The best thing about the rogue-lite genre is how free it is to explore different settings. It isn’t tied down with various setting tropes. Plus, it allows developers to come up with creative ways to explain why after death you can come back.
While I haven’t played more than a handful of rogue-lites, The Persistence has one of the best setups and reasonings behind the gameplay loop, even if the level design does seem to falter occasionally.
The Persistence takes place aboard a space station that is being sucked into a black hole. It doesn’t do a good job of explaining exactly what happened aboard the ship before you get resurrected. However, it does manage to find a good sci-fi explanation of how you’ve returned. The only survivor of The Persistence managed to resurrect you after you’ve harvested some of your own DNA. This DNA allows the technology aboard the ship to create the loop of new characters in order to explore while dying over and over again as you make your way through the game’s four main stages.
It is sci-fi absurdity at its finest and probably one of the best aspects of the game. I feel like most rogue-lites are relatively fast-paced, so I had a hard time adjusting to the slower, methodical nature on display here. Any enemy can kill you very easily, so it was important to stay on guard at all times and check your corners.
The feeling of a VR game is persistent
The Persistence initially released for PlayStation VR. Despite being released for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, it still definitely feels like a VR title. The limitations of the PlayStation VR hardware are present with ugly textures and bland corridors. Visuals aside, though, it works really well with a controller.
I will say that a few quirks are present when exploring, like having to look directly at an item to pick it up or pressing the A button to teleport over a barrier. These instances don’t take away from the experience though. Instead, they just serve as a reminder of where the game came from.
The four main stages of The Persistence often feel very similar because of the bland corridors and rooms. Each one has a distinct main objective, but I often found myself forgetting what my goal was just to think I had died and was in a previous level.
The game naturally gets harder as it progresses, and the enemy variety and difficulty would quickly snap me out of this fugue. Despite the similarities from level to level, The Persistence does a really great job of giving players a choice in how they want to approach each level.
Choose how to play
Players can Solid Snake their way through missions, sneaking up behind enemies to extract DNA (one of the game’s currencies). Alternatively, you can run up to them in order to parry attacks and get some damage in. The parry and attack system here reminded me a lot of Golem‘s combat system, but the rest of the engagements had more variation. Additionally, players can parry to extract DNA if they aren’t able to sneak up behind enemies.
Since rogue-lites are built around finding new upgrades and abilities to enhance your character for the run you’re in, stealth is often an integral way to go since it rewards players with DNA. There are a ton of really cool weapons and upgrades that players can purchase and craft. However, part of the genre that is so special is the discovery of these upgrades, so I don’t want to spoil them here.
Additionally, players have a sensory ability that allows them to detect enemies and items. So if you’re nervous about turning a corner, you can give yourself an assist in detection. This ability was incredibly handy during my playthrough and saved me from death on numeorous occasions. Since this is a slower-paced rogue-lite, sometimes it’s better to err on the side of caution.
There are also schematics to find that help upgrade your suit giving you quieter movement, more health, and a number of other useful buffs. The Persistence does a great job of giving players a reason to keep coming back for one more run because of the variety, even when you want to throw your controller against a wall.
Something that does go against genre standards though is that there are checkpoints between each stage. This inclusion may annoy hardcore fans of rogue-lites. Survival Mode will give you the traditional experience you’re looking for.
One last note: The Persistence isn’t an easy game. Players jumping into survival or the New Game+ modes should expect a serious challenge.
The Persistence does not do a whole lot new for the genre. A unique setup and really great weapon and upgrade design help elevate it into one of the better rogue-lites.
It’s a difficult game with a ton of customization that will bring players back into the fold again and again. Coupled with challenging additional modes, there’s a decent amount of content here. After that first 13 or 14-hour run, players will have plenty more to learn and utilize, making their way back through a few more times.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.