Every now and then a game comes along that marries genres together in such a way that it just makes perfect sense. When the premise for The Persistence was described to me, I found myself wondering why it hadn’t been made sooner. Essentially, you take control of a passenger on a starship that’s awoken from sleep after all of the previous crew was either murdered or transformed into a hideous monster. If you die as this new passenger, the ship’s A.I. awakens a different sleeping passenger that you take control of to pick up where the last one left off.
The twist is that, as a procedurally generated title, every time you restart, the ship’s layout changes. That’s where things get interesting.
Yesterday, Sony invited UploadVR and other members of the media to a private showcase of upcoming PlayStation VR (PSVR) titles. There were five games in total: Farpoint, Starblood Arena, Fantastic Contraption, Statik, and this brand new game right here, The Persistence by FireSprite.
In addition to being a clever combination of procedural generation and roguelike mechanics, it’s also a first-person survival horror game, otherwise known as one of the best genre fits for VR we’ve seen to date. During my demo there was a heavy focus on stealth and many of the items I came across were melee-focused. My standard weapon allowed me to drain the stem cells from my enemies and I even found a device that could turn them against one another, transforming one of them into a “pet” of my own, to fight by my side. I did find an old-style revolver eventually, but the randomization algorithm only blessed me two precious bullets.
On top of all of that though, there is even optional, second screen, multiplayer functionality that fits the theme perfectly. While you’re playing, a second person can download an app on their tablet or mobile device that displays the current map of the ship, as well as icons describing where items and enemies are located.
The second player gets XP for doing things like helping you out, but every now and then they might receive an objective to put you in harm’s way, but on the flipside, the VR player can upload viruses to the second player, stealing XP at certain moments if they wish.. This creates an interesting trust and betrayal dynamic that extends the experience beyond the headset, which the PSVR is already great at doing. It certainly adds an interesting new layer to the game as a whole, but thankfully The Persistence is still fully playable on your own if you’d prefer.
One of the things in The Persistence that stood out the most to me is just how clean and polished everything looks. The lighting is sharp and detailed with wonderful shadows in all of the darkest corners of the derelict vessel and character models are far more articulated than we’ve seen in most VR titles.
Some of the weapon animations could use some work — I noticed when I found the revolver my character became obsessed with flipping and spinning it around in his hand for a few seconds, but it was way too close to my face and was jarring since it seemed to pass through where my head should have been in some cases. Some of the traps and hazards (such as poisonous smoke) were a bit hard to notice visually given the darkness of environments and I had difficulty maneuvering around them at first, but part of that could be chalked up to my impatience and desire to see as much of the demo as possible in the restricted setting.
Movement was a full locomotion system using the DualShock 4 controller. The developers found that instead of implementing partial degree snap turning on the right stick, if they actually just sped up the rotation to be super fast, your eyes and inner ear didn’t perceive it as natural motion and it sidestepped the sickness issues. You can also teleport forward to sprint longer distances or get around objects with the press of the button. It’s hard to say if the comfort solutions actually work — motion sickness doesn’t plague me — but it seems like a creative workaround.
It’s also hard to gauge length for a title like The Persistence, since you’ll often find yourself playing newly generated maps over and over with different experiences each and every time. Your mission is to reach the far end of the ship, get past all of the enemies, and figure out a way to send the craft back to Earth in an attempt to save everyone that’s left on board. During my demo, I didn’t get very far before dying, but that’s sort of expected with games like this. You should be prepared to die several times in many different ways.
The Persistence is currently slated for a May 2017 release window on PSVR according to Sony, but there’s no definitive word on the price point or plans for other platforms in the future right now. Does The Persistence sound like the type of game you see yourself playing in VR? Let us know what you think down in the comments below!