I felt well situated to visit Firesprite to play its PlayStation VR stealth horror game The Persistence for Push Square recently. I’m local to Merseyside, so travelling from my home to its Liverpool office took twenty minutes in total. I’m also a keen retro gamer, and once I had the fascinating opportunity to talk to Firesprite’s developers about its illustrious history at Psygnosis and Studio Liverpool there was no stopping me. The first moment I ever ogled 16-bit computer graphics and saw glorious Roger Dean artwork was Psygnosis’ Barbarian on my friend’s Atari ST in 1988. The angle of it being my first ever experience with PSVR was especially intriguing.
I had tried a Virtuality arcade game in the 1990s, but it was expensive for a quick play, so it became a short-lived experience. From a retro perspective, I also very much enjoyed playing the 1995 Virtual Boy console a few years ago at the Nintendo Life office, where I sampled Mario's Tennis and Teleroboxer. I actually found the Virtual Boy’s red monochrome display and depth effect to be novel and striking.
I approached the visit excited about discussing Firesprite’s history, and looking forward to playing The Persistence, but apprehensive about experiencing virtual reality. As part of my research I read an excellent article on Eurogamer by Wesley Yin-Poole titled ‘VR makes me feel sick, but The Persistence does all it can to help’. It’s especially a good read to learn about the three settings for the player to choose their approach to VR: comfort, standard, and snap.
I also had in my mind a Neil Druckmann quote to Kotaku about not using the word ‘fun’ to describe The Last of Us: Part II, stating that it could have moments that may be “at times making you feel uncomfortable”. However, I became nervous specifically about feeling sick, or becoming scared in front of developers I had just met. If my first PSVR experience was at a Push Square get-together, I wouldn’t have been uneasy at all. If I was surrounded by my friends from the team we would crack up if I jumped out of my seat, and it wouldn’t be the first time I felt a bit nauseous after a night of fun with those guys. I emailed Push Square to half-jokingly ask, “Is it wise for my first experience of PSVR to be a horror game?”
It turns out, I had a hugely fun hour playing The Persistence, as the reality of the PSVR experience was completely different to my nervousness. I didn’t feel sick, and I didn’t need to develop my sea legs. I loved feeling scared, edging around each corner with protagonist Zimri Eder’s Stem Cell Harvester stealth weapon to take out The Listener enemy. In my interview Stuart Tilley (Game Director) described himself and Lee Carus (Art Director) as “massive sci-fi fans”, and it reminded me how much I enjoy a sci-fi setting. Two of my favourite films of all time are The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner.
Tilley mentioned being inspired by the original 1979 Alien film, and the way the artistry creates similarities to the claustrophobic feel of the Nostromo's corridors and narrow air ducts felt spot-on. I couldn’t help but notice Firesprite’s inspiration from Dead Space, and the interiors also recalled the tension built from watching atmospheric set-designs in the film Event Horizon. Carus described the “incredible lighting system”, and touches like using a torch to cautiously brighten dark corners reminded me of The Last of Us, but were elevated by PSVR, making me pause to reflect upon how magical VR technology is at heightening the senses.
It was creepy to hear the grunting sounds of nearby enemies resonate amongst the visuals inside the headset, and to be controlling protagonist Zimri Eder as very early on she comes across her original dead body. I’ve always appreciated enhanced vision options to look through walls – like Detective Mode in Batman: Arkham Asylum – but the Supersense view is drip-fed to maintain jitteriness, by needing a recharge in The Persistence.
Everyone I met at Firesprite was friendly and helpful. They had patience to watch me die often, and my mindful steps around the ship’s first deck. I would stop at length and just gawp at blistering red debris and the asteroids being swallowed by a black hole outside the vessel’s window, and out loud I actually exclaimed “Wow!” I pretended to Firesprite that I kept Zimri crouched as a strategy to practise timing the L2 shield block, when in reality a Lurker enemy in my face startled me, so I froze on the spot. I choose to play Dishonored as an action game, but the tension from PSVR would ensure I’d first play The Persistence using stealth.
With the PSVR headset on, I was so immersed it distracted me from my manners. Whenever I cover a game I love researching extra tidbit details, and I make reams of notes. Yet, I was so keen to stay in the headset experience, I asked Firesprite’s staff to write notes for me. For context, that is like being a guest within a company, and while they were working asking them to do your job for you, too.
Special mention goes to Gareth Delve (Project Manager), and James Le Noble (Solex Dev Manager). After I took the headset off, they demonstrated how to play effectively, as I assisted with the Solex companion app on a tablet. I’m a gamer who plays Red Dead Redemption with a morally positive John Marston, so I intended to help Le Noble by tagging and freezing enemies, plus highlighting weapons and medkits. Using the Solex companion app as assistance from another player can make completing The Persistence easier during a speedrun. However, it was amusing to have Delve play the role of Devil on my shoulder from cartoons, encouraging me to sabotage James.
Seamlessly through hands-on time with The Persistence, any of my previous apprehension about first playing PSVR had naturally turned into open-mouthed wonderment, and pure fun.
If you haven’t played PSVR yet, are you excited to try it, or do you have any apprehensions? What was your first ever experience of PSVR? Provide any extra tidbit details you’d like to share in the comments below.