You know how it is: you go to sleep on a creepy space-faring colony vessel which has a run in with a spacial anomaly and you wake up to find the halls of the ship stalked by a nightmarish enemy. Before you know it you're in a violent, existential fight for survival. That old chestnut.
Actually, that does sound familiar. It would be fair to say that Firesprite Games' first-person horror roguelike The Persistence wears its influences proudly on its sleeve; the game's director Stuart Tilley acknowledged this in our recent interview. After escaping the goggle-y confines of PlayStation VR, the game is coming to Switch on 21st May and anyone with a cursory knowledge of the sci-fi horror genre may feel like they're playing 'spot the influence' when first firing it up.
Initially, it feels like a succession of callbacks to other IPs--whether you're talking about Ridley Scott's Alien or EA's classic Dead Space or even the Terminator-esque stylings of the logo--but the game soon overcomes the familiarity of its component elements and makes a solid first impression, as we found out after spending an hour or two with the opening sections of a non-final build.
The game looks good on Switch...detailed and clean without the incessant blur of big games like DOOM or Wolfenstein II
Alien has been the archetypal touchstone for practically any piece of sci-fi horror fiction over the past 40 years, so its influence here is hardly surprising. However, for Switch gamers the relatively recent release of the excellent Alien: Isolation will be fresh in their minds. The console already has an excellent space-bound survival horror FPS to its name, so The Persistence really needs something different up its sleeve if it wants to compete.
That's where the game's rogue-like/-lite elements come in to freshen up the formula. You play as a cloned security officer fighting a horde of mutated crew members being 'printed' by the malfunctioning ship. This provides the perfect explanation for how your character respawns after every death for another run at resolving the situation. We're not quite sure about the narrative justification for a modular ship which reconfigures its layout every time you die, but we'll go with it.
The game looks good on Switch; not world-changing, but detailed and clean without the incessant blur of big games like DOOM or Wolfenstein II which have been miraculously squeezed onto Switch's mobile chipset. The contained spaces of a modular space vessel shouldn't cause too much of a problem for even Nintendo's modest hardware, but there are some nice little lighting effects and environmental details to enjoy as you creep around The Persistence (that's the name of the ship, see?). The build we played wasn't without minor texture pop-in issues in the intro, but in-game there was nothing distracting and everything ran smoothly for us.
The movement controls did take a while to get to grips with, though - more specifically the right stick. Response after pushing the stick to aim or turn felt sluggish until it accelerated and overshot where we were aiming for. We played about in the options menu but couldn't find a setting which immediately felt comfortable. We soon adapted but it was a little jarring.
The remnants of The Persistence's PSVR origins can be seen in the ability to 'teleport' short distances
The remnants of The Persistence's PSVR origins can be seen in the ability to 'teleport' short distances (which speeds up the standard walking pace a little) and the sphere-like onscreen reticle that rotates to indicate the direction of the surface it falls on. The reticle also highlights collectible item in green. Lingering briefly on an item will add it to your inventory automatically (or you can press a button if you're impatient). Collectibles range from health packs to FAB (fabrication) chips and tokens used to craft and upgrade an assortment of weapons to suit all play styles.
The selection of craftables feels a bit overwhelming at first, but the weapons on offer are the standard fare. You've got the powerful big gun with slow reload, the automatic that lacks accuracy - all the favourites. We found ourselves using the Harvester most often, a taser-like weapon which strips stem cells from enemies (which accumulate across runs and go towards unlocking perks). You'll have to creep up on enemies and hit 'Y' to use the Harvester, but it's an effective one-hit glory-kill weapon with a generous lock-on (provided you've got a clear view of your target's back).
You also have a melee attack on the right trigger and a split-second shield on 'ZL' used to parry attacks and strike back, provided you nail the timing. Throw in a bunch of assorted secondary weapons such as grenades and drones and there's no shortage of ways to approach any given situation, be you the guns-blazing or stealthy type.
Thanks to some nifty procedural generation, the ship's layout changes with every run and overconfidence can quickly lead to sticky situations with even basic enemies. HD rumble is used effectively to heighten the tension, with every one of your footsteps felt at certain times. Making use of your flashlight is necessary in darker sections, and there were several times where we jumped at the sight of an enemy before it scuttled off down the corridor. Another enemy type we happened across was more-or-less blind but sensitive to sound, forcing you to vary your tactics. Again, not an original concept, but it's soundly implemented here, if you'll excuse the pun.
despite giving off strong vibes of other games, it has the potential to be more than the sum of its parts
If it sounds like you've heard all of the above someplace before, you almost certainly have. Individually, the elements Firesprite has put together may seem underwhelming on paper. However, on current evidence, it assembles those parts slickly and despite giving off strong vibes of other games, it has the potential to be more than the sum of its parts.
One common criticism of Alien: Isolation was that it outstayed its welcome, adding several hours of unnecessarily filler and padding to what could have been a tighter experience. Firesprite seems to have sidestepped this pitfall in The Persistence with its procedural generation and other roguelike elements. Hopefully they will help keep things fresh for the duration of its dozen or so hour runtime (if How Long To Beat is to be believed).
And in the context of a hybrid system like Switch, the run-based gameplay of the VR original translates nicely to the handheld arena and feels well-suited to the console. We'll be intrigued to see how The Persistence holds up and where its creepy narrative takes us when it releases on May 21st. Keep an eye out for a review nearer the time.