Persistence by name, persistence by necessity – Sony's latest virtual reality effort places you in a vast space ship where things have all gone a bit Event Horizon, and putting them right will take many, many attempts. There are some truly brilliant sci-fi and horror touches woven into The Persistence, from its setting – trapped in the event horizon of a black hole after a transport error strands the eponymous vessel in its intractable pull – to weapons and upgrades being 3D printed on demand from access terminals, to the crew being bio-printed into newly cloned bodies if they die.
These plot points factor into the game's mechanics, with gravitational disruptions from the black hole affecting the ship's systems, including how its modular decks are oriented and where key objectives lie. It allows developer Firesprite to re-map the game world each time you die, creating a new 'dungeon' to make your way through with each respawn. The process that allows you to step out of a birthing pod in a fresh new body is also responsible for the game's main threat – misshapen mutants borne of the bio-printing system's imperfect recreations of your crewmates.
The Persistence is one of the PSVR’s most impressive titles to date.
Despite its first-person shooter influences, this is ultimately very much a stealth game. You'll stalk your way around the darkened, ever-shifting decks of the ship, sneaking up on mutants and extracting stem cells when possible but otherwise avoiding them at best and desperately fighting them off at worst. Enemies are savage and relentless — even following you into air ducts and crawl spaces if they spot you — and given that weapons are of limited ammo, and require you to have materials to create one at a replicator, encounters with them are usually frenzied melee battles.
Thankfully, The Persistence extends its sci-fi premise to a range of bio-powers, installed in your clone data as upgrades thanks to those aforementioned stem cells. From time-warping fields to gravity-nullifying psychokinesis, there are some innovative and satisfying ways of tackling the horde.
As a virtual reality title, The Persistence is one of the better ones, with familiar first-person shooter controls on a regular PS4 controller coupled with intuitive and effective in-world interaction based on line of sight. Doors, crates, and computers are used by looking at an in-game retina scanner, while switching weapons or power load-outs in menus is as simple as glancing at what you want. The environments of the ship itself are hauntingly immersive too, placing you in a space that is at once dauntingly large in sprawl yet cripplingly claustrophobic to navigate.
The game’s biggest issue is its pacing. With only five major mission objectives to complete, it's shorter than some players would like – although this is deliberate, with rewards for speedruns – though the procedural generation of the layout makes that tough to accomplish. Being unable to learn the layout and having to battle through brutal enemies over and over to reach ever-moving areas can start to frustrate – it almost feels like a way to artificially draw the game out.
Still, The Persistence is one of the PSVR’s most impressive titles to date, and with a variety of visual comfort settings to minimise nausea and accommodate anyone new to the medium, it’s a great entry point to VR.