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Returnal’s biggest problem wouldn’t exist if it was on Xbox Series X

Returnal
(Image credit: Housemarque / Sony)

Returnal has divided PlayStation 5 gamers with its punishing difficulty level, lack of traditional save system, and $70 / £70 / AU$124.95 price point. But no matter which side of the debate you’re on, the consensus around Sony’s latest PS5 exclusive is pretty clear cut: Returnal is a rip-roaring good time – especially if you’re a fan of roguelikes. 

It helps that developer Housemarque’s third-person action game is a spectacular showcase for the PS5, of course. It takes full advantage of the PlayStation 5’s unique features, which makes Returnal’s labyrinthine and hostile alien world seem all the more convincing. The PS5 DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are used to effectively convey environmental effects, such as the feeling of raindrops hitting the ground, and the game’s 3D audio is easily the best implementation of Sony’s proprietary sound technology to date. 

However, there is one aspect of Returnal that exposes an annoying flaw in how the PS5 is designed, at least when compared directly against the Xbox Series X.

Suspend your disbelief

Just like on PS4, the PS5 only lets you have one game active at a time. You can open a media app without closing a game, but if you try to play anything else, you’ll be told that your current game session will need to close. This was par for the course during the last generation, with Xbox One operating in exactly the same way.

The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S changed all that, though, with Quick Resume. You can now suspend and resume multiple games at a time and pick up exactly where you left off, as if by magic. It even works if you unplug the console, which boggles the mind a little. 

Quick Resume is something that I’ve found continually surprises me, especially if I’ve been playing a handful of other titles and revisit a game that I haven’t played in a while. Suddenly, I’m right back where I was, and I don’t have to deal with any splash screens, menus or extra load times. 

Now, I haven’t really missed this time-saving and user-friendly feature on PS5 as of yet. PS5 games load up extremely fast, and often I’m more than content at playing one game at a time – it’s been this way since consoles were first invented, after all. Inadvertently, however, Returnal really is the perfect advert for Microsoft’s game-switching technology, and it's made me wish that Sony will implement something similar on PS5 in the future.

Rest easy?

Returnal

(Image credit: Sony)

Because Returnal doesn’t feature traditional save points (there are actually only two areas where you will consistently restart in the entire game), you’re left with no choice but to commit to playing Returnal – and only Returnal – on your PS5. If you want to stop midway through a run, which tends to involve hours of hard work, you’re at the mercy of the PS5’s Rest Mode functionality. 

Initially, this didn’t feel like the biggest compromise in the world, but the limitations soon became apparent as I fought to reach the end of the game. The PS5’s Rest Mode isn’t 100% reliable for a start, with many users reporting crashes that have unceremoniously ruined a run they were hoping to continue. And although I was lucky enough to avoid any crashes during my playthroughs, I did personally encounter what appeared to be some sort of memory leak issue. The game became horribly choppy, almost slideshow-like during battles, after placing the game in a suspended state numerous times over the course of a few days. 

Once I reached a point where I knew I could safely stop (again, there aren't many), I rebooted the console and the issue thankfully disappeared. I dread to think how difficult the final boss would have been had I not been able to rectify this problem, though, and it did make me feel unnecessarily anxious about future runs.

Another thing that makes Rest Mode an uneasy proposition is that the PS5 will also download and install updates for your game when it's in this suspended state. And guess what? Some people’s precious Returnal runs were ended prematurely when the latest update dropped for the game. Once the PS5 applied the new patch, it closed the game as a result.

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I can only sympathize with those who were greeted with that kick in teeth when they returned to play, but there is thankfully a workaround to avoid this from happening to you, and it's one which even developer Housemarque is actively highlighting to players.

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To turn PS5 auto-updates off, head to Settings > System > System Software > System Software Update and Settings. Then turn off Install Update Files Automatically to stop your PS5 from installing updates while in Rest Mode. You'll also want to head to Settings > Saved Date and Game/App Settings > Automatic Updates and turn off Auto-Download or Auto-Install in Rest Mode.

Design decisions  

Returnal

(Image credit: Sony)

The fact that the PS5 can't suspend and resume multiple games at a time has resulted in some fans demanding that Housemarque implement a save feature that will allow players to save their progress, and return at a later date. However, others argue that having such a backup would go against Returnal’s entire game design. If Returnal was on Xbox Series X or S, though? Well, there's a chance that this debate wouldn’t even be taking place as the game could have supported Quick Resume. 

While there’s no right or wrong answer to whether Housemarque should have included a more traditional save feature – it’s their creative vision after all – it does highlight what a forward-thinking Microsoft’s Quick Resume feature really is. Being able to take a break from Returnal would certainly make the game slightly more forgiving for players who are struggling, and at the very least, it wouldn't lock you into hour-long play sessions with the only release being if you succeed or fail. And there's a high probability it will be the latter.