Pistol Whip is described by its creators as a ‘mashup between SUPERHOT VR and Beat Saber‘. While it would be easy to take bits of each but still fail to find synergy, Pistol Whip is indeed a mashup of Superhot and Beat Saber in the best possible sense.
Yes, it seems like there’s a hundred VR rhythm games out there already, and if you’ve already found one you love, it might be hard to see why Pistol Whip would be worth a shot over a myriad of other options. What’s more, shooting and rhythm mechanics have already been mashed together by the likes of Audica and others, so what could Pistol Whip really bring to the table? Quite a bit, it turns out.
While Audica is perhaps the most obvious way of putting the two gameplay concepts together, Pistol Whip presents a more creative approach. Rather than standing in one place and shooting at stationary targets, Pistol Whip has you constantly running forward and shooting at targets that appear around the environment. What’s more, these targets shoot back.
The ‘targets’ here are actually enemies which can take one, two, or four shots to kill, depending upon their armor. And it’s the fact that they shoot back at you which really helps Pistol Whip find a unique synergy between shooting and rhythm concepts. Whereas Audica is essentially a passive experience where you’re shooting targets, in Pistol Whip you need to actively track and dodge incoming bullets while you eliminate threats at the same time.
Enemy bullets fly at you slowly enough to give you time to dodge your head out of the way. As you get used to the timing, you start to proactively move and dodge rather than simply react. As a result you start to ‘flow’ your upper body around as you dodge and shoot your way through each level. You’ll also score more points if you shoot in time with the beat, which means you’ll end up incorporating your own gun movements and trigger pulls into this overall flow. While you’ll surely hear comparisons to Neo’s bullet dodging in The Matrix, the more apt comparison (to be blatantly pedantic) is actually Agent Johnson from the same film; the movement is quite similar:
With the incoming bullets, the game forces you to be concerned with your ‘near-field’—it heightens your sense of what’s immediately within arms reach. This leads to embodiment, which is distinct from mere immersion, and often a component of the best VR games. It’s this bodily movement (the result of necessary near-field spatial awareness) combined with the ‘arms out and shooting’ gameplay which makes Pistol Whip feel unique and not just ‘another rhythm game’.
Pistol Whip is a pretty radical departure for developer Cloudhead Games which is known for its linear, story-driven VR adventure series The Gallery. And yet our time with the game shows a level of polish and thoughtful design which makes it clear that having talent and experience in VR in general is—at this stage—more valuable than having experience in a specific genre.
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Cloudhead hasn’t announced the price of the game yet, but says it will be in line with ‘similar games’ (so we’re guessing $25 or $30). There will be 10 tracks at launch, but the studio says it has plans for more free and paid tracks to be released in the future. Pistol Whip is also slated to come to PSVR at a later date.
Check back for our full review of Pistol Whip when it launches on PC VR headsets and Oculus Quest on November 7th.