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.