Horror has quite naturally thrived in virtual reality. What could ramp up tension and jump scares more than actually plonking you slap bang in the middle of them after all?
The quality of that horror has been wildly hit and miss because the novelty of virtual reality, unfortunately, lends itself to the cheapest form of jump scares. Consequently, many a title has felt like it’s chasing of a quick and easy buck while VR is in its infancy, and quite frankly you can get away with it a bit more.
The Persistence is definitely not a cheap scare machine. In fact, it’s one of the best examples of horror on the fledgling PSVR platform.
The Persistence is a Roguelike Event Horizon
The premise of The Persistence is enticing. A familiar haunted house in space tale that deals out its own personal narrative flourishes. The entire game is set on the titular colony spaceship that suffers an unfortunate malfunction during a light speed jump and winds up landing within pulling distance of a black hole.
That is not only ripping the ship apart, it’s also sent the Clone printer on the fritz, causing it to create mutated copies of the crew and of course, they are not in the least bit friendly.
You get the honor of playing as the only ‘surviving’ crew member Security Officer Zimri Eder. Well her clone copy anyway. The mission? Restore order to The Persistence and steer back home. Something easier said than done when there’s a bunch of bloodthirsty mutants stalking the corridors.
The Persistence is essentially a survival horror, but interestingly it folds in some roguelike and procedural elements to really pep things up. As you’re a clone, you can die and be revived as a new copy, but by using certain items found around the ship, you can re-sequence Eder’s D.N.A. and give her a better shot at surviving by making a better version of her.
The clone copy system is a really smart way to include reasoning for having roguelike qualities in your game and keeping things consistent, even the procedural elements are tied into the storytelling as well. Each life or use of deck-to-deck teleporter changes the ship’s layout (due to the malfunction), meaning that while you can learn enemy patterns, you can’t quite grasp navigating the ship itself as easily.
What Hides in the Shadows of The Persistence
While much of the ship is draped in darkness, The Persistence retains a clear and consistent visual style that really helps to immerse you into its world. There’s nothing particularly inventive about the future-tech spaceship’s design, but it does at least feel like a believable, yet slightly fantastical, setting. Getting the location right can really elevate any VR experience, and The Persistence manages this without going for flair and sparkles.
The mood is set quite quickly. If you’re at all familiar with the ambient noise tricks of games like Dead Space or Bioshock, then you’ll know what to expect with The Persistence. The hiss of steam, the clank of engine noise, and the occasional creak of the ship’s interior as the black hole tears it apart. It’s classic atmosphere-building stuff and while it may be an unoriginal way to go about it, it is a highly successful tactic, especially when executed as well as it is here.
The state of The Persistence comes into play as both a danger and a helping hand as you try your damndest to reach. The black hole is causing such havoc that the interiors have picked up damage. For instance, the panels on walls and floors are often open and flooded with an electrical current.
This can obviously catch you unawares, but it also acts as a potential trap for mutants. You’re always fighting against the ship as it crumbles, but it’s helpful that you can weaponize it. As with all roguelikes, half the battle is in the learning.
The Persistence’s Combat Evolves
Your best course of action where mutants are concerned is to try and avoid them, but eventually, you’ll have to face up to the monstrosities and The Persistence offers up a variety of ways to dispatch your foes. You start off with a DNA extractor and a forcefield. The extractor is good for…well, extracting DNA from dead mutants and crew, but it can also be used as a handy cudgel in tandem with the forcefield (which can be used as a method of parrying enemy attacks).
This is a strange, yet thrilling system to get used to, but it is only the beginning. There are somewhat traditional guns and some more exotic fare, which you’ll definitely need as the rent-a-mutants start making way for some more intimidating beasts. Having the head tracking of VR makes aiming a little easier, but there’s some compensation for that in terms of how certain enemies move and act that creates combat that fits the VR format really comfortably. Compared to some of the laughable flailing most first-person VR combat gives you, this is on another level.
In fact, the control options are a major contributor to The Persistence’s successes. There are multiple control methods to choose from, and they cater to all levels of VR players. In many titles there are either one or two very different control setups, usually leaving you suffering through some gripe or other. In The Persistence, I felt the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in a first-person VR game. It has a teleport function should you require it, but again, it gets tied in as part of your characters equipment.
VR, and PSVR, in particular, is so very clearly the driving force behind every design choice in the game, and my does it show. It’s that rare beast of an actual full fat PSVR game designed specifically to pay to the headset’s strengths and mask its weakness (darkness is often used to hide PSVR’s visual shortcomings, even though The Persistence is easily one of the better-looking titles for the medium). This is no half-effort, this is a game made with an understanding of the pitfalls of VR and how to best circumvent them.
Is The Persistence a Worthy PSVR Horror?
The most important facet of The Persistence is how it channels its horror. It’d be very easy to end up diluting the tension and apprehension of what might be around the next corner when you know you can just come back if you fail. The procedural nature of the ship means you retain that sense of unease, never knowing exactly what fresh terror awaits you each time, or if you’re even equipped to deal with it properly (when you purchase new equipment from the printing machine, it locks you out for a while, so you can’t exactly stockpile everything for one playthrough).
Crawling through air ducts reminded me of Alien Isolation in terms of the pure dread it instilled as I crept around them, hearing the guttural snarl of a mutant and never quite knowing if it would be coming from the very same duct I was shuffling through. Knowing that you’ll likely not encounter the same fiend in the same place twice does so much to prolong the longevity of the tension and terror.
Incredibly, despite this randomized style, The Persistence doesn’t outstay its welcome, clocking in at an adequate 8-10 hours. It’d be nice if the story felt a little more fleshed out during that time, gave us something a bit meaty to chew on with the whole cloning/expendability topic, but unfortunately, The Persistence falls a touch short here. The story does do just enough to spur you on, but it’s arguably the weakest part of the package.
Oh, The Persistence does one last, really neat thing. There’s a companion app that lets a friend join in on the fun. Using this app, a second player can open doors and lure enemies away. The more they help, the more powers they gain to aid you. This sounds like a potential game breaker, but it’s balanced off with some good old-fashioned greed and mischief. You dying rewards the app player and they have the ability to make your journey that extra bit unpleasant to figuratively push you off a cliff.
The use of interactive companion apps for games is something that has really amplified the titles willing to seriously implement it, and The Persistence does a remarkable job of involving a second person without the risk or need for a VR headset. My advice is to play it through on your own once, then get someone else involved. It makes for a genuinely fresh experience that stretches beyond simply reworking room layouts.
The Persistence is not groundbreaking, even in the realm of VR horror, but it really doesn’t need to be. Granted, there’s definitely room for it to do a bit more with what its got, it just does its job to a high level and throws some pretty neat tricks in to make it stand out. It lacks a little of the polish of say, Resident Evil 7, but The Persistence truly embraces the hardware in a way no other horror title has yet. This is the most essential game in its field on PSVR, and you’d be foolish to dare miss such an intense and enriching slice of virtual reality horror.
The Persistence Review code provided by Firesprite Games