As I mentioned in my Iron Man VR review, I often find VR games to be hit and miss. Some tend to give players too much control and the world becomes tedious, hard to navigate, and – ultimately – exceedingly unrealistic.
Others tend to take too much control away from players, leaving them with little to do in a world that almost doesn’t need them, and really just feels like a demo at best. The most successful VR games understand that perhaps it’s best not to get too complex, but perhaps more importantly, it just needs to be an enjoyable experience.
Keep it simple, keep it fun.
Pistol Whip, by Cloudhead Games, manages to vibrate in rhythm to this mantra, making it a highly recommended game for the VR fan.
Pistol Whip Review
From what I can tell, there’s no story to be told here. Pistol Whip is, in a way, a VR approach to an Arcade shooter, with rhythm elements thrown in for fun. In some ways, it’s comparable to Thumper and Beat Saber, but where the rhythm elements are core to those games, it’s less important within Pistol Whip. It’s also very similar to Superhot – but without the time freezing mechanic. I guess it fits comfortably between these ideals.
Essentially, there are 15 levels for players to choose from, each level based on a song and the theme employed by that song. All of the songs are electronic, some are dark and moody, some are bright and cheery, but all are strongly represented by the beat that they employ. Levels, then, are based on this beat, with enemies appearing at certain times within the track – but I guess I’m getting ahead of myself here.
While the levels themselves are based on a song track, they play out identically – with the player advancing in a straight line on rails in time with the music. All that is really required of the player is to point their motion controller and take out the polygonal enemies, as well as to dodge bullets and environmental obstacles. Players can choose to fire their weapon to the beat to max out their score, or they can simply fire at will. It doesn’t affect the gameplay, just the score.
And therein lies the beauty. If a player wants to be competitive, they can. If they simply want to revel in their inner John Wick, then they can do that too – in fact, the game employs a fairly generous auto-aim by default, making players feel very badass right from the get-go, and I have to say it feels amazing. That, combined with the beat of the track as the level progresses, is likely to see players getting more involved with the track and the experience than they perhaps expected – I felt like a bullet beat god for much of my time playing.
Well… until I discovered the auto-aim feature can be turned off…
Graphically, Pistol Whip is very simple. The levels are made of blocks, not unlike Minecraft, but lacking in detail beyond colour, making it feel like the player is trapped within a virtual world a la Tron. Enemies and other designs within these worlds (decorative skulls and statues, for example) are all polygonal, with enemies in stark contrast to the rest of the elements.
Many enemies are taken out with a single shot, while others are wearing a kind of shield. These require multiple shots, so players need to be vigilant. It’s a simple mechanic, but it does vary things enough that it feels right.
Another aspect of the game, and one I’m less enamored with, is the dodging aspect. It is fun to dodge bullets – and yes, they approach slowly and are very clearly distinguished within the environment – but it is less fun to dodge walls and overhanging elements… Especially when sitting. This is an arcade VR shooter made to be played while standing, but sometimes you just want to play from your seat, and it’s not so forgiving in that regard. Still, when standing, it’s less annoying, although it gets a bit crazy at more difficult levels.
So where does the replayability lie in a game that is so simple in its design? Well, each level has multiple difficulties that it can be played at, which very much changes the feel. Not only that, but there are also a bunch of modifiers that can be employed – including the ability to dual wield or … to remove auto-aim. While you may feel like John Wick with auto-aim on easy, you’ll very quickly get put in your place when you turn auto-aim off and switch to hard… In those cases, you’ll feel much more like a stormtrooper from the Star Wars movies.
However, the game is very forgiving with bullets – reloading is a quick flick of the wrist to point your weapon down, and your weapon magazine is quite large, so you can fire off bullets with abandon if you like, particularly while dual-wielding. How you play is really up to you, and from what I could tell, there was little more to the game than wanting to get your name up on the leaderboards… or simply to have fun.
And I had fun.
A lot of fun.
It’s simple, but it feels great to play, and it feels great to REPLAY levels, which is also important. Once I feel I’ve sufficiently beaten all of the levels, I’m unlikely to come back for a while, but I don’t see a reason to delete this game from my PS4 – the size footprint is small. So I do expect I will come back to it from time to time just to get my John Wick fill.
Pistol Whip was reviewed on PSVR using a digital code provided by the publisher.