Returnal is undoubtedly a hard game. We said as much in our review, where Kirk called Returnal “harder than a rocket-propelled diamond.” But making a game hard can also make it more difficult for people to play, especially if you’re a gamer with a disability.
Striking the balance between difficulty and accessibility was an "interesting challenge," according to Returnal director Returnal director Harry Krueger, who talked about making tough games accessible on the PS I Love You XOXO podcast (as transcribed by VGC).
"That’s definitely always going to be an interesting challenge to find that sweet spot," said Krueger when asked about Returnal’s challenge level and what it does for accessibility. "I think we can always do more and could always add more support for different ways to play the game and different control methods."
Making Returnal less hard would have certainly made it more accessible as well, but Krueger argues that it would have also fundamentally changed the game's narrative too.
"I think in many ways the story and the gameplay are very inseparable in Returnal," Krueger explained. "The character, Celine, she is talking about dying over and over and how these are insurmountable odds, and she can’t keep going on, and there’s this descent into madness that is happening purely because of the challenges she’s facing, and her challenges are the player’s challenges as well in many ways.
"It feels like if you were allowed to just power through a boss without any challenge, or just go from A to B to C through the narrative points, it almost feels like it would create a bit of dissonance. The game is telling you this is really challenging, and that you’re overcoming these obstacles but you wouldn’t have had to experience that friction. So that’s always a line to walk, but it’s something we’re going to keep in mind."
If Krueger and Housemarque are looking for a few pointers on accessibility, the 2021 Accessibility Awards recently named the year’s most accessible games in multiple categories.
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