The Persistence reminds me of a number of other games and I guess that’s very much intentional on the designer Alex Moore's part and subjective on my part. It gave me memories of being a kid and grabbing a new (and totally unheard of) Mastertronic or Codemasters game, and trotting home full of expectation, only too often to be disappointed.
Back then, these games were everywhere, not just game shops, but pharmacies, garages, books shops and even the local newsagents. For a couple of quid I would grab the game with the best looking pictures on the cassette inlay and wait in excitement as the game loaded. More often than not the excitement was short lived and the game soon forgotten. But every now and then you'd strike gold and get something that really shone. Yes it may not have done anything new, yes it may have ripped off a number of other games and yes, it may have lacked the polish of a bigger budget release, but nobody cared if it was good.
And that’s why The Persistence really brings back those memories. It is a game that really does seem a mashup of so many ideas. It's a first person roguelike that within minutes will have you thinking of Alien Isolation, System Shock and BioShock.
The game itself, as I understand it, was originally a VR title and it is these VR roots that account for my only real “niggles” with the game. There is none of the usual pressing of buttons to interact, you just look at the switch or item you wish to interact with. There is a teleport function which never feels like it works as it should, almost as if it's not been properly adapted for a console controller.
The game feels a little empty at times - it's hard to explain, but in removing the VR aspect it does not feel like they have added anything to make the game feel more like a normal first person game.
It does look good though. Impressive use of lighting (that'll be where the 'Enhanced' bit comes in then) and level design (more detailed than the original) really does make you feel as if you are exploring this giant ship and at times I did have to keep reminding myself I was not playing an Alien game.
Your job is “simple” — reach deck 4, reactivating various systems as you go and then get the ship to safety. Progress is hampered by a batch of faulty clones with various mutations. Getting killed, as is the norm for this type of game, has you re-spawning at your own (thankfully working) cloning machine to try again. However each run sees the deck of the ship rearrange itself to a different layout. This might sound nightmarish but actually works well. I never felt “cheated” or as if I was in a completely different location despite the changes. Whilst the level had changed it had done so in a way which still felt familiar and still felt navigable.
The game is a rogue-like but it plays much more like Alien Isolation and a survival horror game than anything else. Equipment is sparse and you lack any skills. Your only weapon is a harvester which extracts cells from the enemies but to do so you have to play with stealth.
The more you play the more upgrades and equipment you unlock, and there is a good variety of weapons. Whilst stealth remains your best option, it's fun and comforting to be able to resort to one of the ranged weapons and go on a rampage for a short while. Ammo is limited however, so you have to pick your shots. All of this adds to the tension and there is very definite risk/reward mechanic at play.
I very much enjoyed my time with The Persistence Enhanced, the changing levels, the variety of enemies and the tactics that can be employed in dealing with them always makes each run fun and enjoyable. I don’t feel the game is designed to be played in mammoth sessions, again likely a throwback to its VR legacy, but in short bursts, playing a couple of runs, it works really well. Death is never far away, but you never feel over-penalised for messing up a run.
Even after a good few hours, you learn new skills or how to better use old ones. Encounters that you previously resorted to sneaking around are able to be faced more directly with bigger and better weapons or abilities. The game never felt dull or boring.
So again, The Persistence Enhanced feels a lot like one of those budget games of old. It pays homage to a number of other games whilst at same time is adventurous enough to try a few new and unique things. I look forward to a sequel, and if it isn't based around the VR experience so much the better.
Special thanks to PressEngine for the review code.