It has been well-established for some time that horror works well in virtual reality (VR), as very little can bring a sense of tension and atmosphere so much as putting it all around you. A common criticism of recent horror has been that it relies too heavily on cheap gimmicks and jump scares. Thankfully, however, The Persistence eschews this to bring a more refined horror experience.
The Persistence is set aboard a spaceship of the same name, which has ended up a bit too close for comfort to a black hole after a light-speed navigation issue. This accident has not only caused terrible damage, but has also caused malfunctions to several systems, including the clone printer.
The player takes the role of security officer Zimri Eder, who is the only crew member on board whose clone hasn’t been horribly corrupted by the ongoing malfunctions. As such, her job and yours is to take back control of the ship and escape the pull of the black hole.
The gameplay is heavily reminiscent of survival horror, especially at first when you have few resources to your name. Helpfully, death isn’t the end, though. Since you are a clone, a new version of you can be printed off and you can carry on from where you left off. Each time you do this, however, the layout of the ship changes.
Here is where the procedurally generated roguelike elements come in, as while you can learn the patterns and habits of each enemy type, the layout will keep changing, making navigation an additional hazard to deal with. This can sometimes cause frustration, as the level can sometimes drop you in a nigh-impossible situation, but the cloning means this isn’t quite as bad as it could be.
As with all good roguelikes, you can find useful items scattered around to help you in your tasks, and you can also capture DNA from enemies to re-sequence your own DNA and unlock new abilities which can make you tougher and stronger – which turns out to be important as you travel further into the crippled ship.
The story is well-told, and has a great atmosphere, and the voice acting remains consistently good, if relatively minimal, with much of what is going on conveyed by the visuals and sounds. The Persistence maintains a visual style that works well with conveying the tone, offering a feel that is reminiscent of Dead Space, or Bioshock, with some of classic sci-fi horror Event Horizon thrown in for good measure.
The title is controlled with the Dual Shock 4, and there are several control schemes to choose from, with the settings able to be tweaked until it feels just so for all levels, including teleport locomotion.
Sound design is excellent, giving you a real feel for a damaged ship alone in the vast reaches of space as the creaks and cracks of the bulkheads as they are slowly crushed by the black hole. Music is minimalist, but works well when it is present.
Overall, The Persistence is a great sci-fi horror experience that cleverly uses VR to slowly ratchet up the tension and fear. While never entirely terrifying, it does still work well as horror, with just enough randomisation to keep you coming back for more.