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.
This sounds about like what I was expecting and I definitely want it! Awesome review @get2sammyb . It's got Aim support too right?
how long does it last?
Must buy! The demo was awesome
Is it dual shock only? I dunno why but I thought the aim controller was compatible.
Read like an 8. I’m pretty much sold, but it’s just too hot to use the headset right now.
Saving this for cold winter’s night .
So does this have aim support?
Let me bandwagon the AIM support question. This is a need to know.
Man, reading Sammy’s review makes me want to play The Persistence all of the way through, for sure. I really like his introduction about the game being built upon the need to persist — not just in the way you survive the horror — but in how each deck design is procedurally generated to keep you on your toes, and how battling through to earn upgrades and new abilities rewards the player’s persistence. I found the parry mechanic of the block satisfying when I played it, too. Great review, Sammy.
In answer to a couple of questions in the comments section, first of all when I visited Firesprite they mentioned a 6 – 8 hour playthrough time from start-to-finish. However, they said that this time will differ, because stealth and action approaches are “chalk and cheese”, so some players will take longer using a stealth play-style. Sammy mentions in his review how it is cool that The Persistence has moments that make you feel overpowered in short bursts, and Firesprite described to me that the game was deliberately designed that way.
In regards to the PS Move and PSVR Aim controller questions above, I have copied Stuart Tilley’s answer in from my Firesprite interview here:
Push Square: Did Firesprite consider including a PlayStation Move option for motion-based aiming controls during development?
Stuart Tilley (Game Director, The Persistence): "We designed the game to work with DualShock 4, the DualShock is perfect for first-person games, you’ve got both the sticks and we know that everyone who has got a PlayStation definitely has a DualShock 4, so we designed the game for that. A lot of players, and people online have asked for the potential of doing support for Move controllers, so we will see how it goes. I think basically what the public’s perception is to that? We’re not averse to doing it, but it’s going to be quite a challenge for us to do. If we’re going to do it, we want to do a brilliant job of it, rather than to just throw it in, essentially".
Sounds like a fun game. Curious what it would need to do in your opinion to achieve an 8 or even a 9. Maybe a bit more variety and a more involved narrative?
@lalo2967 About 8 hours according to the dev on the PS blog.
Nice review Sammy, though a light-year is a measure of distance, not time .
@klog60 I was going to write exactly the same
@gbanas92 Don’t think so. Only DualShock 4.
@klog60 Please allow me my poor pun. 😭🤣
Definitely would love to see that but I think it's very unlikely to happen unfortunately.
An informative review. Thanks for the article.
@munkondi In many ways this kinda is Dead Space in virtual reality. It's definitely been hugely inspired.
@munkondi Indeed. Since owning PSVR, and with being very fond of the Dead Space games, I’ve always thought that Dead Space: Extraction would be a particularly good fit for VR 👻
I seem to recall playing the demo of this last winter when I bought my psvr. I think it was on the demo disc that came with the headset. If so, it was a pretty fun game.
Loving this game, I highly recommend it. Easily one of my favourite VR games.
I just got this game on the switch on sale. It is the non VR version of course. Reviews I read said it translated pretty well out of VR. I don't have first hand experience with that since I don't have the VR headset. Is this version on PS4 VR only or did they release a non VR version on the PS4 as well?
It translate well out of the VR - however I did get a game breaking crash, that corrupted my data. (latest patch)
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