I’ve had my eye on The Persistence ever since its launch and subsequent fanfare on PSVR way back in 2018. With its premise, how could we not? The Persistence is a roguelike horror title with procedurally generated maps. The idea of a constantly evolving, constantly terrifying world is scary, to say the least. Luckily, it’s intriguing enough for scared old me to sink hours into it.
The Persistence plays with its genres in fascinating ways. It manages to explain away its roguelike premise in a way that feels fundamentally part of its design. It doesn’t apologise for possible inconsistencies, it makes them a crucial part of the gameplay loop. This is perfectly accentuated in the intro sequence. You awake in a chamber, and then, after successfully looking around you (congrats?), you are allowed to explore the floor you’re on. In front of you is a big green button. How could you possibly ignore it?
This button opens up the shielding of the window to reveal where you are. You are floating in space on the verge of a blackhole, currently experiencing an event horizon. This is the point in a black hole where escape is physically impossible, the point of no return. This is something that is captured in The Persistence’s design. While your personal progress is kept, you can never return to a previously explored map once you leave. You are forever forced to make your way through it.
After getting your bearings, you are asked by an artificial intelligence to make your way to an adjacent room. You are then educated as to the teleport system. As well as standard movement like in most first person games, it also includes a short range teleport. This adds a great deal to both the stealth and verticality of The Persistence. I would liken it to the blink ability from Dishonored and it often ends in the same result – an awesome stealth takedown or a messy screaming combination of blood and fear. This is internally limited within your HUD and is even cut off during certain sequences, really exemplifying your helplessness. After making your way through some obstacles via crouching or teleporting, you find the body you’ve been commanded to find, and you must extract its DNA. Before extracting, you realise what this body is. It is your own lifeless husk.
The purpose of this small mission is two-fold. In a world-building sense, you must extract this DNA for your own cloning purposes. Each run through The Persistence has a clone of your original body with upgrades earned through draining stem cells from enemies and other resources from searching through containers. The second purpose of finding your body is to establish the tone of the game. It is brutal and it certainly doesn’t care about you. This sense of body horror and existentialism is enforced terrifically from finding your own withered carcass. Not only do you have to see it, you have to directly drain it for your own purpose. It is hard to feel anymore detached from your body than this.
Then the game opens up for you to fully explore. There are multiple types of weapons and styles to upgrade your character with. You start out weak, naked and definitely afraid. Your only option is to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and drain them of their life essence. If you’re lucky, this can reward you with melee weapons or even a pistol. You skulk around between crates and vents, slowly looting until you can buy yourself something more powerful or until you can make your way to turning on the power, your first objective.
The looting system is different to what you usually see. You don’t have to click a button to loot, and instead focusing on it will pick it up. The same is true with containers. If you aren’t vigilant with your approach, this can end in your demise. Both its looting system and teleport system feel like relics of its VR design, but somehow that makes it feel totally unique.
From my time with The Persistence on Xbox One, that word sums it up. Unique. It grabs some ideas from titles that we’ve seen before but manages to push it in a direction that feels wholly itself. Not to mention it’s damn terrifying to boot and I can’t wait for The Persistence to launch fully on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC this coming summer.
Massive thanks go out to the team at Firesprite Games for providing early access to The Persistence on Xbox One. Keep an eye out for our full review in the weeks ahead as The Persistence gets set to launch on Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC on May 21st 2020. That release date can be confirmed by taking in the trailer below.