The idea of taking a game that's been originally designed as an all-encompassing virtual reality experience and expecting it to stand tall when unplugged from that impressive virtual realm – played instead on the Nintendo Switch's dinky little portable screen or a bog-standard telly – isn't one that really fills us with much confidence. However, that's exactly what Firesprite Games has decided to do with its sci-fi roguelite horror, The Persistence, and somehow it has managed this transition while keeping the game's tense atmosphere and engaging gameplay loops completely intact, successfully transferring its VR-specific control systems to a new platform and providing Switch players with another very solid roguelite experience in the process.
In The Persistence you are dead, your crewmates are dead and the spaceship upon which you were all travelling – the titular Persistence itself – is now a great big floating morgue. Oh, and it's also being slowly sucked into a black hole. Absolutely no luck, mate. Through some futuristic sci-fi wizardry gubbins, the chief engineer – and sole survivor of whatever trauma has beset the ship – manages to create a digital recording of its security officer (that's you) and proceeds to have you harvest stem cells from your very own dead body which are then fed into a clone printer, providing you with an endlessly recyclable human form with which to traverse the decks of the Persistence in order to get its malfunctioning systems back up and running, avoid the black hole and get back to earth safely. Hooray!
Unfortunately, while you were dead, the ship's many other clone printers have been acting up somewhat and, in an attempt to reprint the crew in order to stabilise the situation, have instead been firing off hideously malformed copies of you and all your pals, filling its darkened corridors with all manner of freakish abominations which you'll have to deal with in order to get the five central tasks at hand completed successfully. Luckily, your ship is also very generously decked out with armoury fabrication machines that allow you to print off a delightfully expansive variety of guns, melee weapons, grenades and physics-warping toys in order to take the fight to your badly-xeroxed foes.
In order to access and upgrade the weapons you'll need to succeed – as well as strengthen your base skills between runs and build the various schematics you'll gather up as you blast your way around the ship – you'll have to gather a few different types of in-game currency. You'll want stem cells in order to permanently boost your skills, Erebus tokens to unlock the armoury's arsenal of weapons and FAB Chips in order to purchase what you've unlocked and thereby build the schematic plans you've uncovered from dead bodies and supply crates.
It's all part of a multi-layered system that gives the game's central gameplay loops plenty of engaging variety, but it also leads to perhaps its biggest problem, which is the amount of time you'll need to devote on each run to endlessly collecting all of these currencies. It's a problem that's soothed somewhat by the game's delightful interface, a by-product of having been a VR title that sees you interact with objects and grab loot by simply looking in their direction – something that feels satisfyingly slick to do – but it's definitely an element of the gameplay that begins to grate over time.
There's an inherent grind here too and your first couple of runs – unless you're freakishly super-skilled – see you die in pretty short order. It's only once you've pumped enough stem cells into your skill tree and got your hands on a few schematic upgrades that you'll begin to make some proper progress. However, this is all par for the course with a roguelite, and The Persistence is actually a pretty generous example of the genre, all told.
Your base skill upgrades and weapon and schematic unlocks are permanent, you can collect deck access cards from heavily guarded supply crates to unlock the ability to start your next run from whatever level you were last on and set-piece sequences, which round off critical tasks and save your progress incrementally, allowing you to return and pick up where you left off when you die. Purists may scoff at the helping hand – and for them, there's an unlockable survival mode which charges you with doing the whole thing in one run, as well as a much tougher New Game+ – but for the majority of players, it's a welcoming setup that ensures you always feel as though you're making decent headway through a campaign that should take you around twelve hours to negotiate on your first playthrough.
Where The Persistence really thrives, though, is in the variety of ways in which you can approach how you charge through its creepy gauntlet. All those various currencies may be a bit of a pain to collect, for sure, but they do feed into systems which add an impressive amount of choice to such a seemingly run-of-the-mill sci-fi setup. The ship's armoury not only gives you access to powerful revolvers and machine-guns, but you can also tool about with silenced harpoon guns, grav-hooks that let you pick up your foes and slam them around rooms and savage spinning saw blades that eviscerate any biological threat that stands in your way. There are lots of cool toys, too; rage serums that increase your attack power, Ivy serums that turn enemies into friends (complete with little love hearts spinning above their heads and the urge to fight to the death with anyone who might dare to harm you), invisibility cloaks, gravity grenades and loads more.
The schematics that you collect as you play enable you to build new variations of your space suit which give you the ability to sneak around more quietly, grant more armour whilst lowering the cost of guns, replenish a little of your HP for each enemy you kill, and so on. You'll also find the bodies of a handful of crew – each attached to a little story sequence to further the rather threadbare plot – which you can harvest cells from, allowing you to reprint yourself in their image and gain a boon connected to the job they held aboard the Persistence.
On top of all of this, you can use a Super Sense ability to locate nearby enemies in the darkness as well as to teleport across areas – a very useful trick for avoiding elemental hazards – and to position yourself directly behind enemies in order to use your harvester weapon to perform a stealth kill that sees you gain valuable stem cells. You also have a battery-powered shield that can be pulled up with the left trigger button and timed to deflect enemy attacks in order to parry, throw them off-balance and leave them open to a brutal harvesting counter.
In short, there's a ton of ways to go about your grisly business; sneaking is as viable an option as all-out war, and everything in-between works just as well. The whole thing also takes place in a gameplay setting that, while pretty hackneyed at this point, is still as absorbing here as it was in the games that The Persistence most calls to mind as you creep around its shadowy corridors. There's plenty of Dead Space and Alien: Isolation in the mix, and you'll recognise loads of familiar audio cues as you pick up loot and health or crawl through cramped vents – as well as feeling that same sense of relief every time you enter a safe space or are treated to a rare glimpse of the colourful cosmos that lies just outside the nightmare ship on which you're trapped.
The various enemies that you come up against as you make your way across the ship's five decks are also a decent mixture of regular bog-standard scrappers, sneaky stealth nuisances, bulky behemoths, telekinetic weirdos and screeching, screaming aberrations. You'll often catch them whimper and mumble to themselves as you sneak in for a kill, desperately trying to make sense of the corrupted form in which they've been rebirthed into the world. It'd be sad, really – an eerie and almost poignant situation – if you weren't too busy harvesting them for their precious stem cells or blowing them to pieces for whatever loot, ammo or weapons they've got on them to actually take the time to care. You monster.
Graphically, The Persistence, although a somewhat mixed bag in places, is pretty impressive on the Switch overall and holds up well to other versions of the game running on much more capable hardware. It definitely has some rough edges which make themselves most apparent in bright environments or when you get a little too close to enemy models, but it also does a very solid line in creepy space corridors and flickering neon lights, creating an enjoyably tense atmosphere and, perhaps more impressively, it does so whilst performing absolutely flawlessly in both docked and handheld modes.
Playing in portable does, as expected, involve a slightly blurrier image quality, but there are zero bugs or framerate drops to contend with and we reckon having the ability to dip in and out of sessions in handheld really adds to the appeal, as it's perfect for jumping into with some headphones on for a quick terror-filled blast of sci-fi roguelite action.
The Persistence is a unique and unsettling sci-fi horror roguelite that does an excellent job of transferring its tense atmosphere and absorbing gameplay loops from its original VR form to the Nintendo Switch. There are tons of weapons and toys to tool around with as you run the gauntlet, the permanent aspects of the gameplay are refreshingly generous and survival mode and New Game+ provide a properly stiff challenge for those who prefer their roguelites to be tough as nails. Firesprite Games has done a fantastic job of porting the entire ghoulish affair over to Switch, with flawless performance in both docked and handheld modes; overall, this is another very strong addition to the console's ever-expanding collection of excellent roguelite experiences.