Rail shooters haven’t had a great time since arcades falling out of favor. The Wii picked up a few good ones, which makes a lot of sense, as I’d guess that controller was tailor-made to mimic light gun games if I didn’t know any better. But post Wii, what did we get? We get Blood and Truth. That’s what.
Not just Blood and Truth, really. The rise of VR opened up the genre all over again. I can’t say whether they’re good or bad, ‘cause, you know, I haven’t played them. But I can say that VR+Motion Controller+Rooty-Tooty Point and Shooty makes for something that’s just viscerally satisfying. It feels good. It feels right.
Blood and Truth is a Playstation VR exclusive made by the same Sony London Studios that made the Playstation VR Worlds collection of quick little tech-demo games, and specifically, this game is pretty much an updated, expanded version of The London Heist from that collection. The game has you in the shoes of Johnny Shootbangs (note: not his real name), a UK Special Forces soldier who gets a leave of absence and gets called home after his father, the boss of London’s largest crime family, passes away. From natural causes. Kind of unexpected given his occupation. Anyways, you go home to do the family stuff, and one of your dad’s crime captains kills your friends and kidnaps your family-family so he can take over your crime-family. So you have to go shoot everyone until things are better. Just like in real life.
I didn’t actually say that. FBI, please don’t add me to a list.
Anyways! Big thing with Blood and Truth. Think of action movies. Imagine you’re the lead character. This is that. I would say this is inspired just as much by movies as it is by video games. Except that’s almost certainly wrong, and I am never wrong except when I’m doing it deliberately for art, so I don’t say that. But still, very inspired by movies.
So yeah, it’s a rail shooter. Remember the arcades. Like Time Crisis or House of the Dead or Virtua Cop or something. You’ve got a gun that you can point and shoot. Or you can do two guns. If you’ve got the motion controllers, you’ve got two of them, and you’ve probably got two arms, so you can dual-wield like crazy if you want. I want. Makes me feel like a badass. Like I mentioned before, the gunplay in this game feels fantastic. Even better than those arcades. Something about the nature of VR and the specific feedback this game gives really makes it work. Normally, with rail shooters, the game controls the rate of your progression, but here, you do. To move forward, you have to point at a suitable location and press a button. So slightly more interactive than your typical rail shooter. I really have to complement the game on its handling of accuracy. Real-life aiming is freakin’ hard, but this game has it going to where it feels rather satisfactory. There’s enough give that you point and shoot, it feels like you get some real action to it. I’ve had mixed results shooting in meat-space, but here, I’m able to aim well enough to get some real progress, while still feeling like it’ll miss when I truly deserve it. Even dual-wielding, which is near impossible in real life, is rather achievable here. This game feels really good in gameplay as a result. I don’t know that I can overstate it enough. This game feels absolutely fantastic. It’s visceral and hits a really great level of game-feel, like you’re getting enough feedback through sound and visuals that that it seems more than just like you’re some incredibly sexy nerd with a doofy headseat and weird controllers in your hands.
As I mentioned before, this game feels like an action movie. Which means a couple of things, different from your typical video game. First is that there’s actually long periods of time in which you’re not shooting things. Some games, that would be a bad thing. Not here. Honestly, they make incredibly good use of your non-combat time. The dialog in this game is really good. Sometimes you’re just spending time getting to know your siblings, or arguing with the CIA guy who’s interrogating you, or flipping off people you hate, and it works really, really well. The characters, although they largely take up pretty typical archetypes on paper, actually feel rather unique and charming in execution. The story, much like the characters, wouldn’t be much to write home about in summary, but honestly, in execution, it feels pretty solid. In terms of writing, things really shine in the details of the piece. I mean, we’re talking about larger-than-life professional criminals and killers whom we barely get any time with, relatively, but things feel surprisingly human in that. It’s the little pieces, your brother’s sense of humor, your rival’s love for his brother and for art amidst his pettiness in his campaign against you, the mystery amongst your handlers and that weird woman working for the enemy, they take this story from a simple one-paragraph summary to something that you can build a connection with. Second, the game is big in setpieces. Every level has at least a couple of big, visual capital-M Moments. Giant explosions or gunning down some sort of heavy enemy equipment or basejumping (which is an incredible experience when you’re using VR to treat a visual-motion disorder, btw) or making a daring escape by leaping on top of moving things that aren’t meant to be leapt on top of. This extends even to the non-combat scenes, which some absolutely fantastic look-what-we-can-do-in-VR interactables that are seriously impressive and stand as examples of what other genres should be doing in VR, even when there’s absolutely nothing that you want to point a gun at.
Level design is pretty on point, mostly in enemy placement. It generally feels like you’ve got a good mix of rail shooting around and gunrunning progression. Enemies are on top of you enough that you get a good bit of adrenaline going, and are aggressive enough to pressure you while not feeling overwhelmingly difficult. You’ve got a great variety of weapons for its runtime, and it feels like you’re constantly running into new weapons throughout the game. It feels like you’re moving through levels rather quickly, and there’s always something to do. The game keeps a great feeling of momentum going on. It brings the excitement when it needs to, yet also has the sense of pacing to leave off when it doesn’t. Most levels climax with some sort of autoscrolling section before hitting its setpieces, which do end up feeling aggressively energetic and give a great build-up to the level’s finale.
There are a couple little nitpicks, here. I’m not a fan of the driving sections. For one, they don’t really seem to have the same sense of pacing and pressure as the other sections, and I don’t feel as accomplished going through them. For another, to reload, you have to reach to your chest and pull the trigger on your controller to grab a magazine or whatever. As you can imagine, the trigger is also what makes your guns do their thing. As a result, if you happen to be dual-wielding like any sufficiently handsome person is, it is incredibly easy to get an automatic game-over by accidentally shooting your driver when you’re trying to reload. There’s a bunch of other buttons on the controller, it seems like it’d be an easy design challenge to overcome, but no. I’m doomed to accidentally shooting my sister tons of time when I’m just trying to grab a magazine. There’s also a system of weapon customization that, unfortunately, doesn’t really have enough complexity to be meaningful. There’s a couple weapons that come with scopes or sights, or that you can mod such onto, that are utterly ineffectual in VR. Like, I just can’t get them up to my eye in a way that actually lets me use them. Some weapons require two hands, which doesn’t feel great or feels like it tracks accurately when you’re just using two motion controllers. And the ending is… eh. It feels like it obviously sets up for a sequel that doesn’t seem to be coming. For one thing, there’s one major villain that has a deal. And survives the ending in spite of doing horrible, horrible things to you. And you never figure out what the deal is. Mixed motivations, ties with all the major characters, and its never resolved. And at the end, your characters is on a clear “And the Adventure Continues” kind of deal that would make for an easy second-game setup, while you’re loved ones are still carrying on, such as they are. It lacks resolution, and it kind of spoils some of the good story progression that’s come up until now. There’s also one character death that seems pointless. It happens, and it doesn’t end up having the impact it deserves, due possibly to that lackluster ending. So yeah, the ending walks back a lot of the story quality built up.
But, as I said, aside from the ending issue, those are nitpicks, compared to the full experience. Honestly, this is one of the best VR games I’ve played in my limited experience with the… console? Style? Whatever you want to call it. It’s kind of funny, the Playstation VR is the weakest contemporary VR headset, and yet some of the best VR games are exclusive to it. But yeah, it’s short, but it’s oh so sweet, and I absolutely loved my time with Blood and Truth. I don’t know that it’s a system seller, but if you have a Playstation VR, it’s definitely worth your push.
This post is brought to you by like 5 glasses of wine. Now, I’m going to go make some purchases my sober self would be too ‘fiscally responsible’ to do , but he’ll thank me when he finds out about them.