While VR’s had a slow and bumpy start in its first few years, Playstation VR has had an advantage over other headsets on the market - not only is it more affordable and doesn’t require a beefy expensive PC to run, but it’s also solely focused on games.
That said, the quality of games has been somewhat limited, and with just 4 million units sold, its success has been modest at best, especially considering the PS4 has sold 98 million worldwide. What the platform has been crying out for is a real system seller, a juicy cinematic blockbuster on the scale and spectacle of an Uncharted or God of War that can catapult VR into the mainstream.
That’s exactly what Sony’s very own London Studio has been beavering away at ever since it impressed early adopters with its early demos that became launch title PlayStation VR Worlds. With a fully immersive and jam-packed storyline with the studio’s own backyard as its stunning setting, Blood and Truth is finally the big VR blockbuster we’ve been waiting for.
For all the talk of immersion, VR titles have a habit of putting you in the role of a blank avatar, ironically making you more of a cipher merely observing the action. Blood and Truth, however, puts you in the head of a character with real family ties and stakes, keeping you invested in its story.
You play ex-SAS ’ard man Ryan Marks, his particular set of skills showcased with an opening rescue mission in Afghanistan that also serves as a tutorial. But it’s not long before he’s on a flight back to London after getting the news that his dad has died.
The Marks patriarch also happened to be the head of a huge not-so-legitimate business empire, his death a catalyst for East End “businessman” Tony Sharp to interrupt the family reunion in a hostile takeover. In perhaps a nod to Michael Corleone, after being away with the army all this time, Ryan’s suddenly pulled back in to save the “family business”, making for a gripping yarn with a few twists that soon take it beyond a simple gangster turf war.
The story is broken up into 19 missions, though it’s better to think of them as chapters from a DVD/Blu-Ray, since not every mission is just about shooting the bad guys. Blood and Truth clearly takes its cues less from games and more from action films, and like any good action film, it’s well paced with moments where you can breathe, invest in the story beats or just take in some incredible views. Incidentally, this also makes the experience more digestible and accessible for anyone with wobbly VR legs.
While it’s easy to look at Blood and Truth and think it’s just a first-person shooter in VR, it’s a lot more involving than the genre’s habit of making you a mute protagonist while observing arch villains with a weakness for monologuing (hey there, Far Cry). More importantly, it understands there’s a lot more you can be doing with your hands than just holding a gun and pulling the trigger.
Even though traversal can be best described as semi on-rails - you move by just looking at designated points then pressing a button - it’s balanced with some more tactility when you can use your hands to climb up ladders, crawl through ventilation shafts, or navigate up and across scaffolding like monkey bars.
There’s a few lock-picking and wire-cutting mini-games too, but the highlights are more often the little silly details that keep you involved (or distracted) in a scene, such as a shoot-out in a nightclub where you can mess about behind the DJ booth, firing off the smoke machine, glitter cannons, even try your hand at mixing two tracks.
Nonetheless, shooting remains a core component, as you take on Tony’s hired goons that range from mercenaries in riot gear to low-level hoodlums who of course call each other “blud” and “mandem”. You can even activate slow-motion at the press of a button when a situation gets hairy, which also triggers when you blow up any conveniently placed red barrel (fire extinguishers are at least a bit more realistic).
Whether you’re spinning your pistol around or going full John Wick with dual-wielding, the gunplay lets you have embrace the ridiculous fun of being a badass action hero.
Creating a sense of presence in VR has its challenges, mostly because with just a headset and a pair of controllers, the system is only really tracking your head and your hands, which often means you’re little more than a pair of disembodied hands.
That’s arguably still the case for Ryan but it’s not just hearing him speak (weirdly but effectively coming from inside your head) that gives you a sense of presence, your weapons are also mapped to your body, so you’ve got holsters for pistols, rifles and shotguns sling onto your back, which you just need to hold a controller over your head, while ammo is strapped to a bandolier on your chest.
Obviously, it takes licence with the amount of ammo you can carry, while a pouch for carrying your other tools magically appears when needed, but it shows how London Studio makes the most of the tech’s constraints.
The game also succeeds in immersing you in a photorealistic world where VR has mostly shied away from. Admittedly, other developers don’t have the same big budget as a first-party studio, but the detail of face-scanning and photogrammetry on display here, coupled with some excellent mocapped performances means you feel involved during dialogue and familial banter without feeling like you’re taking a trip down the uncanny valley. If nothing else, your hands are also free to make rude gestures during these moments.
Whether it’s a panoramic view of the city skyline overlooking the River Thames, or shooting your way through a high-rolling casino at night, the London on display here is stunning. It may not be on the detail of an open world or on the fidelity of what you can get on a flat 4K screen but it’s certainly one of the most visually impressive games in VR, crafted by a team who clearly have a lot of love for their home city.
While some would describe Blood and Truth as an expanded version of The London Heist demo, it reins in the cockney gangster cliches and manages to capture the different facets of contemporary London, from the game’s score, which blends the grand orchestral brass of a typical Bond film with the production beats and bars of grime, to the hilarious inclusion of collectible e-cigarettes, which you can also take a puff of.
Yes, the game’s also filled with collectibles, some referencing London Studio’s past games, while you can also shoot hidden targets that will earn you stars for unlocking new weapon mods. Whether that will keep you replaying the relatively short campaign (albeit a damn sight more substantial than other VR games so far) may be another matter, but it’s at least reflected in a more affordable price point compared to typical big budget titles.
High score seekers however may find themselves investing in the separate challenge mode that turns the campaign’s levels into a target shooting range, with plans for more to be added as free post-launch updates.
Blood and Truth verdict
Blood and Truth uses every trick of PSVR’s capabilities and constraints to deliver an absolutely rollicking action thriller. You might call it a rollercoaster but it’s so much more than a thrilling ride - it leave your hands sweating with adrenalin as it delivers its promise of making you become the action hero.
Covering a huge breadth of environments and sequences that make you forget its relatively short runtime, it turns London into a playground jam-packed with a dazzling spectacle of action film setpieces, while the story keeps you grounded with a likeable and compelling cast.
Anyone with a PSVR needs to play this, and for those that don’t already own one, the time is now.