What happens if you take the precise gun-fu of John Wick and the rhythm oriented action of Baby Driver then shoved it all into a VR headset? Well, you get Pistol Whip. A brilliant rails-shooter-cross-rhythm-game hybrid, developer Cloudhead Games has crafted one of PlayStation VR's best experiences to date.
Set amidst the backdrop of the film set of an action movie, Pistol Whip sees you fighting your way through hordes of enemies, but with a catch. Instead of just mercilessly blasting through the cadres of faceless grunts, the game encourages you to do it to a beat. Each level is a music track, and while yes, you can kill to your heart’s content with no consequence, your point totals, and the experience at large hit a new gear if you time everything to the song.
The songs – mostly – have easy to discern beats, so even the rhythmically challenged should be able to keep pace with what the game throws at you. This is implemented so well in fact that there are moments where the action and music sync so brilliantly it would be a challenge to go off-beat. Reloading on beat becomes like second nature even if you don’t plan for it. The entire experience just sucks you into its rhythms so well that after even just one song, the game’s got you for good. And if you’re still worried after that, the game even has an option to implement a metronome during play, a frankly brilliant idea.
The game currently consists of 15 levels, with more on the way in the coming months, and there’s a surprising amount of variety. Granted, the soundtrack is largely comprised of drum-'n'-bass style music, but the BPM – beats per minute – variance is the real star. These fluctuate wildly from track to track, helping to ensure that no two songs feel too similar and generally helping to keep everything fresh. When paired with the game’s gorgeous environments, the presentation is immaculate on all fronts. The pulsating environments move and shift alongside the music, helping further keep you in time, and the use of bright colours create an unforgettable experience.
Some of the environments feature more realistic locales, like a jungle or desert, but things get especially interesting when the game embraces surrealism. A level that starts as a corporate office before transitioning into a terrifying void filled with howling kabuki masks, in particular, is a standout. Many of the environments seem influenced by popular action franchises, too. A level inspired by the Día de Los Muertos festivities, in particular, feels ripped straight out of the most recent James Bond film, Spectre.
This level of vibrancy reaches beyond the levels themselves and applies to your customisation options, too. The selection of handguns and visual options are frankly staggering. Twenty different weapons – and likely more to come – are paired with an astounding number of patterns and colour options. The combinations seem tailor-made to craft the gaudiest, most eye-watering weapons imaginable, but you can always leave them alone if you’re more of a naturalist.
Things can get even crazier if you implement some of the modifiers. The most popular is likely to be akimbo, as careening down alleyways with a pair of pistols just has a certain manic appeal to it. We were honestly somewhat surprised that the standard version of the game wasn’t already two guns, but the options are available right away if you’d prefer to just start there. It’s probably best to get a feel for the game as it was intended first though, as the learning curve can be relatively steep.
Fortunately, there are a variety of other modifiers that help make the experience easier or more challenging. Things like infinite ammo, all enemies dying in one shot, and the like. As you start perfecting your timing and level of play, some of the mods are going to be especially enticing, such as only getting new ammo from melee kills or not having any armour. Perhaps most intriguing is the 'Deadeye' modifier, which not only disables the aim assist but punishes missed shots.
Ultimately we still recommend starting without any modifiers on. Some of the songs with higher BPMs can throw a few too many enemies at you if you’re completely dedicated to shooting on beat, and you’ll want a more complete understanding of the title before throwing some more variables into the mix.
As Pistol Whip is a VR game, it's worth mentioning how motion feels while strapped in. And frankly, we’re confounded by how stable this title is. There is not a moment where you aren’t in motion in this title. You’re on an aforementioned “rail” at all times, and despite this constant acceleration, the title is neither disorienting nor nauseating. Normally if an experience has you remain stationary while the in-game sprite is moving, the results can be calamitous. But even without touching any comfort settings, we found the game to be a breeze to play for long stretches of time. And this is good because as far as we can tell, there aren’t actually any comfort settings to mess with, which could be problematic for some players.
Pistol Whip is a transcendent experience. This brilliant rails shooter has the trappings of a rhythm game which helps to make an already sublime experience stand out that much further. With a vibrant world and a variety of tracks to test your mettle with, the game offers a solid package right out of the gate. And that’s to say nothing of the upcoming content that will further expand what Pistol Whip has to offer.
Oh hey, great review, [better than Nintendo Life Definitely], I'll definitely get this game eventually
I was not going to get this title until I read this review. Now I think it’s a must!
@zeppray haha, same here mate, clicked thinking it might get a 6ish, started to read the review and thought this actually sounds pretty good I'm defo getting this one soon. Prefer vr on the rails tbh, until Sony sort out the move controler with a analogue stick or something.
Edit:Ok couldn't resist just bought it about an hour and half ago it's AMAZING 😀. I actually think it's a little better than beat saber, got a nice feel to it, and that little hint of superhot. Gone through about half of the songs on normal, having a break now lol, probably give a few more songs a go in a bit lol
It’s amazing. Anyone with PSVR should be purchasing it. I played it all weekend.
Sold me as well, looks awesome!!
Time to buy then methinks!
Why does Push Square want me to spend all of my money? Just stop!
Been looking for another VR experience before this gen ends. This might be it!
I cannot wait to get this.
@lacerz It's super worth it!!!
@Daleaf Honestly I've been of the opinion that VR games are a perfect match for rhythm games for years now, and this is just another example! It's great stuff!
@zeppray Hope you enjoy! It's spectacular!
@gbanas92 Great review I'm sold, do you know if this will get a physical release? Also did you review it with move controllers or a dual shock?
@gbanas92 totally agree mate, they work so well in vr. Pistol whip makes you feel like a proper bad ass lol. Looking forward for another workout after work and in between the snooker lol
@Daleaf Absolutely, there are so many moments already whereas dumb as I might have looked out of the game, in-game I looked so freakin' cool!
@Mostik I haven't heard anything on a physical, but man I hope so! I would absolutely buy that!!!!
And moves! As far as I know, you can't play the game with a Dualshock. If you play with 2 guns, they have to point in different directions at the same time!
Just reporting back I bought the game it is great lotta fun and a good workout too!
@zeppray Yesssssss. Love seeing that!!!!!
Amazing game! Massively replayable and an absolute blast. The modifiers allow you to completely adjust the game to your liking/skill level. 2 minor niggles though - would have liked the option to adjust the neon colours of the levels as they get a bit repetitive and also could of done without the tracer style bullet lines
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