Republished on Wednesday, 28th October, 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of November 2021's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
The Persistence is a perfect name. Yes, it relates to some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo buried at the very core of the game’s lore, but really it encapsulates what the game is about: persistence. You’re the one remaining survivor on a space station that’s inevitably transmuted into some kind of homicidal hellhole, but the good news is that each time you’re the victim of grievous bodily harm, you can reprint a new body and get back to work.
Over time, you’ll be able to augment your clones with new abilities, like stronger melee attacks and better “body tissue” that enhances stealth; the game tries really hard to contextualise its rogue-lite underpinnings, and we appreciate Liverpool-based developer Firesprite going all-in on that front. What you end up with is a heady mixture of Dead Space and Rogue Legacy, all playable exclusively with PlayStation VR.
Honestly, it comes together far better than it has any right to. You’ll find yourself working through multiple compartments of the space station, each randomly generated and home to a brand new selection of murderous mutants. The game world is made up of different “building blocks”, which means you will encounter samey looking rooms, but you’ll need to pay attention to the way in which they’re organised if you want to reach your objective at the end.
Each floor has a different goal, and these are generally more “designed”, with your progress checkpointed even after death. While purists may lament this particular helping hand – there is an unlockable survival mode for those who want a more hardcore experience – we felt that it cut down on needless repetition in a game that already expects you to grind just a little bit in order to get your hero into shape.
As you’d expect of a rogue-lite, there are many currencies to keep track of, the main one being Stem Cells. These can be gathered as you explore the space station, as well as extracted directly from enemies. Sneaking up on foes will allow you to stealth kill them, sucking up their DNA in the process. Alternatively, you can parry most attacks when you’ve been detected, causing foes to stumble and opening the back of their head up to extraction. It’s a satisfying mechanic.
But there’s much more to The Persistence’s combat than just stealth attacks and parries; the game is also well furnished with cool combat implements, ranging from humble handguns all the way through to mystical lances and invisibility cloaks. You can fabricate many of these items around the space station, but you’ll need to invest tokens to unlock and upgrade them, and then spend currency in order to make them. Is the loop starting to make sense yet?
The cool thing about the game is how it manages to make you feel overpowered, but only in very short bursts. A lot of its end-of-level missions will augment you with unlimited ammo, giving you a tease of how the armaments work, only to leave you with two or three bullets from then on. When you’re well supplied and you have lots of gear on your person, you'll feel like a super-soldier – but these moments are rare, and you’ll spend most of your time simply having to make do.
It makes sense, though: the game wants you to be on your toes at all times, but it also wants you to be gradually edging forward. As you gather more and more Stem Cells, you’ll be able to beef up your abilities, making yourself more potent. But the deeper that you get into the space station, the stronger the threats become, and so there’s this constant sense of personal growth balanced against a gradually increasing difficulty curve.
To be fair, this arc isn’t always perfect, as there are occasions where the game’s algorithm will spit out a level layout that feels unfair. But for the most part it’s well executed, and while the title’s never as scary as a more “designed” campaign, it’s still very stressful – which is more what it feels like the developer’s going for. There’s no run button at all, so if you muck up it can be hard to escape – but this has the net result of simply raising the stakes.
The virtual reality adds a lot, too. While it’s not always the prettiest game, there are some pleasant lighting effects and we’re big fans of the “look” user interface, which sees you simply focusing on things you want to pick up or fire at. There are multiple comfort options as well as ample control customisation, and it all feels good on the DualShock 4. As with any PlayStation VR game, it’s the sense of place and scale that sets it apart.
But there’s a social side to the experience as well, aided by a smartphone app which allows you to play alongside (or against) a family member or friend. Essentially, the person playing on mobile will be able to see the game's map, and will have the opportunity to steer the headset wearer towards potentially helpful items – or deadly threats. You're probably not going to get too much use out of this mode, but it's a thoughtful addition that's been well implemented.
The Persistence cleverly blends Dead Space-esque outer-space sci-fi scares with the addictive arcade loop of rogue-lites like Rogue Legacy, resulting in a PlayStation VR campaign that’s both gut-wrenching and weirdly replayable. It won’t take you a million lightyears to complete the likeable campaign, but a hardcore mode awaits when you’ve finished, and clever co-op functionality adds a little longevity to the experience as well. With a compelling gameplay format as well as some great gadgetry, this is one survival mission we thoroughly enjoyed.