Sony is unveiling The Persistence, a new sci-fi survival horror game for the PlayStation VR virtual reality headset. It is an interesting because it makes VR more social, as your friends can join in using tablets or smartphones while you play with the PSVR headset.
It’s one of the games that shows that horror is one of the genres that does very well in the fledgling VR industry, which sold more than 6 million hardware units in 2016, according to SuperData Research.
The story takes place in the year 2521 aboard a spaceship called The Persistence. The vessel is on its way to a star with a load of humans in cryogenic sleep. Something goes wrong with an experiment and transforms the working crew into a bunch of mutants. They murder the commanders and send the ship toward a black hole. Your job, with the help of surviving engineers (players using tablets or phones), is to get past the mutants and stop the ship from hurtling into nothingness.
You’re likely to die in the process. Then the ship wakes up another human from cryo sleep. But when you do wake up, you inherit all of the abilities that your predecessor had. That makes it easier to make it through the next time.
“Death is almost part of the game loop,” said Graeme Ankers, managing director at Firesprite, in an interview with GamesBeat.
You have to make your way from room to room in the spaceship. It has a spooky setting with a couple of jump scares that will liquefy you.
One of the cool features I watched was the participation of spectators. If you log into an app on a tablet or smartphone, you can join in as a fellow human player. This engineer sees an overhead view of the spaceship’s compartments and can control things remotely. They can also see exactly where you are and which way you are facing in VR.
As the engineer, you can mark mutants, identify loot in the rooms, and otherwise help or hinder the player. David Jagneaux from UploadVR was interacting with another human player using a tablet. Jagneaux didn’t trust his human companion, so he uploaded a virus to the tablet and disabled it. If the smartphone player is really helping you, they can guide you into the right rooms.
You can use a weapon called a Harvester, which fires probes into the mutant’s body and then extracts its stem cells. Makes you feel sorry for the mutants. I used the Harvester on the first mutant I came across. As I moved around, I found I could turn very fast. Ankers said that was one of the tricks the team used to make sure that you didn’t get sick, or nauseous, from the movement in VR.
I also picked up a pistol with six bullets, so I had to use them judiciously in shooting the mutants.
“You have the magic number,” Ankers said. “You have six bullets.”
Lucky me. Fortunately, there were just one or two mutants in each room. You can shoot the mutants and kill them with one shot in the head, or you can use a shield that blocks a mutant’s attack for a split second.
The enemies are procedurally generated, which means they are different in every playthrough. There are also electrical traps that sap your health. Ankers, using the phone, led me through a bunch of rooms. I hit a couple of traps and was in a state of low health.
“You can’t afford to get hurt now,” Ankers said.
I had to take out two mutants. Ankers told me when to go into the room. I went in and fired two shots, and then I made it to the engine room to stop the ship. Mission accomplished. I felt so lucky to be alive.
The ship’s artificial intelligence said, “Wow, you are certainly more capable than your performance records show, ” the computer said in a very British female voice. “Your odds for survival are now above 0.8 percent. It’s time to go deeper into The Persistence.”
Ankers said, “She tries to be empathetic, but she doesn’t have the right words.”
The Liverpool, England-based Firesprite has worked on the game for a couple of years. Sony isn’t saying just yet when it will debut. Gameplay will last for hours, but the exact time isn’t clear yet.