Game Review #515: The Persistence (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Category: Action, Adventure, First-Person, Roguelite, Survival Horror
Release Date: 5.21.2020
Watch the Trailer
Buy The Persistence from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
When I first saw today’s game, I thought I was looking at a deep space roguelite survival horror Bioshock. I didn’t exactly get that, but I didn’t exactly not get that, either. The Persistence for the Nintendo Switch was originally released as a VR title on PSVR to generally positive reviews. After a few years as an exclusive there, developers Firesprite are bringing the game out of the VR realm and to a broader audience. Does it have the same magic on a screen that it seemed to capture in a virtual reality headset? Short answer? Sort of, yeah. Long answer? Keep reading.
Eder of Tomorrow
Your ship, the colony ship Persistence, has been knocked off course and gotten perilously close to a black hole. Like, close enough to completely mess up pretty much every shipboard system, resulting in the death of every crewmember – including our protagonist, Zimri Eder. Luckily, one of the few properly functioning pieces of equipment remaining on the ship is the cloning chamber that has her DNA stored for resurrection. Now she can Groundhog Day and/or Edge of Tomorrow herself as many times as she needs to get the ship’s systems up and running, and get The Persistence out of harm’s way.
Persistent Terror, Shifting Terrain
And she’ll need every life she can get, too, because there’s more than one cloner on the ship, but hers is the only one working right. The rest are spitting out mutant murder clones with varying degrees of bloodlust and superhuman powers. Some are just regular zombie-types; they’re basically just dudes with melty skin who shamble and groan. Some are hulking brutes with massive strength, or laser-puking monstrosities, or even some good old-fashioned sentry robots. With every new deck you enter, new threats emerge and murder you several times until you can figure out an effective way to combat them. Or at least that’s how it happened for me.
The ship can reset its configuration at will in response to varying threats – but that system has gone haywire too, so the ship’s layout changes every time Zimri bites the big one. So, whenever you die, you have to make your way through a new ship with restocked enemies. Wonderful. You can find teleporter terminal cards in each deck that allows you to skip to that deck after your death, which alleviates some of the monotony of slowly backtracking through decks you’ve already beaten. Once you find the cards, it’s a great system. Before that… it gets a little repetitive despite the altered deck layout.
Generally, each deck will always have the same optional challenges and enemy types, so you know what to expect, just not in what order or quanitity. The first two or three times you try a deck, the atmosphere is dark, tense, and suspenseful, but the tension falls a little bit with each successive run. Where once mutants screaming out of the dark into your field of vision provided an effective jump scare, over time things slowly deteriorate into just another hindrance to getting back to the deck you’re actually trying to work on. The generally slow pace of your character’s movement somehow manages to accentuate both sides of that coin, to boot.
Learn to Run, Zimri
I don’t know how Zimri managed to become a security officer without learning how to run, but she did and she didn’t, respectively. She can, however, teleport short distances and crouch down to sneak around. Teleportation uses up dark matter energy, which depletes pretty quickly at the beginning, and you can only teleport like five feet to start, so its usefulness is pretty limited early on. Heck, even as you progress farther in the game and get some upgrades, it’s really only useful for jumping over obstacles that generally have a pretty easy workaround already.
For the first few tries the stealth aspects of the gameplay make for a tense, atmospheric experience. You can sneak up behind several enemy types – but not all, learned that one the hard way (several times) – and stab them in the back of the head with your needle gun to steal their stem cells. Yeah, it’s a gruesome game at times. You also have a radar sense you can use – think Assassin’s Creed’s Eagle Vision – that, again, in the beginning of the game lasts literally one second and burns up a lot of dark matter energy so it’s barely useful without some upgrades. Anyway, the stealth stuff is fairly well-executed, technically, but as I said it gets old if you’re not exploring a new deck.
When you’re backtracking through an old deck because you haven’t obtained a teleporter pass for your current level, the exact same game mechanics transition from engaging and strategic to cumbersome in a flash. I mean, I made it to the next deck; just let me start from the deck I’m working on. The crates that contain the passes also have upgrades that are always well-worth going out of your way to nab anyway, so it’s not like there’s a lack of motivation for players to seek them out. The only thing the game loses by changing the deck teleporter system is unnecessary – and, often, detrimental – padding. Arbitrarily making a game longer just to make a game longer doesn’t add anything to the experience. Indeed, in a game like this that strives for tension and terror, it is a major hindrance to the sense of urgency necessary to pull off that kind of atmosphere.
Block With the Left, Strike With the Right
When stealth fails – and I failed at it a bunch – you gotta fight it out. Combat is fairly rudimentary; you can attack with your equipped weapon or block with your force field. Your force field has a limited life span, and once it depletes it takes some time to recharge. Timing your blocks to enemy attacks is an essential skill early on, and it only gets more so as you encounter new enemies. Blocking a melee strike will also stun an enemy for a short time, giving you a good window to get a hit or two of your own in. You can return attacks with a variety of weapon types, like guns, melee weapons, and grenades. There are a few special grenades or other single-use items that do things like slow time but mostly you’re just going to shoot bullets and smash/slash/stab with your melee stuff.
My biggest problem with the combat is that there is a little variety in weapons, but not as much as I was hoping for. The game’s description stated it had lots of ways to artificially evolve yourself, which had me thinking in a Bioshock kind of direction. “What special powers can I inject myself with?” I wondered. Turns out you can’t really get powers. You can’t shoot bees. I wanted to shoot bees. It was a bit of a letdown that the only mutations you could unlock were basically health and damage upgrades. The combat isn’t poorly implemented or unwieldy in any way; it’s a little on the basic side, but it functions competently. It just doesn’t do anything to make itself stand out from the first-person crowd.
New Stuff Makes Everything Better
The good news is, you don’t just have to go through every deck with the same level of health, armor, or offensive capabilities. There are replication stations littered around each deck that allow you to fabricate guns, grenades, melee weapons, and some specialty items, provided you have enough fab chips. You can also collect special Erebus tokens to both unlock new weapons and upgrade existing weapons with more ammo. While unlocked weapons and upgrades will always be available to rebuild from a replicator, you lose whatever weapons you’re carrying when you die. Since the ship rearranges itself, you can’t get back to your body and get your stuff back. Which sucks if you had any good items you didn’t get a chance to use.
Each weapon or item also has a limited number of uses; when you’ve fired all the bullets in a gun, it disappears from your inventory. That makes sense for items like grenades; they blow up when you throw them, so it’s kind of hard to get a second use out of them. There aren’t any spare bullets lying around either, so I guess it’s not like you can reload, so dropping an empty gun makes a certain amount of sense. The thing I’m stuck on is that even melee weapons have limited ammo; what kind of crappy knives are they making that break after six or nine or even a dozen stabs? I’m beginning to question whether the ship is malfunctioning because of the black hole or good ol’-fashioned shoddy craftsmanship.
Permanent New Stuff Makes Everything Even Betterer
Luckily, you get to keep any stem cells, fab chips, or Erebus tokens you find along the way, even when you die. It sort of makes you question why the cloner can replicate your wallet but not your armory, but if we get started on that we’ll be here all day. You can use the stem cells to upgrade Zimri’s health, melee damage, and dark matter reserves. You can also use your bits to build out armor schematics you can find in supply crates or randomly dropped by enemies. You can increase your weapon damage, force field health, and teleportation distance among other things. Stem cell upgrades are permanent, and armor upgrades are permanently available, but you can switch between them however you want. So if you want to equip armor that prioritizes stealth, you can switch out the armor that boosts attack damage.
Apparently All the Light Switches Got Disabled
Visually, The Persistence provides a very dark setting. That makes sense, though, since this is a horror game and the night is dark and full of terrors. You can use a flashlight to give yourself a bigger visible area, but being able to see better means you can just see that the darkness covers for decent, but not spectacular graphics. The designs are a little modern sci-fi generic; things look kinda like Mass Effect, not that I consider that an insult, but we’re lacking a little in the original backgrounds department. Altogether, The Persistence is a good-enough looking game. When you can see it. You do take a step backwards visually if you play undocked, too, so I definitely recommend playing this one docked for the best experience. It’s not a game-ruining loss of fidelity, however, so if you absolutely prefer playing undocked you can.
The game’s music and atmospheric sound designs also have a somewhat generic horror movie feel; you’ve got your groaning zombie mutants and low drawn out sounds leading to sharp, sudden bursts of music that precede a jump scare that may or may not come. It is nonetheless effective at creating a suspenseful atmosphere for the game. You get a pretty decent voice acting job from the game’s cast as well, even if there are only two characters who talk. And even though some of the lines are unhelpful post-resurrection pity; maybe we should stay away from berserkers for now? Really? You think? “Thanks for the advice, game,” he said. SARCASTICALLY.
I Wanted Bioshock, I Got… The Persistence
There are a lot of things I liked, a few things I didn’t care for, and some things that I brought on myself with unfounded expectations. I guess what I’m saying is… I wanted to shoot bees from my wrists. BEE GUNS. I don’t have enough in my life. The Persistence has several fantastic elements to recommend it; the premise of the game, its well-built atmosphere, and its intriguing setting are all worth experiencing. It has some competent but ultimately middle-of-the-road aspects, like its combat mechanics, weapon selection, and upgrade systems. And, sadly, it has some weak spots; the story is interesting, but light, and progressing through the ship’s decks leads to a lot of monotonous backtracking. For survival horror fans who value atmosphere over everything else, this a must-try game. For everyone else, you won’t have a bad time by any stretch, but you won’t be blown away.
Buy The Persistence from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
*A game code was provided for review purposes