Sony’s latest first-party VR shooter Blood & Truth brings together action movies and games for something unlike anything else currently on the PSVR platform.
Title: Blood & Truth
Developer: SIE London Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation VR
Release Date: May 28, 2019
Building off of The London Heist, one of the standout experiences on the demo disc that launched with PSVR, Blood & Truth from SIE London Studio sets out to put the player in the starring role of an action movie by combining a polished, set-piece driven first person shooter campaign with the immersive qualities of virtual reality.
Following in the thematic footsteps of The Getaway, Blood & Truth sees Ryan Marks returning home from the army after the sudden death of his father ignites a war in the criminal underworld of London, where he and his tight-knit family are pushed to the brink by a corrupt businessman hell-bent on taking over their turf.
Despite spanning the length of two to three standard feature films and offering plenty of scenes that don’t involve bullets and explosions, the game never quite musters a convincing enough argument for why the player should become emotionally invested in the characters or story.
While it also struggles to move chapter to chapter, often using editing techniques better suited for the precision of film, it still does enough to provide a vessel for the action, ultimately culminating in a familiar but appropriately over the top tale of revenge involving government agents, mysterious assassins, and shadowy organizations.
But whether jumping out of a highrise under construction or quietly stalking a target through the hallways of an upscale hotel, few games better fulfill the fantasy of being in an action movie that lands somewhere between James Bond and Kingsman, which is due primarily to how the game is designed and controlled mechanically.
With controller button presses replaced by things like reaching for the hip to draw a weapon, manually reloading by taking clips from a chest pouch, or pulling yourself up, through, and across obstacles, Blood & Truth is all about making the action engaging with simple hand movements that approximate real motions.
These can take a little while to get the hang of, but thanks to a light rumble sensation and better than expected tracking with the Move controllers, they quickly become second nature and avoid tedium or frustration.
Even little touches like the way the virtual hands will cradle ammo clips if two weapons are held at once or having to flick your wrist to snap a shotgun barrel back into place goes a long way in pulling off the cerebral magic trick that VR can be.
It should be noted, however, that although Blood & Truth can be played with a DualShock 4, it is highly recommended to use Move controllers instead, and this review primarily speaks to that experience. The game works best with independent hand control, and besides the significantly worse tracking, a traditional controller requires the game to strip out much of what makes it special.
Each level of Blood & Truth funnels the player through deliberate, bullet-filled paths, occasionally offering moments of reprieve with climbing sections and small puzzles like picking locks that would usually be mundane but are heightened by the level of direct manipulation virtual reality affords.
But it all inevitably comes back to frantic shootouts and car chases, which Blood & Truth does exceptionally well. Busting through a door with a breach charge as you grab an SMG from one shoulder and a double-barrelled shotgun from the other in the face of bemused enemy lackeys never loses its impact.
Along with the well-crafted sound design, and guns that are satisfying to shoot, aim, and even hold despite the weightlessness inherent to virtual reality, this all leads to short but effective gameplay loops that keep the player engaged, even if they don’t evolve much past the basic concepts laid out at the beginning.
This freedom and openness at the core of Blood & Truth is both a blessing and a curse.
Blood & Truth is able to get away with this by not over tutoring the intuitive nature of its gameplay mechanics, and allowing the player in the heat of the moment to subconsciously realize they can reach across to their opposite hip, switch items between hands, or pull out a gun and shoot at enemies while hanging from a pipe.
This freedom and openness at the core of Blood & Truth is both a blessing and a curse. Because although it goes a long way in persuading one to accept the virtual space they occupy, the required hand-eye coordination can be tricky to grasp.
Unless you have one of the difficult to come by laser sights that make hip firing almost too straightforward (and is automatically unlocked on the easy setting) most of the time, you’ll have to hold the gun up to your eyes to use its iron or holographic sight.
This is easier said than done, especially with how small the sights are. But it rarely feels like a failure of design and more like the inevitability of needing to acclimate to a new language of interaction that will only become more common as virtual reality methodically expands its reach.
In stark contrast, movement is where current hardware and software design limitations become abundantly apparent. Because regardless of the input device used, instead of allowing the player to move wherever they want, Blood & Truth opts for predefined points, usually near cover, which the player can select and automatically travel to.
This works by either looking at a spot marked with an arrow and pressing the move button to travel forward or using the face buttons to strafe laterally. Backward movement, however, is generally not possible, often leading to moments of helplessly drifting past a room or area you meant to explore.
But since levels are incredibly linear in design in the first place, the multiple routes are there to provide little more than some degree of player agency, and at most, you might miss out on a small collectible.
It’s unfortunate because, like the now standard dual analog stick design, you can see where improved controllers would allow for a more elegant and freeing solution. But it doesn’t take long to adjust to, there are enough potential locations that you rarely feel stuck, and the minimalism of the system allows you to concentrate on aiming and ducking behind cover.
But the limited directional movement causes the most harm in the story segments, which primarily have the player wholly locked in place as various characters discuss the current state of affairs. Rather than providing spaces for you to exist in, this mostly ends up accentuating the expositional nature of these scenes and limits any dramatic tension.
There are also occasional moments where the game fully takes away control and moves the player automatically to create focused and cinematic set-pieces. These work well in their own right but unfortunately highlight how to presumably reduce motion sickness. The player always moves so slowly and smoothly that it never matches the tension of what’s happening on screen.
Even when an ally yells at Ryan to get in a car while being shot at from only yards away, the camera will casually float no faster than walking speed to its destination. It’s hard to say this was the wrong choice, but it does lead to a slight disconnect produced by the sense of viewing the world through an artificial interface rather than a person’s eyes.
Outside of one specific and highly welcome moment, the other major presentational issue is how even though you can interact with many objects in the world, no one takes notice of anything you do. It’s certainly not a problem unique to Blood & Truth (or even VR), but it does mean a bit of self-restraint is required if maintaining immersion is an essential factor.
Besides the appropriately lengthed five to six hour campaign, there are a few ways to extend the life of the game. Missions can be replayed to complete challenges and find collectibles, and there’s a time attack mode (with others like NG+ to come). These are nice extras, but by far the primary motivator for jumping back in is to experience the reinvigoration of a genre that is yet to feel ordinary in VR.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.