I’m a big fan of sci-fi horror, whether it’s in movies like Alien or video games like Dead Space, so naturally I’ve been excited for The Persistence for a long time. Add in the fact that I also just so happen to love my PlayStation VR headset and it’s easy to see why it’s been one of my most anticipated titles this year.
Now I’ve finally played the first-person sci-fi horror title, I can see why it’s called The Persistence – sure, it’s the name of the ship that the whole thing is set on, but it’s also something the player will need in abundance if they’re going to survive. This isn’t a game that’s going to hold your hand as you fight your way through a horde of horrific enemies but rather one that’ll punish you with lots of deaths, all whilst giving you a little glimmer of hope for your next attempt by carrying your progress over. It might sound intimidating but it’s a good thing, and it makes for an intensely entertaining gameplay experience.
In The Persistence, you take on the role of Zimri Eder – a Security Officer on board of the titular spaceship. You wake up to not only find that The Persistence itself is getting torn apart by a black hole, but also that your own dead body is just ahead of you. It’s not ideal really, but hey, what can you do?
Well, this is a game in futuristic sci-fi times, so fortunately the ship has a Clone Printer which can let you live on through an endless supply of replications, each of which is based upon your DNA and improved upon as you play through the game. Unfortunately, whilst this Clone Printer does a good job of bringing you back to life, it has also had a minor malfunction in that it has also produced a ton of grotesque abominations that want to do nothing but kill you. It’s up to you to survive, find your way to safety and bring The Persistence home.
Given that The Persistence is a first-person title and that you’ll be navigating a huge ship, you’ll be pleased to know there are multiple control options in place. Those who don’t quite have their VR bearings can play with blinders on for example, to make movement and turning a lot easier on the stomach. Those who’re fine-tuned with Sony’s headset on the other hand can play with complete first-person freedom, with the added benefit of the immersive nature of virtual reality of course. You’ll use the Dual Shock controller either way so there’s no semi-awkward stick-less Move controller movement in place, though you do have to use your head to aim – that’s intuitive enough though, so no complaints here from me. Just know that the game is designed to accommodate any level of comfort on PlayStation VR.
At least you’ll have plenty of time to get used to the controls, because you’re going to die a lot. The Persistence is not an easy game, so you can expect to be re-visiting that Clone Printer quite often. Each time you die though, you’ll carry over improvements made to your character from your last attempt. You can use stem cells to upgrade your abilities and can spend tokens to upgrade the weaponry that’s available to craft in the game, and these additions are always permanent.
You do lose any weapons you were carrying at the time which is a shame, but at least you never feel like your effort was for nothing. It’s a clever system that ensures that whilst death might mark the end of your current attempt, it still opens up the potential for more success the next time around. Much like the name of the game suggests, it’s encourages ‘persistence’ to play through and see yourself improve.
That being said, whilst dying might not necessarily be the end, it can throw a big spanner into the works thanks to the game’s procedurally generated levels. Every time you die, the ship essentially re-designs itself to be different for your next attempt – sure, some areas will look familiar and there are always rooms that stay the same throughout, but the layout, hazards and enemy placements will all be different. The game’s creepy enough anyway to keep you on your toes, but the fact that everything constantly changes and that you don’t know what might be around the corner just heightens the tension a lot more.
Admittedly, the procedural generation could be a bit hit-and-miss at times as far as the difficulty is concerned – seriously, sometimes The Persistence could be brutal with its enemy placements and you’re better off just dying and hoping for something kinder the next time around. As mentioned, the game isn’t easy anyway, so having the disadvantage of a somewhat unfair layout could be a pain. At least the procedural level design always felt natural though and never like it was a mish-mash of rooms strung together willy-nilly, so the team at Firesprite deserve praise for that.
Of course, you’re more than capable of defending yourself during some of these tougher moments of the game, so if you want to fight through one of the harsher areas you can. Combat is surprisingly tactical, with your melee-focused skills allowing you to swiftly block enemy attacks and hit in a counter-attack if you’re quick enough – it never feels like you’re just bashing away at enemies’ skulls effortlessly, but that you actually have to time your actions carefully and think everything through in order to survive. Alternatively, you could use one of the many weapons you’ll find or craft, some of which are incredibly powerful and certainly show off the game’s sci-fi side nicely. Don’t forget though: The Persistence is a horror game, and all horror games have to have limited ammo that demands careful resource management.
Combat in the game is a lot of fun and I often found myself openly confronting enemies just to enjoy the brawl with them. Sometimes it’s better to face your fears head on after all, so taking the fight to my foes certainly game me a real sense of bravery. Until I died…. again and again. I mentioned The Persistence is tough, right? Fortunately, you don’t have to take on every enemy around you and can instead sneak your way across the ship, which is often the better course of action to take. Best of all, you can perform insta-kills on enemies if you catch them off guard, which not only helps save your resources but rewards you with more stem cells to upgrade your abilities.
Some of the abilities and weapons you can find are pretty awesome too. How would you like to be able to turn invisible? Would you prefer a gravity gun a la Half Life 2, or would you prefer bombs that make mini black-holes? Or how about being able to literally teleport through an enemy and blow them up in the process? There’s a lot of cool stuff on show in The Persistence and they really help change up the vibe of the game – I spent a lot of time sneaking around, especially when facing off against tougher foes, but as soon as I got a tasty new weapon I knew it was payback time. Until, of course, I ran out of ammo…
Visually, the game looks great – don’t get me wrong, you can certainly see the limitations of PlayStation VR in place with some sketchy textures here and there, but the ship itself is incredibly atmospheric and full of little details. There’s some slick lighting effects in place too, which not only help make the ship feel that little bit more eerie but also hide some of its shortcomings. Add to that the fact you’re playing in virtual reality and that everything looks like it’s literally right in front of you, and it all comes together nicely to make for a satisfying horrific experience.
I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that The Persistence has a companion app on mobile phones that allows other players to join in on the action. The mobile player is given a map of the area that shows where all of the enemies and items are, which can be incredibly useful when playing co-operatively. However, it also allows your friends to be bastards and lead you into deadly traps (in fact, the app almost encourages it at times) so don’t be surprised if you’re tricked into a nasty encounter with some vicious foes. It’s a neat addition and one which compliments gameplay though, so I can appreciate it either way – even if I felt both the benefits and repercussions of having someone leading me along…
I’m a sucker for a horror game anyway, but there’s no denying that The Persistence stands out as one of the finer examples we’ve seen released on PlayStation VR so far. Its rogue-lite elements are satisfying and keep you hooked in throughout, the combat is exciting and surprisingly tactical, whilst the eerie atmosphere and scares it throws your way never feel cheap or forced. It’s just a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi horror romp.
It did have a few flaws here and there, with the often unfair procedurally generated levels standing out as the worst, but overall it’s hard to deny that The Persistence is another fine example of why horror titles are perfect for virtual reality.
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): PlayStation VR