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Returnal’s lack of autosave is an insult to gamers — here’s why

Returnal
(Image credit: Sony )

Returnal launched last week to much fanfare, being one of a select few PS5 exclusive titles available since the console launched. Fans of grueling gameplay have lauded the roguelike that packs Housemarque's signature bullet hell combat into a sci-fi shooter. 

Layered with the mystery of why Selene is stuck in her live, die, repeat cycle, Returnal hits the sweet spot of solid, fun gameplay that fuels a fairly loose narrative seeped in mystery and dripping with horror. The challenge comes in running each cycle to get to the boss, hoping that the RNG gods will go easy on you and kit you out with everything you need to get the job done. 

If you die, your progress is reset, including the procedurally generated map — with the exception of a few items that carry over. Anyone familiar with the roguelike formula knows the drill, but thanks to a questionable choice by Housemarque when it comes to game saves, a larger conversation is being spurred on in the realms of social media: Should Returnal feature an auto save? And the answer is quite patently "yes."  

In case you haven't been following the Returnal drama, when you die, your cycle resets. If you suspend the game and turn off your console, your cycle resets. If you switch to another game, your cycle resets. If you leave your game suspended and your console on, or in rest mode, your progress is safe. Unless, of course, an update rolls out in which case, your cycle resets. You can see the problem.

Unless you're willing to leave your console in rest mode, and have Returnal be the only game actively being played on your PS5 (at least while you're mid-cycle), your progress is inevitably going to be reset and it's not going to be because you need to 'git gud'. 

There should be no situation in which a dev's creative control over a game extends beyond the product they're delivering into what's transpiring in my living room.

Housemarque has only highlighted the ludicrous situation it's created with its PSA to players on how to keep their progress intact. The secret? Aside from never turning off your console or closing the game, you can go into your PS5 system settings and disable auto-update for every application on the console. The absolute audacity in thinking that a system-wide inconvenience like this should be so casually implemented because game updates will wipe player progress is truly astonishing. 

This line of thinking also dismisses a whole swathe of gamers who don't have the luxury of dictating who is playing what on their consoles and when. Or households in which rest mode for any appliance is a no-no because of power consumption. 

Returnal Helios

(Image credit: Future)

What seems like a glaring misstep has transformed into some warped meta game about who can inconvenience themselves and everyone around them for longest. Your chops as a 'real gamer' are no longer determined by in-game proficiency like we saw with the Souls series. We've shot past that toxic cesspool into a fresh hell of determining who can keep their game suspended longest, avoid powering down their console, and refrain from enjoying any other title except Housemarque's shooter.

Adding an auto save, or save and quit option would nip all of those problems in the bud without taking anything away from the gameplay or the kernel of the developer's vision. This kind of basic functionality can be seen in games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance, or Binding of Isaac. 

There should be no situation in which a dev's creative control over a game extends beyond the product they're delivering and into what's transpiring in my living room. For the proportion of you clamoring that this is a valid form of game design, think about how absolutely ridiculous what you're saying is.

If you think a developer should be indulged in being so precious about their game that they're encroaching onto their customers' lifestyles, and into areas that their player base can't necessarily even control, that's a massive issue.

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Game dev Rami Ismail summed up the situation on Twitter, saying that the lack of auto save means that his options are "'only play Returnal', which I can't do, or 'not play Returnal', which then is the only available option." This is going to be the case for a vast number of gamers, who are likewise "waiting for a lull in games or waiting for a save function."

The lack of auto save is a huge barrier to entry that serves no purpose whatsoever other than to be used as a badge of honor for having no other games to play, and no one to share your console with. So congrats!

Ultimately, the lack of an auto save is a huge barrier to entry that serves no purpose whatsoever other than to be used as a badge of honor for having no other games to play, and no one to share your console with. So congrats! 

How this is a reflection of skill, or how it ties into Housemarque's creative vision is something that's being bandied about on Twitter still. But I suspect this is from a younger crowd who think 'loyalty' to console manufacturers or game devs is actually a thing. For the rest of us who have bagged a PS5, having a game make itself unplayable like this is unfathomable. 

Returnal truly is a great game, serving up a hot slice of next-gen goodness. But the conceit in thinking your game mechanics should overreach like this is a problem, and one that Housemarque should address in its next update — provided that it doesn't crash your game and (you guessed it!) reset your cycle. 

Shabana Arif

Shabana is T3's News Editor covering tech and gaming, and has been writing about video games for almost a decade (and playing them since forever). As well as contributing to Tom's Guide, she's had bylines at major gaming sites during her freelance career before settling down at T3, and has podcasts, streaming, and video content under her belt to boot. Outside of work, she also plays video games and should really think about expanding her hobbies.

  • Cozyflyer
    I disagree with so much of this article, but will summarize as not all triple A games should have the same feature set or even baseline "quality of life" funtionality. There has to be room for niche big budget games, experimental feature sets and significant departures from the expected to spur innovation, increase our audience and diversify our experiences. Case in point, as an older (40+) gamer, I thought I knew my "type" of game (3rd person open world "sword and board" fantasy RPG) and wouldn't like Returnal especially in a multi-user household. I LOVE IT JUST AS IT IS. I play one run every few days, get slightly farther, learn/earn something new (or don't) and turn it off after. I have not finished yet, but I think an auto-save will break the game's longevity as I believe it is already very short. Should others be able to petition a change that takes that enjoyment away from me?

    I am not saying and DESPISE the phrases "just don't play it" or "find another game". I think they are divisive, exclusatory and not what developers intend when they release their game. I would ask the opposite, try the game, see if it is right for you and if it is not, please understand that is OK. Understand that someone likes that game just as designed and intended, and in the long run those differences make the whole gaming landscape better.
    Reply
  • Iozefka
    Cozyflyer said:
    I disagree with so much of this article, but will summarize as not all triple A games should have the same feature set or even baseline "quality of life" funtionality. There has to be room for niche big budget games, experimental feature sets and significant departures from the expected to spur innovation, increase our audience and diversify our experiences. Case in point, as an older (40+) gamer, I thought I knew my "type" of game (3rd person open world "sword and board" fantasy RPG) and wouldn't like Returnal especially in a multi-user household. I LOVE IT JUST AS IT IS. I play one run every few days, get slightly farther, learn/earn something new (or don't) and turn it off after. I have not finished yet, but I think an auto-save will break the game's longevity as I believe it is already very short. Should others be able to petition a change that takes that enjoyment away from me?

    I am not saying and DESPISE the phrases "just don't play it" or "find another game". I think they are divisive, exclusatory and not what developers intend when they release their game. I would ask the opposite, try the game, see if it is right for you and if it is not, please understand that is OK. Understand that someone likes that game just as designed and intended, and in the long run those differences make the whole gaming landscape better.

    While I can support the sentiment that all games should try to experiment with mechanics and features, not including a save function is hardly "innovation". The lack of a standard save function has caused such problems that the developer had to ask people to disable a PS5 auto-update function that works across all games. All the way through my playthrough my game crashed 2 times(once in the last biome). Not a lot, but certainly enough to have me worried that it would crash and have me lose all progress again. Also note that most popular games in this genre save your progress if you need to quit mid-run (Hades, Binding of Isaac, etc.) and part of the problem is those titles are SHORTER than Returnal.

    The majority of players cannot try Returnal unless they borrow it because there is no DEMO and this is a 70 dollar game. It's a shame. I love the gameplay so much but basic functionality would make the game more accessible and easier to recommend.
    Reply