HIGH Harvesting spinal fluid.
LOW Repetition severely dampens the scares.
WTF An enemy type straight out of Left 4 Dead.
The Persistence is something I don’t believe I’ve played before – a horror roguelike. Games are only scary when they take me by surprise or fill me with uncertainty, but roguelikes are all about repetition and seeing the same things in a different order. This is a combination that should clash, but the fact that The Persistence was built for VR ultimately elevates it to something worth playing.
The campaign begins with our protagonist, Zimri, waking up in a new body aboard the titular spaceship, which is dangerously close to a black hole. A voice in our ear – belonging to Serena, who designed the vessel – informs us that while our original body was killed, our conscious mind has been placed inside of a new clone, compliments of the ship’s printers. It’s our job to get the Persistence back online, and every time we die, Serena will manufacture a new body for us.
There are two complications. The first is that the Persistence’s “macrostructure configurator” is on the fritz, which explains why the layout of each deck is different every time we set out. The second is that the ship’s cloning stations have been going haywire, and they’re printing things that… aren’t human!
It’s a tense setup, but by VR standards The Persistence is a relatively casual affair. It was originally released a couple of years ago on PSVR, where the general unavailability of Move controllers presumably prompted developer Firesprite to design for a standard gamepad.
On PC, nothing’s changed – this is still meant to be played sitting down with a regular controller. Players have a cursor in the center of their vision that’s used both to aim weapons and to interact with objects, but otherwise, this handles just like a non-VR title would, and that’s okay. While many VR devs are doing things that have never been done before, others are perfectly content to use this medium to enhance what was already possible. The Persistence is a nice reminder that I’m not looking for a workout every time I put on my headset.
On a purely technical level, The Persistence delivers. Although the environments cycle through variations on the same metallic corridors that we’re always seeing in sci-fi – spaceship interiors just never feel very homey – it’s visually stunning by VR standards, and the voice acting and sound design match. I’m not familiar with Firesprite, but if they’re able to turn out a product this polished on such an experimental platform, I doubt this is the last time I’ll hear of them.
In terms of play, it’s perfectly serviceable. Zimri must navigate four decks, completing tasks that will bring the Persistence back online, and the slate (thankfully) isn’t wiped clean with each death. An unlocked deck can always be accessed from the spawn room without having to go through the ones preceding it, and collected materials can be used to unlock permanent upgrades to the character’s stats or the equipment that can be purchased from vending machines throughout the ship.
The stem cells needed to upgrade Zimri are mainly found by harvesting spinal fluid from live enemies. Getting behind a foe to target its back typically involves stealth, and Zimri can briefly highlight threats through walls and teleport at short range, which carries the additional benefit allowing players to move without making noise. Should combat break out, Zimri uses a rudimentary set of firearms and a melee system that requires players to parry with precise timing before their shield’s energy runs out.
For the first deck the encounter variety is slim, consisting mostly of the usual crazed melee types and the genre-standard “blind monster with excellent hearing.” As The Persistence progresses, the palette widens to include massive brutes that take a lot of raw force to bring down, and small, Gollum-like creatures that set up ambushes. There are also a few foes that players would do better to avoid altogether — the sound of the Bloodhound approaching from another room is perhaps the only thing in The Persistence that never stopped being scary.
The predictable truth of The Persistence is that while it frequently introduces new twists and obstacles, this is a game about running through different arrangements of the same assets over and over, and as such, much of what’s initially unnerving eventually becomes a bit laborious before the campaign ends. Even divorced from the horror angle, The Persistence’s loot largely consists of only three things – stem cells, credits to buy weapons, and tokens to upgrade said weapons. That’s not nearly enough to make the constant and necessary scrounging for supplies feel sufficiently exciting.
It’s a shame that The Persistence loses so much through its procedurally-generated levels, because the occasional scripted sequences are strong and there’s a bit of depth to the mechanics — it’s possible to, say, teleport behind a charging enemy, do a quick 180-degree turn, and then fire a stem cell harvester into its back in the space of a second. The raw ingredients are here and a roguelike twist on this System Shock formula is an ambitious concept, but I’m not convinced that a more focused and hand-tailored experience wouldn’t have been better.
A terrific execution of a merely okay idea is still a lot further than most developers get, however, and the VR implementation heightens the immersion factor just enough to make The Persistence worth checking out. Those with a headset will find The Persistence a considerably more refined product than the average VR title, but anyone who intends on playing it flat may find it a bit too routine.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Firesprite Ltd.It is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC using Vive. Approximately ten hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Strong Language. The game contains a number of F-bombs and quite a bit of gruesome imagery. It’s not terribly perverse, but the game earns its rating.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles are available for all dialogue. There’s an optional HUD element that visualizes the direction of any enemy noise, though it doesn’t seem to highlight environmental hazards like electrified panels, which also give off noises. It’s more accessible than many VR games, but still not perfect.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.