike, challenging combat and, finally, for PC, this all sounds like a recipe for a blockbuster hit. Returnal had everything going its way and seemed like it would be among Sony’s biggest sellers on the PC. But it never happened.

What Went Wrong

Returnal not only failed commercially on PC, but it also failed to impress PC players in general. This was a shocking revelation for us too, and we have a few theories of our own.

Too much hide and seek. The game was leaked almost a year ago via Nvidia leaked documents. Housemarque kept dropping hints by showing a PC build of Returnal at various tech events without ever accepting the game was coming to PC. A steam page went live with hints related to Returnal’s imminent release on PC but still no word from either Sony or Housemarque. Steam page was live for months with hints like Ship’s name, “Helios” and “Tower of Sisyphus”. Sony and Housemarque kept denying the existence of Returnal’s PC port and the excitement died over time for some players. Too much of anything is bad, even if it is a tease for one of the most requested PC ports.

Rushed announcement. The game was announced only a month before its release. Sony didn’t even put any effort into the publicity for the game. It felt like Sony had no faith in the PC port of Returnal after investing so much time and money on it. This was a bizarre decision by Sony. Roguelikes are the hottest commodity on steam and, as proved by “Control”, players pay for years-old games if the publishers put their faith in both the game and the players.

Premium price. Putting a full price tag on a game that is already available on Sony’s subscription service doesn’t make any sense. Returnal was added to PS Plus extra on launch and is available there to date. The PS5 version is already a premium one and anyone who owns a PS5 has zero incentive to buy this game on PC. We know ports require a lot of time and effort, but expecting people to pay full price when they can get Hogwarts Legacy or Atomic Heart (brand new games) for the same price at the same time seems a bit strange.

Bad Bad Timing. To be honest, releasing a game or any game around Hogwarts Legacy was not a wise move, especially when it is not even a new IP. February was stacked with new AAA releases with lots of new games arriving in March too. A game with zero publicity and scheduled for release in February was destined to be doomed from the very beginning. It feels like Sony almost wanted Returnal to flop on PC.

Initial launch problems. First impression is the last impression. This can’t be more true for a steam release. Once a game is received negatively by players on steam, it can never reach a very positive rating unless a miracle happens (Horizon Zero Dawn is a rare example). Returnal’s PC port is exceptional, but it is plagued with the recurring nightmare known as “Shader Compilation Stutters”. For a bullet hell roguelike game, stutters are a death sentence. What makes Returnal so exceptional on PS5 is its near flawless frame rate all the time. There are also lots of complaints regarding game crashing with a “fatal error” which sometimes results in players losing their save data. Early negative reviews can put off lots of potential customers.

End of the honeymoon period. Sony’s ports are not performing as well as they were in the beginning. It can boil down to various factors. The PS5 is readily available at a retail price and most of Sony’s first party games are available on its subscription service. Sony is increasing regional prices for its games on the PC. Or people are simply losing interest as Sony no longer listens to them (where is my Bloodborne PC port, Sony?). Whatever the reason, all the latest offerings by Sony are commercial failures on the PC.

Sackboy was a disaster on PC

We still believe Returnal is one of the best PS5 console exclusives and a GotY contender among roguelikes. Seeing the game performing poorly on PC breaks our hearts. We hope the sales of the game pick up and, due to the recent disasters, Sony doesn’t lose its interest in bringing more games to the PC (if Sony quits before the Bloodborne PC port, we WILL riot).

This is an opinion piece from our editorial team. Criticism and suggestions are most welcome. We will love to hear your theories on why Sony is losing its market share in the PC space. Comments section awaits.


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Usman Zafar
Usman Zafar
As someone who plays across all platforms he can get his hands on, Usman loves to push the boundaries of what is possible on current and previous gen hardware. This means he is your go-to guy for emulating retro and current gen content packaged as a single force for a more democratic video game industry.
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