The Persistence feels like a new experience in a genre that’s filled to the brim with ideas. Some of its design choices feel like archaic moments taken from its outing on VR but they somehow feel totally unique. It is, however, this which is both the weakest part of its design and its greatest strength.
The Persistence opens up, funnily enough, on The Persistence – an eon-class colonisation vehicle. You are initially tasked with acclimating to the controls by looking around and exiting a small vessel. You are told by another voice to continue down the only path available to you at this moment. As you walk forward, you are educated on the controls, how to move, crouch etc. This is when you are introduced to a new idea – you may use dark matter to teleport in small distances. The dark matter recharges after a time without using it, and this is, presumably, a mechanic leftover from its VR design.
You may then go forward into a new room, containing nothing but a body in the middle. In a gruesome bit of body horror, you are told to extract the genes of this body to use in the future. This introduces you to the main gimmick of The Persistence very well. You are a clone who will inevitable die and respawn until you solve the mystery at the core of The Persistence. This is not the only great thing pushed your way through the opening section. After returning, the screens on the vessel open, revealing what is outside – a huge black hole that you are slowly being sucked into, ever approaching the event horizon, the point of no return.
In a sense, one could see this as indicative of the entire game as a whole. The Persistence is a rogue-lite horror title where you constantly go in and out of the hull of the ship to solve your problems. When you die, your body there is gone and you must trudge on past the point of no return. Whilst you keep a multitude of upgrades, that character and their items are essentially expendable cannon fodder used to get your bearings. This is a fascinating concept that plays up well.
This moves us on to the upgrade system. You can get tokens and currency for a variety of machines, utilizing stem cells to upgrade yourself. When it comes to yourself, each new crew member you find can be harvested, allowing you to use a clone of their body which costs cells to respawn. From there, it’s a case of upgrading that body’s health and dark matter with a hefty chunk of cells. These are more long term goals than the other upgrades, as they take much longer to save up for. The currency and tokens on the other hand can be used to upgrade useful items. These include guns, melee weapons and some more experimental ideas. The upgraded items can then be purchased with your currency, making each life just a little stronger. The majority of these pieces are vital too, used to get into or out of the sticky situations that you find on board The Persistence.
This naturally weaves us into the gameplay. The base loop is great but the moment to moment gameplay is, unfortunately, a bit of a mixed bag. The majority of the early game will be spent stealthily making your way around enemies until you find yourself to be courageous, or stupid, enough to take them on. If you approach them just right, you can stealth kill them and acquire materials for leveling up. If not, you are pushed into combat.
There are a few main ways of addressing this combat. You have a block ability that can only be used for a few seconds at a time, working as a fairly lenient parry. This can be followed up by a stealth attack, rewarding your blocking prowess in a nice way. Those who don’t wish to block can use melee weapons acquired on the ship, or ranged weapons if you are lucky enough to have some. This base system is a fine idea but the general melee combat feels a little clunky, often ending in not hitting enemies that are right in front of you or parrying enemies who haven’t even attacked yet. Furthermore, ranged weapons, combined with the short range teleport, make the combat rather easy, especially considering weapons can be bought for cheap at stalls which regenerate in a small amount of time. This essentially means you can stand next to a machine until you are well-stocked enough to take on anything.
In this sense, The Persistence is a great name for this title. Its rogue-lite design, paired with the little health your character starts with, means you will be consistently starting over, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. There is a decent amount of downtime to The Persistence as you look through menus or take on enemies you know to handle, but this only makes the scary moments all the better.
This is helped well by the enemies you encounter. Initially you start by seeing hollow mutants reminiscent of zombies. They are dumb and dont take too much notice to their surroundings, however they can overwhelm you in numbers if you’re not careful. These are complemented by brutes who take lots of damage, lurkers who wait in the right locations to attack, and one of the worst, weepers. These deliver a nasty mixed dose of the witch from Left 4 Dead and the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. They hide in the corner until spotted, before teleporting randomly around, often coming toward you when you’re not looking and doing lots of damage. In a word, terrifying.
The Persistence isn’t helped by its occasionally frustrating movement controls. Your character moves very slowly, making the teleport a necessity to get over the boredom of walking when you might need to backtrack. Furthermore, interacting with things happens naturally when you hover over it as opposed to actually clicking on it. This means that items are picked up and cabinets are opened just as you walk by. This isn’t that annoying except for two reasons: it takes a few seconds to action, slowing you down from the speed you might desire, whilst some containers are filled with traps meaning they explode and hurt you; as they can be clicked on from the side it sometimes means if you stand at the side of the wrong cabinet for too long, it hurts. Unfortunately it’s incredibly annoying to see your health diminish – or for you to possibly die – due to the design of the game and not your own actions.
Despite the problems prevalent in its control schemes and design choices, The Persistence on Xbox One feels so utterly unique in its genre. Its roots in the VR design have felt like both a blessing and a curse for the overall package, but the good most certainly outweighs the bad in this rogue-lite adventure.