It’s been a good year since I bothered to boot up a trouser-ruining horror game. There was a time at university when my housemates put a metaphorical gun to my head and forced me to play Outlast, Alien: Isolationand Resident Evil 7: Biohazardin short succession. The latter, of course, I played in VR. After I beat that game, I didn’t think anything would be able to scare me for a while (I was wrong). I decided I’d take a break from horror games, partially for my own sanity and partly because their effectiveness is a bit reduced if you play too many in a short space of time. Now, one year on, I thought it was about time to return to the genre. I spied an upcoming game called The Persistence. Looks pretty interesting, I thought, and so I requested the code.
Several nerve-shattering hours later, now I remember why horror games work in VR.
FireSprite’s The Persistenceis a first-person sci-fi survival horror set in space. You play as Zimri Eder, the security officer of the eponymous deep-space starship. Of course, it wouldn’t be a horror game without something going awry. The entire crew gets wiped out by a surprise black hole (wouldn’t they be able to spot this kinda thing?). Fortunately, the ship can print clone bodies, which you now inhabit. Unfortunately, however, many of the clone printers are acting haywire and printing hostile mutant-zombie crew members which now infest the ship. You need to assist the sole survivor, Serena Karim, in bringing the ship back to normal functionality and sending it, and you, home to Earth. You have five objectives to aid you in achieving this task, spread out over the ship’s four decks.
This isn’t exactly new ground, I know (both the aforementioned Alien: Isolation as well as Dead Space spring to mind immediately), but this game has a few big differences. Asides from being a VR game, which allows good horror games to transcend from frightening to terrifying, The Persistence is also a roguelike. You’ll die at the hands of the warped abominations… and revive, and die again, and every time the ship’s decks will reconfigure, forming new level structures to explore.
Every time you die, however, you get the opportunity to spend some currency collected in your previous run. You’ll collect stem cells, fabricator chips and moolah. Stem cells allow you to upgrade your clone bodies directly, increasing stats such as health, melee damage, or stealthiness. FAB chips allow you to unlock and upgrade weapons at Fabricators, while money lets you actually create them. You can also find schematics, which allow you to upgrade your suit.
The game feels like a stealthy first-person shooter, at least initially. I found myself crawling through the first few decks slowly and methodically. If you’re lucky, you can sneak up behind mutants and blast the back of their heads with the Harvester, a vampiric invention that drains the failed clones of their precious, delicious stem cells. Mmm.
However, as I got more powerful, and learned how to use more of the game’s tools, I found myself confronting more and more of the mutants head on. A particular favourite of mine was the Gravometric Hook. At one point, I got spooked by a Weeper, a crying mutant comparable to the Witch from Left4Dead. These monsters, on spotting you, teleport around you and screech terrifyingly. My adrenaline kicked in and I gripped the beastie with the gravity gun, and by moving my head up and down I slammed her into the ceiling and ground repeatedly until, thankfully, the screeching stopped. In hindsight, this encounter was pretty hilarious.
The weapon variety in the game is big, with a range of melee weapons, firearms and more unique tools, like the aforementioned hook. Another lets you teleport through enemies, causing them to burst into a satisfying mist as you do so. There’s plenty of flavour here, and you’ll find something that works for you among the conventional and special items.
I found the game began to lose some of it’s tension for me as I grew more powerful. However, when the game was scary, it was outright terrifying. Like all good horror games, The Persistence is aided by a brilliant, subtle sound design. Floors creak, distant footsteps skitter and pipes hiss steam as you pass through the haunting metal tomb. Tension bursts with soaring music when enemies spot you and rush, screaming, towards you.
The game’s randomisation will surely allow for plenty of replayability. I’m looking forward to dipping back into it myself. However, at several points during my playthrough, I wondered if the game suffered for the randomised elements. You could maintain the game’s difficulty and levelling systems while still designing levels and enemy encounters; perhaps The Persistence could have benefitted from borrowing more from Bloodborne than Rogue Legacy (ignoring the much-lamented Chalice Dungeons, of course).
The VR implementation is pretty standard. It uses the Dualshock and controls similarly to Resident Evil VII; you aim with your head. I wish there was an option for the Move controllers; aiming your weaponry manually would have added a level of tension to the proceedings (and waving your wand around manically to bash enemies around with the Grav Hook would have been even more hilarious). It’s not the prettiest VR game in the world, either, but the game is so immersive you’ll soon forget to notice.
The Persistence is a great PSVR horror game. Not for the faint hearted, the game has more depth than I’d initially imagined thanks to a clever level up system and variety of weaponry. Perfect for a platform suffering from a dearth of lengthier, mechanically complex content.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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