The Persistence Review – Head Space

“Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky, that’s where I’m gunna go when I die.”

Just once I’d like to see a journey through the universe’s vast unknown go without a hitch in the plan. According to every piece of media not invented by Gene Roddenberry, it’s all space bandits, carnivorous aliens, and failures of science somehow turning up in the airlock, and that’s bullshit. Nonetheless, in the search for a space travelling tale where everything goes swimmingly, you must have persistence! A-HA!

This is the latest title from Firesprite Games, a Liverpool-based studio who’s made games that cater to PlayStation’s gizmos like the PlayStation Camera and PSVR since 2013. The Persistence is their first title to release on home consoles outside of the PlayStation, which was a given after The Persistence was updated to be played on flat-screen TVs in 2019. How time flies.

You play as Zimri Eder, a graduate from the Star Wars Academy of Stupid Names, who is a security officer making the rounds on a spaceship known as The Persistence. While the rest of the limitless crew were working on their own experiments and maintenence, some of which involving Dark Matter, the ship suddenly meets a terrible fate and several crew members perish in the unknown and probably foreseen accident. Zimra was one of the casualties, and she finds herself revived in a clone body thanks to the currently-AI companion Serena Karim. Serena instructs her how to repair the ship and return home before the black hole sitting outside the window sill sucks us all in.

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character confronted by a mutant crouching on a table.

Real quick, I’d like to mention the humorous nature of the story, considering that it’s essentially a group of ghosts who can’t wait to return home to their families… in a ship filled with murderous mutants and anomalies of atoms. The 2009 film Moon taught us that clones have a shelf-life equivalent to store-brand sushi, so I look forward to Zimri returning to her family with half of her body parts missing.

I only bring this up because The Persistence is so bloody eager to explain almost every game mechanic as a wonder of science, or at least something that needs an explanation. The reason behind why we have unlimited clones, why there’s lockers that randomly explode in your face, why some lockers inexplicably have live grenades in them that only activate when you can visually see them. It’s absurd to the highest degree, and it works more against the immersion than it does to help it, especially when it’s done for mechanics and not the actual origin of the accident.

“Hey, Serena, why are these Witche– I mean, Weepers screaming and crying with an alarming clarity, despite the lack of actual fucking lungs?”

“Oh, it’s because they’re doing it from the diaphragm, and not the throat, Zimri.”

“Oh, okay… no, wait, what?”

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character cutting it close with a mutant.

Anyway, The Persistence is a lot of things, most mainly a roguelike; a slightly ambiguous roguelike with a corrupted core, but in due time. A first person shooter first and foremost, your main task will be to stealth your way around 4 separate floors attempting to complete storyline objectives while also reaching the end before you meet the bad end of a black hole. Standing between you and victory are a ravenous horde of mindless mutants you’d be forgiven for thinking are actually Millwall fans in disguise, and the game allows you to take ’em down with a pretty hefty arsenal of gadgets, gizmos, and guns. 

Teleporting chainsaws, .50 caliber revolvers, black hole grenades, electrical riot batons, stuffing a stem cell harvester into their spine. The toy box given to you is magnificently versatile in its ways of executing the monsters on board, and a lot of the time, they’re also exceptionally fun to use. A personal highlight would be the Valkyrie, an electrical harpoon gun finding new meaning in an environment without water. It pins everything to the wall effortlessly, with ragdoll physics making more than just a money shot.

While the firearms provide power in tense situations, the game heartily recommends melee combat. All of the firearms are slow-firing, bar The Needle, which detracts from its rapid fire rate with pathetic damage. The Persistence aims to hark back to the days of visceral melee combat seen in titles like Condemned and uhh… Condemned 2, which is a bold ambition, even though The Persistence lacks everything that made Condemned so brutal to play. 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing a mutant hugging the touch-screen wall, with the player character behind them.

For one, despite the misconceptions of psychotic homeless folk disregarding personal space, the hobos in Condemned respected the rules of the arena, and their capabilities were always telegraphed. In The Persistence, mutants ready to give you a kiss with a fist almost always clip into your model, providing them with an un-counterable hit despite being given a shield you’re supposed to use for such an attack. For two, Condemned‘s AI wasn’t stupider than a sack of wet gravel posing as a British civil servant. 

Their go-to strategy is always simply running at you. They don’t manipulate the environment, they don’t move snake-like through the claustrophobic halls of scattered boxes and bloodstains, they’ll walk through anything and everything just to take a shot at you. Sounds fair under the right context, but when it’s the *only* retaliation these dimwits have, it’s tiring to fight constantly in a ship adorned with fuck all to look at.

Despite making a flawless transition from VR to a flat-screen, The Persistence‘s graphical qualities aren’t anything to really write home about, and really dampen the experience. Visual money shots are few and far between. There is some environmental design that adds a lived-in feel to these drab workshops, but they’re usually tied to one-time story events as opposed to being the set dressing permanently. 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character with a mutant under the influence of Ivy Serum.

Instead, The Persistence‘s best assets stem from some truly excellent sound design coming from the creaking ship and its freakish inhabitants. The ship stutters and hums with low power, footsteps echo through the ventilation shafts to other rooms, and the heavy breathing rumbling in your ears can cause even the strongest of folk to shiver. Mind you, all of this tense atmosphere is immediately run over with a van labelled with “J. Umps Care”.

Every single piece of intentional horror is an audio jumpscare. Pipes inexplicably popping and letting off steam, random panels falling from ceilings, monsters screaming at you from behind, and the most egregious of all, a door that slams in your fucking face. The last one is especially the most tedious, as it just turns into useless busy work that puts you in an unskippable cinematic which provides no challenge or threat. It is there just to startle you and nothing else, and every time it happened that high from fear suddenly crashed. 

This is easily the worst thing about the entirety of The Persistence: everything in the game is at odds with itself. Beyond the horror’s two separate juxtapositions of context, this roguelike’s attempts to shine are faltered by betrayals in pacing and overall anger brought forth by an honestly unfair difficulty spike. The average run through to the end of this figurative and literal nightmare can be anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on how ill-equipped you are against the current seed, and for a roguelike? That’s lethal. 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character up-close with the body of a Weeper.

It also deflates any chances for strong player agency. Here we are, with a impossible region of space-time sitting outside our goddamn space house. We’re urged to get our ship back to working conditions in order to save ourselves, but we have unlimited tries to do it. Our progress is still clocked, we acknowledge previous failures, but we have all the time in the world, because Berty here is currently chowing down on a nearby quasar.

It begs the question as to why the roguelike is even there to begin with, considering it throws a spanner into this machine trying to churn out a tribute to SOMA. You’ve got basic implementations of permanent upgrades that’re mostly vague in their descriptions, schematics which provide a slightly stronger starting loadout, and a handful of clone bodies providing incremental differences in gameplay. These do nothing to add unique flavour to separate playthroughs since it all comes from the weapons in-game which, while versatile, are a drop in the bucket compared to what other roguelikes like Enter The Gungeon, NeuroVoider, and Void Bastards have to offer. 

Even the procedural generation from the map layouts are a waste of time considering that it feels like the game has to meet a specific quota of preset layouts, all of which look the same, and always have no more than two shuffling shamblers making pathetic strolls through an iota of the entire room. Why was this a roguelike when these efforts aren’t remiss of a more terrifying adventure through a linear sequence of events with a progression more enticing to the player? 

An in-game screenshot of The Persistence, showcasing the player character confronted by a mutant crouching on a table.

When The Persistence released in 2018 for the PSVR, it was met with acclaim due to its immersion and robust nature into providing a VR adventure that wasn’t just an glorified slide-show using [ENTER PROPERTY HERE]. It had replayability, it had chutzpah, content, and it mixed several different genres together into something that stands out amongst a platform still teething. Making the transition to normalcy though? You’ve been beat out to the finish line, overlapped by titles that are still celebrating. 

In the end, The Persistence is a game desperately battling with each and every single one of its factors. An interesting adventure lacks context in favor of a gameplay loop akin to a lobotomy, the horror is one part Silent Hill and eight parts Five Nights at Freddy’s, and the gameplay is both visceral and a lying bag of tricks. What could’ve been a shining star is instead dead space. 

In this case, Dead Space 3


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