When it comes to VR, horror is always one genre that does well. It turns out when you feel like you're actually in the game, it's much easier to be scared. While The Persistence takes horror and uses it as its roots, the game also looks towards the roguelite genre for inspiration. Combining the two means you'll be exploring a horribly rundown space station that has a mutant problem, and the only solution is you. Is it worth persisting, or should you just give up?
Before I even start talking about the game, I have to really express just how wonderful The Persistence's comfort options are. The game offers three different camera and movement styles aimed at finding the perfect one for each player. Beyond this, you can tweak various settings to be just how you like them, offering up comfort options like snap turning or moving arms. In no time, I was able to find the perfect blend that kept me in the game and happy about it.
You'll play as Zimri Eder, the security officer aboard a spaceship called The Persistence. When the ship has a "spark gap event" it accidentally jumps next to a black hole. The also causes the 3D printers on the ship to begin printing out monstrosities. Worse, Zimri is killed. Thankfully the ship's AI computer digitally saves her mind and uses a 3D printer of its own to print Zimri a new body. Now the two need to restart the ship's hyperdrive and get back to Earth. Along the way, you'll learn why Zimri was on The Persistence in the first place, hear stories of the crew, and more. It's nothing mindblowing, but there's good storytelling here that kept me hooked.
Naturally, none of this is easy to do. You'll have to go through four floors of The Persistence, and on each floor, you need to find a specific task that needs to be carried out. Of course, between you and said task is a constantly changing floor plan and plenty of mutants. At the start of each run, you're only armed with a harvester, which is more of a medical tool used to extract stem cells from people. Naturally, you are going to be using it to extract stem cells from mutants. Sneak behind one, and you can harvest them, earning you a bunch of material and also dealing a ton of damage.
For a while, stealth is going to be your best friend. You really don't want to fight unprepared, even with the easiest enemies. Everything hits hard and you have little health. Thankfully you do have a few helpful tools at your disposal. Your most important ability is Supersense, which quickly highlights all the enemies in front of you for a few seconds. You also have a quick jump teleportation ability that you can use like a dash. These two skills ensured that I could manage my way through areas without being seen. Even if I was, there's always the ability to quickly put up a forcefield that can parry an enemy's attack.
As you wander around you can loot all sorts items. You'll mostly be looking for stem cells, which you can use to upgrade your stats, chips that you can use to purchase weapons, and tokens that allow you to unlock new weapons and upgrade them. The weapon variety is really cool, and I always found new toys to play with. Sure, there are basic options like revolvers, submachine guns, and riot batons. However, there are also neat experimental weapons. One was a harpoon gun that allowed me to silently take out enemies and hilariously send them flying or stick them to walls. Another is a gravity gun that causes enemies to fly around wherever I looked. For example, if I begin nodding my head rapidly, I smash them into the ground over and over. It's always deeply satisfying.
Sadly, while the weapon variety is great, the same isn't true of the enemies. There are only a few enemy types in the game, and most of them boil down to "tries to punch you". One jumps out of corners to punch you, another is big and wants to smash you, while a third is invisible and wants to hit you. In fact, the only enemy I can really think of that changed things up was the Weeper. This creepy enemy sat in corners and cried (not unlike Left 4 Dead's Witch) until it saw you, at which point it would begin to teleport around and harass you with loud screeching that stunned.
While I was usually enjoying each run in The Persistence, I did notice the game seemed to have issues with sudden difficulty spikes. One run ended almost instantly because the first enemy thrown at me was one of the hulking Berserkers. Worse, he was staring at the door, just waiting for me to open it. I had no way out of or around the situation. Another time I found a room with an overwhelming amount of enemies in it that I just couldn't fight reasonably. I know this comes with the rougelite territory, but it is annoying when the reason I died is luck rather than skill.
Sometimes the game breaks away from the rougelite structure for a more controlled experience. This happens in the main room you're trying to reach on each floor. One room saw the lights go out. This required me to crawl through dark tunnels and carefully avoid enemies hiding around corners waiting to strike. Another gave me a harpoon gun with unlimited ammo and tasked me to spear enemies into power cells. These moments are often great, providing a nice dose of scripted horror or ridiculous action to break up the game a bit.
You don't have to take this journey alone. While you can't get a second player to physically join you, you can have them download an app that lets them hack into your game. Once there, they get a view of the map that shows you and nearby points of interest. From here the second player can serve as an assistant. As they analyze hidden objects they'll gain experience points that they can learn new skills with. Eventually, this gives them the ability to do things like freeze enemies in place, tag enemies through walls, or lure them away. However, they can also choose to mess with the VR player by making enemies charge them, shutting off lights, or setting off traps. In turn, the VR player can fight back by finding control panels to hack the phone player, locking them out of the game for a while.
This multiplayer mode is genuinely fantastic. I had a lot of fun both helping and messing with my friends. Every time something went wrong in my game, I was ready to blame them. However, it does lead to one major problem in balance. A phone player helping a VR player makes the game almost trivially easy. I defeated one of the strongest enemies by having my phone player continue to freeze him over and over. This allowed me to keep walking behind him and using heavily damaging harvests. It's still a great time, you just want to make sure they're not always helping you.
Even if I got help, The Persistence constantly terrified me. The atmosphere builds almost perfectly, and even the most mundane hallway feels like a threat. Panels fall from the ceiling and gas pipes rupture near you just rarely enough so that you forget about it before it happens again. I was actually surprised to see these happening in the randomly generated rooms, not expecting to see much from those. Sadly, the random generation does lead to occasional issues with item spawns. Once a gun spawned inside of a table, making it impossible to get. Another time I had a chest spawn inside of a crate, making obtaining the items within a difficult task. Thankfully this is a minor (and rare) issue.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from The Persistence, but I came away extremely pleased. Each run on the spaceship saw me rethink how to approach enemies. I tried to find new weapons to fight back as I hoped to avoid capture just a little longer. It really is a terrifying game that plays up its horror elements well. While there are still a few issues to be ironed out, it's worth persisting with this game.
Our The Persistence review was conducted on PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developers.
The Persistence is a smart, and genuinely scary, mix of horror and roguelite elements that takes full advantage of VR.
- Creepy Enviroment
- Great Weapons
- Fun Gameplay Loop
- Fantastic Multiplayer
- Many Comfort Options
- Low Enemy Variety
- Difficulty Spikes
- Multiplayer Makes Game Too Easy
- Occasional Item Spawn Issues