Sony’s London Studio—who built the well received VR Worlds experiences for PSVR—is back. This time around the studio isn’t building a slew of PSVR samples, but rather a AAA scope action shooter in the same vein as the acclaimed ‘London Heist’ vignette from VR Worlds. This isn’t just more of the same though; what we’ve seen of Blood & Truth so far clearly moves the needle of agency and immersion on PSVR with a slew of smart locomotion mechanics and world interactivity.
Since it’s still in its infancy, VR game design is moving very fast compared to traditional game design. Many VR titles can feel outdated in just a matter of months because of their reliance on ‘old’ VR design techniques.
‘London Heist’, however, wasn’t just good for its time. It still holds up (now over a year old) as one of VR’s most visceral experiences, no doubt thanks to the talented team at Sony’s London Studio.
And the studio hasn’t been resting on their laurels. Instead, they’ve set off to take the lessons they learned from creating ‘London Heist’ and the other VR Worlds experiences and apply it all to a brand new PSVR game which they say is targeting ‘AAA’ quality and scope.
Blood & Truth definitely has the same great look and feel of ‘London Heist’, but it’s actually a brand new universe, new story, and new characters, this time set in modern London. The game, powered by the studio’s in-house engine, sits right up there with the best looking PSVR titles to date.
While ‘London Heist’ consisted almost entirely of static scenes with no locomotion (fighting from behind a desk, sitting in a chair—save for one scene in a car), Blood & Truth greatly improves agency by letting players move throughout the world with a node-base locomotion system which, crucially, doesn’t rely on teleportation. That’s music to my ears, as I’ve found over the years that teleportation locomotion in VR, while comfortable, tends not to be very immersive since there’s a visual disconnect from one position to the next, which makes the virtual world feel less real.
The locomotion system in Blood & Truth allows players to look at nodes scattered throughout the environment and press a button to glide toward them at a flat speed. Since you don’t need to think about how to navigate once you initiative a move to a new node, you’re free to continue to watch and engage enemies, whether by sneaking or by force.
But node-to-node isn’t the only way players will move through the world. There’s also situational locomotion. In my hands-on preview of one of the game’s levels, I was sneaking into a casino to find a bad guy and there was a moment where I shot the lock on a ladder to make it fall into position, and then used my hands on the rungs to pull myself up to the next level. Another part of the demo had me pull myself up into an air duct and then use my hands to pull myself through along its length to the other side. These, and I suspect even more moments of situational locomotion, are peppered throughout.
I found the locomotion in Blood & Truth not only comfortable but also immersive. Having the agency to choose where to go from a range of options—and sometimes even reaching out to grab onto the virtual world to help you move through it—makes the world feel much more real than the ‘frame-by-frame’ feeling of teleporting locomotion. And that sets a strong stage for the action, gameplay, and story.
About that… as I mentioned, I was sneaking into a casino to find a bad guy (sounds pretty generic, but this demo was part way through the game, so I’m sure there’s more to learn about the characters and story). I had a silenced pistol on a chest holster, along with some magazines.
After climbing up the ladder I’m confronted with a locked door. Handily, a little tool kit appears, from which I take a lock pick in each hand. Upon inserting the lock picks into the keyhole, I have to turn one into the ‘sweet spot’, and then tilt the other one down to pop the pins up one by one until the lock was opened.
After getting inside, I crawled my way through the air duct and popped out the other end to find a surveillance camera console which had a series of buttons and a joystick. Clicking the buttons would switch the monitor between various camera views, while I could grab the joystick to pan and tilt the view. This is how I located my target; a man named Keech. To get to him, I’d have to pass through the casino floor, which would put me in close proximity with armed guards. Good thing I have a gun.
I took an elevator down to the casino floor where the point-and-move locomotion allowed me to choose which cover points I wanted to move to, and I could stay hidden from the guards as long as I timed my movements carefully. As I moved throughout the casino, trying my best to evade the guards, there were several points presented to me where I could plant C4 charges. To do so I had to grab the detonator from a bag and stick it on top of the charge, then stick the charge in the right location. It wasn’t as interesting as the lock picking mechanic, but hey, anything is better than ‘Press X to place C4’.
Alas, one of the guards spotted my poorly-timed move and a gunfight ensued. I pulled out my silenced pistol and, looking down the reflex sight, blasted away at the enemies as we both took cover behind some blackjack tables. Throughout the fight I was able to move to various cover points by pointing and clicking, and I could also ‘strafe’ to points to my left and right without needing to look at them.
There were times where I looking around a pillar to try to find a new place to move which would make for a good flanking maneuver, but since there was no node I wasn’t able to move where I wanted. As much as this system improves agency of other types of VR locomotion, it should be insulated as much as possible from those sorts of ‘I want to but it won’t let me’ movements.
Shooting the enemies, which convincingly fell limp to the ground upon being dispatched, feels tight and impactful, and was punctuated by a clip-based reloading mechanic which has you remove a magazine from your chest-harness and slide it into the pistol.
With guards no longer standing between me and the elevator up to Keech’s room, I headed up to his floor and confronted him at the door. When he saw me, he began running down the hotel hallways, and the game automatically caused me to chase behind him. What ensued was another smart locomotion scheme which essentially combined on-rails shooting with occasional bouts of the prior node-based cover stuff.
The on-rails moments allowed me to not think so much about where I was going (since the game was guiding me), but allowed me to soak in all the action of blasting Keech’s goons who were attempting to stop me along the way. As the chase proceeded and I had to take out enemies popping around seemingly every corner and pillar, I noticed a fire extinguisher that was just begging to be shot. As I shot it, the world dropped into slow motion. I could see bullets, smoke, debris, and spent casings delicately dancing through the air. This Matrix moment made me feel like a total badass as I took out the room full of baddies with careful headshots (thanks to the enemies all kindly moving in slow motion for me).
At the end of the chase sequence I confronted Keech, and while his dialogue wasn’t entirely clear to me (since I don’t have the knowledge of the setup just yet), what was clear to me was how great the character looked. While the art style keeps the game’s visuals out of the uncanny valley, the motion-captured performance and excellent facial detail made for a deeply believable character.
– – — – –
Through smart design in both locomotion and agency, Sony’s London Studio is clearly onto something with big potential. From shooting to exploring, I felt engaged with the world of Blood & Truth, which deeply solidified it in my head as a physical place around me. I began to forget about the Move controllers in my hands and instead thought about lock picking, C4 placement, and how many bullets were left in my magazine. Throughout it all, the Move’s limited tracking performance didn’t once rear its head (and issue I’ve had with other PSVR titles). The real world begins to fade away; immersion takes over. This is what VR is for.
The studio isn’t yet talking about a release date (though at this point it would seem 2018 is a safe bet) or price, but this is definitely one to keep your eye on.