Ascension launches today, brings co-op campaign and endless challenge mode

When we talked about adding online co-op to Returnal at Housemarque, the biggest question we had was: how can we support co-op play in an experience that is intentionally surreal, isolated, and finely balanced to challenge the survivability of a single player? player? ?

the chronosis

It starts with simply setting the mood: how do we get another player to participate in Returnal? Well, through Chronosis of course.

Players with a PlayStation Plus subscription interact with a Chronosis and suddenly another ASTRA Scout enters her cycle, looking down and sizing up Selene as she emerges. He feels very surreal and awkward, which makes him absolutely perfect for Returnal.

Beyond that, we really built the multiplayer experience around the idea that players can get help progressing through the game. A host player invites another player to join his session to help him beat his current challenge. The host keeps this progress, while the joining player increases their Scout Rank, Weapon Traits, and Data Bank. In the beginning, we had Chronosis in various places in each of our biomes, but eventually we realized that players were inadvertently simply engaging in co-op before the main boss battles. Chronosis is now found at the start of each Biome, so players are encouraged to explore and see how the game plays and evolves with a partner and how dividing scarce resources is immediately a new dynamic.

holding the edge

Of course, we wanted to preserve the challenge, drama, and intensity that Returnal is known for, so some of our new co-op mechanics went through many iterations to ensure those crucial gameplay elements were maintained.

Our most brutal example was our initial approach to handling a “knocked down” player; while a player is standing, a downed player can revive and return to the fray. Reviving a downed player initially required the living player to sacrifice some of their own health to revive their teammate.

Turns out this was bad. Five minutes into a new cycle, both players would be at minimum health and trapped in a vicious cycle of one-hit kills.

While testing one day, we realized that actually reviving a downed player already required a very valuable resource: time. Reviving your teammate in the middle of combat, especially against an Elite or a Boss where every millisecond matters, is all that is really needed to keep the difficulty going and ensure that both players can stay active in the game at the same time.

Another element of the game that we changed for the co-op experience is the House and Boat sections that are experienced from Selene’s first-person perspective. We ended up removing these sections while playing multiplayer in order to keep the speed and intensity of multiplayer sessions high throughout the experience.

Finally, Returnal has also been rebalanced specifically for co-op play, so Atropos is still the dangerous planet full of deadly monsters we all know and love, only now with some room for a friend.

The joys of networking

Integrating multiplayer logic into Returnal was not the easiest task and is very much a major technical engineering challenge and as we prepared for release we certainly ran into more than a few “glitches” along the way. Like a Titanops that got pretty attached to its prey and the occasional “Other” Scout that’s been through too many cycles.

Beyond the technical complications, we also talked and worked on a number of design and UI/UX considerations to integrate another player into a host’s world in the best possible way. One of the first accessibility issues we ran into was simply being able to see the other player in a scene full of fast-moving enemies and bullets everywhere. We didn’t want to go too overboard with this solution, so we integrated a subtle ASTRA-Green contour shader whenever your teammate moved beyond a certain distance. We also created a fancy outfit variation to complement the visual differentiation between Selene and the “Other” Scout.

We’ve also iterated on our core HUD for co-op by providing additional information to track where your teammate is, how far they’re moving away from you, and most importantly, the “Scout Range” mechanic to reward players who They join other games to help their fellow ASTRA Scouts. This rank is prominently displayed for both players in a session and provides additional Ether for the away player at each rank.

Conclution

Thanks to everyone involved in Returnal: Ascension and a special thanks to our co-development studio Climax Studios. Now that Returnal supports co-op, we’re very excited to see players get back into the game and ask for additional support to get them through potential sticking points in the game; Being able to fight some of Returnal’s boss sequences with a partner has already been exciting during our internal playtests.

Which means: “Bring it on, Nemesis. We’ll catch you now.

comeback soundtrack vinyl

We’re also thrilled to announce that Bobby Krlic’s critically acclaimed Returnal score will finally be released on vinyl with custom art, available to pre-order now at here.