For me, virtual reality has always been about the experience rather than the gameplay.
Right at the very beginning, playing A Chair in a Room: Greenwater with the HTC Vive, I realised that the potential of VR was which it’s ability to immerse the player in the game environment. A Chair in a Room does this by having the player trapped and surrounded by some very unnerving goings on. The game has a massive level of immersion. I remember being amazed at detail of the toilet in the corner of my cell, with a “do not use” warning. Of course, none of this would translate well to 2D. Experiences like this, I thought, were the future of VR.
But this not really how it’s gone. There’s loads of gimmicky arm waving games (OK, some of which are a lot of fun), quite a few games with VR bolted on, but nothing that really excels in using the platform for a full-length theatrical experience. Resident Evil 7 came close, but even for that excellent game, VR was an optional extra.
With Blood & Truth SIE’s London Studios have delivered that VR theatre experience that I’ve been waiting for.
Based on The London Heist, a sequence in London Studio’s PSVR title VR Worlds, Blood & Truth ups the ante giving players a full VR action-adventure experience. In fact, the game is a lot more than the simple extension of The London Heist, as suggested in the short preview I looked at the other week. Blood & Truth is not just about East-End criminals, it’s a full-on VR homage to action movies.
The game starts with the player as SAS operative, Ryan Marks, entrenched in Iraq. Following a raid on an enemy settlement, that doubles as a tutorial mission, Marks gets word that his father, the patriarch of his family’s criminal business, has passed.
On returning to London to be with his family, Marks hardly has time enough to grieve when larger-than-life rival cockney gangster, Tony Sharp, declares that he’s taking over the family’s business. The addition of CIA Agent Carson suggests that it is much more that a gangland power-struggle.
Blood & Truth is a VR game through-and-through. The gameplay has been honed to suit the PSVR rather than a 2D screen. So much so, that it just wouldn’t work outside of VR.
The players interactions capitalise on the advantages of VR, having a 360-degree 3D environment providing proper depth perception, allowing players to pick up and physically manipulate things with the Move controllers. Grabbing guns from holsters, reloading clips, lobbing grenades and even picking locks are all physical actions performed by the player in the full-scale game environment.
The game also accounts for the limitations of VR. Moving about in VR can easily become a nausea-inducing experience. Poorly implemented movement controls can also be a little awkward when using your hands to hold and fire weapons.
Games that utilise the PS Aim controller, like Farpoint, have players moving about using the controller’s built-in little joystick. Even then, there’s still no strafe. Moving in PSVR games without using a DualShock controller either requires a masterclass in hand/eye co-ordination and a cast-iron stomach or a suspension of disbelief-shattering teleport system.
The developers of Blood & Truth have come up with a compromise that allows players to concentrate on the core shooting gameplay, but still allow for freedom of movement, albeit slightly curated. In a 2D game, a movement system whereby players move from predetermined position-to-predetermined position would feel a bit limiting and on-rails. In Blood & Truth’s VR experience this movement feels more like moving from cover position to cover position.
To move, players simply look as the highlighted location and press the move button to scurry over. Player can also strafe between available locations, using the “X” and “O” buttons, shooting as they move. It works really well, with players always facing the right way. Add the game’s time-slowing focus mode, triggered by pressing both Move buttons on the Move controllers at the same time, and players become bona-fide action heroes.
Levels are full of guns and ammo, from revolvers to assault rifles, and even a grenade launcher. The odd hand grenade is also left laying around. For added fun, there’s plenty of fire extinguishers and gas tank just asking for a bullet or two, the resulting explosion enough to send the bad guys flying. You can carry two pistols in your holders and a large gun on your back. Personally, I found two silenced pistols did the job better than others, and looked the coolest.
A few times, when resuming a game, the Move controllers were all over the place. Shutting them all down and stating them up again did the job. Similarly, during a second go after a spectacular death, my character’s movements where out whack with those of the action set-piece resulting in another death. The next time, however, it synced up nicely.
Playing the game on the normal setting with comfort mode off, gave me a much better experience than the preview, which must have been set to easy. I was not quite the bullet-sponge in the full game and weapons didn’t automatically all have laser sights like in the preview. I had to be a lot more careful and aim down the sights, properly.
In the safe house players can examine the various collectable items obtained during the game which, curiously, includes a collection of e-cigarettes. Guns can be upgraded here; upgrades being unlocked by shooting targets dotted around the levels. Attachments such as silencers, sights and extended clips can be added, as well as new paint jobs. The safe house also has a shooting range for a bit of target practise.
On top of the over-the-top gunplay, the game is full of set-pieces designed to reinforce that action hero vibe. You’ll jump run through exploding buildings, jump out glass windows and even leap onto a container suspended from a tower crane, all in slow-motion, of course.
It’s not all firefights, though. There are locks to be picked, fuse boxes to be unscrewed, wires to be cut and charges to be planted. Doing all this with the Move controllers really gets players interacting with the environment, truly immersing them in the game.
I can ramble on all day about gameplay etc. But, as I mentioned at the start, 90% of the appeal of Blood & Truth, and good VR in general, is the theatre of it all. And it’s nigh on impossible for me to impart exactly what that is like. But I’ll have a go. Imagine standing there, right next to the likes of Vinny Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Jason Statham in Snatch, playing a starring role your own East End crime-action-thriller. Blood & Truth immerses player in its world in a way that 2D screens can’t possibly illustrate. Indeed, the screengrabs really don’t do the game justice.
The story is great, mixing-up a cockney crime caper with a much larger James Bond-style action movie feel. The acting is just as good, for the most part, in particular Steven Hartley chewing the scenery as proper old-school London gangster, Tony Sharp, and Colin Salmon as CIA Agent Carson. A few of the supporting characters don’t get the material to shine, but the game is aping an action movie, not Shakespeare.
The visuals are good for a VR title, but I did notice the odd compromise. There’s a few textures popping in a bit late and some lower resolution models in the background. But the game does achieve the high framerate on the PlayStation 4 Pro required to provide a comfortable VR experience. It doesn’t necessarily need the level of detail of 4K-ready 2D game, the display being restricted by the PSVR’s lower resolution screens. The immersive 3D environment of the VR experience more than make up for the lack of visual fidelity.
As a VR game, Blood & Truth really delivers. As a AAA VR title it suceeds in a way that very few others have. It’s right up there alongside the likes of SuperHot VR and Resident Evil 7 in being a must-have PSVR title. I’m really hoping that this is just the first of many of this type of interactive VR story-telling that we see for PlayStation VR.
Released: May 2019
Platforms: PlayStation 4 / PSVR
Genre: Virtual Reality
Developer: SIE London