Horror games just aren’t that scary. At least that’s my experience. I know a lot of people love to play these to give themselves nightmares, but not me. So why is this horror-skeptic playing The Persistence?
It all started at a game expo called EGX. I donned a VR headset and fell in love with surviving through all types of ‘zombies’. Some time on, they freed the game from virtual reality, also bringing it to non-VR players across a wide spread of platforms.
So did this one scare me? How is it in VR? And how did the transition from virtual reality headset to monitor go? Let’s find out.
The campaign is where you’ll start. Something happened and you find that the ship is faulty with most people dead. As a mind inhabiting a series of clones, you need to bring the ship back to life. Other clone printers are printing non-human bodies – bad news for you as they all seem to want you dead.
Despite including an impressively grim moment near the start where you have to harvest your own dead body for DNA, there isn’t a huge amount of story in this game. It’s more of a setting than anything. The game didn’t dwell on it, so neither shall we.
So what do you need to do? In the campaign mode, it’s all about making your way to a point marked on the map to bring systems back online. Sneak or murder your way through a series of rooms to get there, activate it, and then go to the next deck. Most likely it’ll be a mix – frontal combat isn’t really your strength, but sneaking up and taking those sweet stem cells while killing them from behind? That’s how you do it.
If you do get seen, a game over might soon follow. There’s a chance though. You come equipped with a shield that will take a couple of hits. Parry an attack with the right timing and you can get your own in. Have a good weapon and you might be able to kill them first. Or try to escape if you feel lucky, but be aware that they can move a lot faster than you.
Speaking of the right equipment, one of your key tools is your scanner. This gives an outline of the enemy, even through walls. You can only use it a couple of times before it needs to recharge though and it only shows so far into the distance – it’s not perfect. Careful use gives you the key information that you need to avoid enemies. With multiple routes and vents that you can sneak through, knowing what you’re avoiding lets you survive longer.
Of course, it’d be too easy if you could learn what was coming next. So every time you die, the rooms reset into a random layout. Everything shifts about. You can learn enemy behaviors, but not where they’ll appear or even what rooms will appear. Each new life is a new experience, but it does build on the last.
The Persistence isn’t just a horror survival, but it has roguelike elements too. As you wander through the creepy corridors, you’ll come across several types of currency. Pick up enough stem cells and you can increase abilities like your health and how quiet you can be. Collect Erebus tokens to unlock and upgrade equipment. These persist, so you keep them even when you die. And while you lose any equipment you’ve fabricated, you do keep any fab chips you’ve collected to make more.
That you keep fab chips is certainly a good design choice. Later in the game, it becomes possible to unlock shortcuts. Having stocked up on the latest death-dealing tools by the end of deck one, starting on deck two with nothing after death wouldn’t be too pleasant.
There’s another major thing to unlock in The Persistence. I’ll not mention it here as it is a bit of a spoiler, but speaking generally I really enjoyed the slow build-up. Unlocking more, accessing new abilities, and having more and more success each attempt. It nails that feeling of progression beyond just meeting the goals in the game. This is needed since it can take quite a few attempts to actually make your way through the rooms to your target.
Variety of Life
One thing I feel that The Persistence does particularly well is variety. It’s surprising since there’s a lot of repetition in the tasks, but this does offset it nicely. First up is enemies.
Most enemies are what I’ll refer to as zombies. Despite not being exactly correct, they act much like zombies in most games. They loiter around a room until they notice a presence and then it’s usually a rush straight at you. Maybe throw in a little undead-sounding groaning too.
You’ve got your standard ones, ones that focus on whether they can hear you, giant hulking ones, invisible ones, teleporting ones, and more. Some of these act differently, require different strategies to take down, and have different abilities. On top of this, there are sentry guns which are an absolute pain to deal with. Hours in and I still groan when I come across one.
I love the different tactics that can be used. I’ll usually try to sneak around, but there are all sorts of items. One of my favorite moments was when I was near death. I threw a bladed teleporter item through a zombie, killing and passing him at the same time. There are also distractions you can use or ways to turn invisible among other items.
Items are one-shot and then done just like in most games. Weapons aren’t too different though. Whether it’s a gun or some type of melee weapon, they don’t last long. While it can be a little frustrating at times, this keeps up the variety too. I need to keep switching weapons and experiencing different ones.
Beyond the Campaign
Want more campaign? Or something different? You’ll be glad to know that The Persistence does have more to offer you.
There are some unlockable campaign modes to put a different spin on it, most notably one with permadeath. If you complete the campaign with less than ten deaths (a real challenge), you can unlock this.
Easier to unlock are the challenge modes. There are two of these – glass cannon and first blood.
Glass cannon gives you an overpowered weapon, but in exchange takes you down to 1HP. You have to kill all enemies to proceed. The enemies notice you pretty quickly too, so while you can try to sneak a little, this is pretty action-packed.
You can choose from any weapon you’ve already unlocked in the campaign. Ammo is unlimited too. I usually chose the Valkyrie – a bolt gun. Slow but powerful, I ended up killing more than one enemy with just one shot at times. Enemies that took more than one hit were rare. I had a ton of fun with this.
First Blood was more active, but a bit sneakier. You needed to get to an escape pod, armed only with a knife. You can still die to a single hit in this mode if unlucky, so it’s not the easiest. I ended up quickly teleporting away at times to make my way through.
These challenge modes both really change the dynamic of the game. Both disabled the scanner too, making it more about pushing forward and using your eyes and ears. There are no items in either challenge mode, so you can’t trick the enemy or change weapon.
Having tried The Persistence in both virtual reality and on a monitor, I feel it has a bit of an identity crisis.
As I mentioned, this was originally a VR-only game. But it feels very much like an older one that still takes cues from non-VR games. It does not implement motion controls, instead using a standard gamepad. Aiming and picking up items is done by the direction of your gaze. It has an odd mixture of smooth locomotion and teleportation which limits your teleportation-rate heavily.
This carries over to the version played on the monitor. Instead of being able to click or press a key to pick up items, you still need to focus your gaze on them. Teleport is gone, but you’re still limited to one-speed movement. It feels like it’s taken some odd things from the VR version that could easily be made more intuitive.
There are technical issues too. When playing in VR it occasionally suddenly went black. Recentering the headset position sometimes helped, but not always. I had to just reset at times. There was also that I couldn’t start it in non-VR mode without physically disconnecting the headset. There’s an option for it, but it didn’t work.
In its defense, the VR version does include some good options around comfort. You can choose between fast rotation, smooth turning, and snap turning. There is a vignette to help with motion sickness, but there are some fairly comprehensive options around when or if to use it.
Don the Headset?
If you’ve got a choice, I’d say to play The Persistence in VR. There are some real issues on both sides, but mostly around VR. That said, there are some real benefits to it.
I mentioned that I don’t really scare easily with horror games. Despite this, it did get me a couple of times. But it only happened when I was playing in VR.
Sometimes an enemy might be lurking in a corner. There are a few areas where you can’t scan ahead or you might just miss something on the scan due to positioning. Having the zombie jump on you in first-person can be a shock.
The brilliant 3D sound design contributes to this as well. You have to listen carefully for the sounds of zombies moving around, but not knowing where they were kept me on edge. Mixed in were just the random sounds even when nothing was there. It might’ve been something! Am I really alone? It leads to these thoughts. It made for an amazing atmosphere.
In comparison, I didn’t really find it scary on a monitor at all. Your experience may vary of course.
Let’s Play Together!
While I admit I couldn’t test this extensively due to the pandemic, there’s an application that pairs with this. While you play The Persistence, a friend can join you in-game on their phone.
This application lets your friend observe and interact with the in-game world via a map. They can do things like open doors, identify where items are, and lay down sounds to attract an enemy.
Of course, this can go both ways. Your ‘friend’ may not be one much longer. As well as sending enemies away from you, they can lead them to you. Feeling scared? They can turn the lights off to make it worse. When it was on show at EGX the PR guy had a lot of fun screwing with the players.
The Persistence app works on an upgrade system too. Every identified item or enemy gives them a point. The more points they can, the more upgrades they can get. This unlocks new abilities.
This is meant to be played via a local network, but I believe it’s also possible to play remotely by giving someone your IP. This might make a fun livestream idea for someone to play with more trusted members of their community if so.
The Persistence has some very real design and technical issues. Despite this, I found it worth dealing with them because it also has an addictive gameplay loop, a fun challenge, and a brilliant atmosphere when playing in VR. I certainly recommend it, but feel it could be much better than it is.
THE PERSISTENCE IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to FireSprite for a PC review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.