Virtual reality really lends itself towards the shooter and rhythm genres. It immerses you in the game in a way you can’t achieve with just a controller. These genres are normally very different from one another, but Cloudhead Games decided they would combine them for their latest game, whilst also drawing inspiration from “God-mode” films like John Wick and Equilibrium. The result feels like Superhot and Beat Saber had a baby, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Pistol Whip is an on-rails shooter set to the rhythm of dance tunes from artists like HVDES, Black Tiger Sex Machine, Draeden, LeKtriQue, Sam Lamar, and Apashe. Rather than one lengthy campaign, there are 15 individual scenarios instead, each set to an individual track. Whether it’s clearing enemies from the town’s retail district or a trip through a ruined church and its graveyard, the aim is to make players feel “breathtaking” as they take down enemies with their PlayStation Move pistols.
Pistol Whip Review – The Most Stylish Hitman
To the beat of the track, players need to shoot enemies, reload, avoid bullets, and dodge obstacles. With auto aim activated by default, you immediately feel like you’ve been a gun-toting hitman for years. Enemies quickly fall victim to your gunfire. Every now and again, enemies will spawn within arm’s reach, giving a great opportunity to pistol whip them instead, something that never gets old. Unfortunately, one of the game’s few faults is that these don’t always register. Several times I’ve pistol whipped through an enemy, rather than taking them down.
The track can’t be failed if you don’t stick to the beat. Ignoring the rhythm of the track completely and just shooting enemies is completely possible, but the resulting overall score won’t be as good. Dispatching an enemy with a headshot on the beat awards a maximum 200 points. Points are then deducted for being off the beat or hitting a limb instead. Being hit by a stray bullet isn’t a catastrophe as armor can be restored by taking down more enemies. Getting hit again before that armor is fully restored means death and the end of the scenario.
You’ll always want to have one more go because the game is extremely addictive and fun. A failed scenario will usually result in trying again and again until you’re triumphant. A higher score (and that elusive S rank) will only be obtained through practice. Only a flawless run, where all enemies are taken down, will achieve the top score. This means learning the levels and recognizing the enemy spawn points.
The latter is made much easier thanks to the game’s simplistic art style, which is similar to Superhot. Each scene is made up of just a handful of colors from a small palette. Despite the different themes, the buildings are made up of similar building blocks. If there’s a building with a ground level window, you can bet there’ll be an enemy appearing there as you approach. Holes in the floor? They’ll be enemies in the cellar too. Once those building blocks are familiar, it’s easy to predict where enemies are likely to show up, even when playing the level for the first time.
Pistol Whip Review – Dialing Up the Difficulty
From the very first tutorial to the hardest difficulty, the game offers a decent gradual difficulty curve. Players can start with easy tracks where there is a lesser number of enemies and few have armor. By the time hard difficulty is reached, more enemies will take four shots to kill. They’ll also spawn far more frequently, making it something for more experienced players only. The scenarios can also be played in any order as they’re all unlocked from the very start. If one scenario feels too difficult, play another while taking a break.
Players are constantly and smoothly propelled through the center of the scenario. While this may cause motion sickness in some, it had no effect on me. As such, the game lends itself to any length of gameplay session, whether it’s just a couple of 3-minute tracks or a more extended playtime. However, it will give you a deceptively good workout even on easy difficulty. Not only are you moving your arms to take down your opponents, you’re constantly ducking and leaning to avoid obstacles. My legs certainly made their feelings known after my first hour’s session.
When the game was released on PC and Oculus Quest, players were offered more freedom of movement. They could turn around to take out enemies that were now behind them, which made it easier to take down any that’d been missed and keep that score going. On PlayStation VR, this is still possible, but it’s clumsy. PSVR has a single front-facing camera to track headset and PlayStation Move movement, and turning to face behind can cause syncing issues with these, such as knocking the Move controller out of alignment. The game has few complaints and it’s a minor issue, but one that’s worth noting, more to do with the limitations of the PSVR hardware than anything else.
A variety of gameplay modifiers can change the normal rules during each scenario and extend the life of the game even further. Dead Eye can remove that auto-aim assist to create a real challenge. No Ammo does exactly what it says on the tin, removing all ways for players to shoot enemies and leaving them to dodge everything. There are plenty of others, but by far the most fun of all of them is Dual Wield. This gives players two pistols to wield throughout each scenario and there’s nothing more satisfying than taking out enemies two at a time to the beat of the song.
Altogether, Pistol Whip is likely to be the PlayStation VR game of the year. It’s simple concept works incredibly well and has few faults. If you’ve ever wanted to be John Wick, or any other badass gun-wielding gangster for that matter, this is the game for you. Modifiers and multiple difficulties extend the life of the game even further, although this may not be enough for some. Once free content updates and extra DLC tracks arrive, though, there’ll be plenty of content to enjoy.
Pistol Whip PSVR review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 with PSVR. For more information on scoring, read our Review Policy.