As far as tech demos go, the London Heist – which launched as part of London Studio’s varied compilation disc PlayStation VR Worlds – was a convincing one. The short, hour-long crime drama effortlessly captured the potential of Sony’s pricey PSVR headset, demonstrating how it can enhance immersion, story-telling, and interactivity. But the SingStar maker was always going to need a second crack at the concept in order to expand upon it. Enter the excellent Blood & Truth, a blockbuster action movie with the kind of production values that put most virtual reality efforts to shame.
In many ways, this is the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune of PSVR – it’s sharply written, boisterously acted, and utterly breath-taking behind the goggles of PlayStation’s futuristic facemask. You play as Ryan Marks, a Phil Mitchell-esque character with military experience. Upon learning of your father’s sudden demise, you’re given leave from the army, and sent back to the mean streets of London where your family finds itself embroiled in an underground turf war against a gang of Cockney ne’er-do-wells. It’s every inch as melodramatic as it sounds, and the script is amusingly self-aware from start-to-finish.
The title sets out its stall fairly early on: upon collecting you from the airport with a name sign that reads ‘Twat’, your greaser brother promptly drives you home, where he introduces you to his new vaping rig. Riding with the roof down, you’re free to grab the e-cigarette from your sibling, and enjoy a few drags of raspberry bubble-gum. The title allows you to blow out the vulgar purple coloured smoke using PSVR’s built-in microphone, and it’s this kind of innovative interactivity that runs through the release from beginning to end. Some of the gameplay is gimmicky, but it’s extremely tactile.
While the crux of the action revolves around its PlayStation Move-powered shootouts, the release knows that it needs to dial down the intensity to prevent it from becoming overwhelming. One sequence sees you scouting out an art gallery, fiddling with some of the exhibits in one-off technological showcases; other times you’ll be able to pick up photographs and clipboards while you’re being interrogated by a CIA-esque agent played by Colin Salmon. The title always gives you something to do with your hands – even if it’s “merely” flipping off foes or making other obscene gestures.
But the firefights are the highlight, with ammunition strapped to your chest and holsters on your back and thigh. Reaching for your guns and manually reloading by snapping cartridges into the butt of your weapons is fun enough, but it’s when you start tossing bullets into the air and catching them in the base of your pistol that the gameplay really comes into its own. There’s more gun-fu on display here than any other first-person shooter we’ve ever played, and the fact that you’re manually juggling items in your hands makes for an outrageously satisfying experience. You can even bite grenade pins to arm them.
Of course this does all come with a crucial caveat: the PS Move controllers just can’t keep up. While the gameplay is genuinely entertaining, you’re going to stumble upon moments where your hands freak out or the screen starts wobbling as you accidentally obscure the lights on the front of the headset. It’s not terrible and the title’s fully playable, but it’s a reminder that the ancient motion tracking technology that Sony’s settled upon is desperately in need of an upgrade. London Studio’s done the best it can with the devices available to it, but next-gen virtual reality will be a game changer.
That’s not to say that this title isn’t pushing PSVR harder than it’s ever been, though. Running on a PS4 Pro, the title simply looks mind-boggling in virtual reality: environments are richly detailed and impressively animated, while motion capture really adds realism to the performance of supporting cast members. Not only that but this is a set piece-laden adventure, with its five or so hour running time peppered with insanely memorable moments – many of which wouldn’t feel out of place in a Call of Duty game. It’s truly sublime stuff.
Our only real criticism is that the gameplay is somewhat limited by the technology. Shootouts, for example, always take place in front of you – and there’s often no way to turn back once you’ve committed to moving forwards. The node-based navigation system – which sees you hopping between different points of interest rather than manually positioning yourself – is also quite limiting, and will surely draw criticism from those who’d prefer to have full control. The plus-side to all of this, of course, is that it’s a surprisingly comfortable experience – despite all of the explosions on-screen.
In addition to the main story, the release encourages replayability with various hidden collectibles, all of which are stored in a kind of underground bunker, which can be fully explored. There’s also a shooting range which doubles as a kind of interactive loadout area, allowing you to manually spray-paint your arsenal and add attachments like silencers and sights. If all that’s not enough, there are score-based training drills for you to test your shooting skills against, and the promise of free DLC hopes to hold your attention a little further down the line as well.
Virtual reality is always at its best when software is developed specifically for the hardware, and this is an example of what can be achieved when a developer is given an enormous budget to invest specifically into the technology. But beyond the gameplay gimmicks on display, London Studio’s made something that stands on its own plates of meat here: this is an explosive roller coaster through England’s capital which rarely pauses long enough to take its tongue out of its cheek. Whether it’s the grime-infused soundtrack or the fact that you can spin firearms on your finger, this is a release that knows exactly what it’s trying to be – and it’s not ashamed of it.
Blood & Truth pushes PSVR to its absolute limits, with a Cockney crime drama that’s as amusing as it is explosive. There are moments where Sony’s motion controllers can’t quite match its ambition, but when you’re scratching records with one hand while firing off a sub-machine gun in the other, there isn’t a single shooter on the PS4 that’s more entertainingly tactile than this. Outrageous production values and a bevy of bonus content make up for a slightly truncated running time, while the release’s many imaginative moments provide respite from the explosive action peppered throughout.