If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a citizen of the internet for the last twenty-plus years, it’s that you have a serious choice to make: Are you team pirate or team ninja? There can only be one. As I’ve never been much of the buccaneer type, I always fancied myself a bit more of the silent assassin variety. And what better way to dip a toe into the waters of ninja combat than through the immersive world of virtual reality. Sairento VR can provide this precise experience with ample doses of gunplay to boot. The only question that remains is, can you can keep up with the action?
Cutting to the Chase
The world of Sairento VR is one of futuristic violence and intrigue. The 2066 version of Tokyo is under siege from an invading force, intent on laying waste to the population, on their way towards expanding their control across the globe. With the population of the world hanging in the balance, it’s up to a duo of resistors to push back against the onslaught. You control one of these characters, as they hack, slash and decimate the opposition, while simultaneously uncovering the deeply-seeded root of a much larger conspiracy.
As grand as this plot line may sound, don’t expect to be hanging on every syllable of exposition. Ultimately, the story sets the stage for what amounts to a series of glorified “kill rooms.” Though that may sound like a dig, I would make the argument that this is still more ambitious storytelling than a vast majority of the VR experiences available on the market. Ironically, for a medium that allows players to become more immersed in their environments than ever before, the titles that make full use of the new narrative avenues are next to nil. For what the game aspires to be, it’s a perfectly adequate way to link stages. The campaign may be held together by silly string and bubble gum, but here’s to at least making the effort!
For all the work put into the narrative, it sure would’ve been nice to see the same effort put into the tutorial. If you chose to bypass the campaign (for me, it defaulted to the challenge mode), you’ll never actually get any sort of on-screen prompts, explaining the controls. As someone who accidentally loaded up the challenge mode first, I was left utterly befuddled as to how the mechanics even worked. Honestly, I thought the game was glitching and had inadvertently spawned me into a stage without weapons. I can understand why the developers would’ve spurned putting a tutorial into anything other than the campaign. That said, I still feel like there should be some forced “first-timer” warning, suggesting taking the tutorial out for a spin. Without it, the game is damn-near unplayable.
Part of my no-weapon confusion was due to the fact that they were actually holstered at my side, nestled just out of sight of my VR visor. It was a bit of a personal “facepalm” moment. But these are not the only maim-worthy items in your arsenal. Apparently, reaching over either shoulder and pressing the grab button will actually equip one of the weapons slung over your shoulder, bandolero style. While pistol-type handguns are primarily side-holstered, the over-the-shoulder cache are a bit more brutal like automatic rifles, shotguns, or my personal favorite, the katana. Trust me when I say that there’s nothing better than rocking a machine gun in one hand and a katana in the other, while you scream at the heavens like a cyberpunk knockoff Rambo action figure.
Swinging At Thin Air
Unfortunately, the moments of empowerment didn’t come naturally. Regardless of whether or not you can blow an adversary half-way to hell and back, that means nothing if you cannot traverse the environment seamlessly. This may be a bit of an understatement, but the controls are awkward at first. Pressing the move button on the dominant hand will create halo on the UI, which is used to specify where the player will jump to, with the pitch of the controller being used to control the height of the leap. There’s also a quasi-bullet-time effect employed, presumably to prevent players being filled with more holes than the last season of Game of Thrones.
On top of the basic jump controls, in mid-air there is also the chance to double jump. Thankfully, you aren’t always hopping around like a kangaroo trapped in a bounce house. The move button on the opposite controller is used to simply walk forward, with the direction being dictated by the gaze of the visor. Additionally, the various face buttons can be used to spin the character roughly 45 degrees in either direction, at a sudden snap. Mixing all of these moves together will take a bit of practice to get the hang of, but once you’ve perfected basic navigation, then comes the fun of sprinkling in the sliding, gliding, and wall-running mechanics. There’s far more to this game that would subtly meet the eye. These are not techniques that will come naturally, so be ready to invest the time necessary to become proficient.
One major snafu that I ran into locomotion-wise was when the action really gets hectic. The act of simply running from place-to-place can become a bit wonky. When navigating through an open corridor this won’t play a factor at all. However, once you are trying to dodge in and around things, it almost feels like environmental objects can reach out and grab hold of the character model. Obviously, this isn’t literally the case, but it’s rather easy to become hung up on an oddly located pillar or staircase banister. As was already mentioned, these events tend to fade with experience, but at least initially it can prove to be quite deflating and contributed to more than a few of my many mission failures.
Time After Time
After fighting through each stage and its following narrator-driven exposition dump, it becomes obvious that the structure is extremely linear. It goes a little something like this:
- Learn about the next setting and why you’re there.
- Spawn into the stage.
- Lay waste to all opposing forces.
For many games, this would be a smidgen troublesome, as the action (especially in VR titles) has a tendency to grow mundane rather quickly. This, however, is where Sairento VR actually shines. The combat and gunplay are so fun that it never really wears out its welcome. Further helping augment the variety are the numerous weapons and modifier combinations. Sadly, these are not really explained thoroughly, and essentially take experimentation in order to fully understand. Once again, I question why a developer would bother creating all of these deep systems and mechanics if they aren’t actively being presented to the user? Maybe it was intended for players to come across these menus organically? Regardless, I feel like the title is doing itself a great disservice by not surfacing these tools of destruction in a more aggressive way.
Once the standard campaign has been put to the side, then the challenge mode takes center stage. Set in what appears to be the exact same stages as the main storyline, players are charged with clearing maps as quickly as possible. What sets this apart from being simply a rehash of earlier missions is the fact that enemies are spawned randomly, which helps to keep things as fresh as possible. Sure, the AI is one step above a lifetime ticket holder for the short bus, but when you’re planning on swiftly dismantling the opposition, who really cares?
Is Sairento VR a masterpiece of technical innovation? Far from it. But despite its obvious visual and mechanical shortcomings, the game knows what it does well and takes every opportunity double-down on delivering this experience. You will find very few games on the PSVR that can provide a combat experience this frenetic, kinetic, and goddamn amusing. If you’re looking to take a slice out of crime and indulge your inner ninja, this one’s a cut above the rest.
Sairento VR review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4, using PSVR. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.