If you own a PlayStation VR headset, you’ll almost certainly have played VR Worlds - and if you’ve played VR Worlds, I’m willing to bet that your favourite micro-game was The London Heist. It was easily the most compelling part of a pretty thin collection of proof-of-concept VR demos. Something about being in the room with characters talking over and around you, looking into your face, made the storytelling possibilities of VR games come alive for me - plus, reloading guns with the Move controllers felt super cool.
Blood and Truth, also from Sony’s London studio, is the fuller action game that London Heist demo hinted at - but still a Cockney crime caper. You are a much less posh James Bond called Ryan, and you’re immersed in London’s criminal underground. I played a level of Blood and Truth the other week and was really impressed by the way it incorporated the fun and novel aspects of VR into an action game. There’s pointing, shooting and reloading, but also messing with security cameras, setting C4, frantically jabbing at buttons in lifts, climbing ladders and picking locks.
One of the challenges of VR design is portraying action in a way that doesn’t feel disorienting. Shooters in particular are so unrealistically fast that the movement feels totally off in virtual reality, and moving a character without making players feel sick is still a challenge. Many VR games have you teleporting from place to place, or on rails, to solve this problem. Blood and Truth goes for a hybrid system: you point at where you want to go, and then Ryan moves there automatically at a moderate pace, so you can move and shoot. In the middle of a casino shootout, this worked so well that I forgot it was a totally new system - moving between bits of cover whilst aiming my pistol at goons felt totally natural.
The Move controllers are what make the difference with Blood and Truth. It is possible to fling a clip of ammo up into the air with one hand and slam the pistol into it with the other hand - one of the developers did this, and I then spent minutes standing on the spot trying to do the same, littering the floor with discarded clips. The Move controllers make gunplay more fun, but they also work well for all the other actions you might need to perform as a spy-soldier: lockpicking especially. I found that I couldn’t help holding my gun hand up next to my face in a ludicrous Bond pose inbetween shootouts. During shootouts, I’m confident I looked totally unhinged pointing and shooting enthusiastically around the room, reloading with over-elaborate motions, but I felt cool, and that’s what’s important.
Blood and Truth’s storytelling also benefits from the format. Ryan’s handler is his mum, hilariously, who chats in your ear at necessary moments in the mission. The level I played culminated in a chase, with a London gang bigwig trying to talk me down from shooting him in the face before someone else turned up with a machine gun and I had to shoot the window out before flinging myself through it. VR does make stuff we’ve done before in games feel new and fun - this is the first action game I’ve played that feels like a slice of a full game, rather than a self-contained demo. It also didn’t make me feel queasy, which is a first for this genre.
Sony’s London studio has been experimenting for a long time with VR, and this second wave of PSVR games is looking more fulsome than what we’ve seen so far; rather than conceptual games, we’re seeing bespoke adventures that understand the format better.