For many of us, the advent of VR brought with it dreams of AAA games with fully immersive virtual worlds and interactions. Unfortunately, while there have been some exceptional games in the VR landscape like Astrobot and Moss, the overwhelming majority of games have failed to live up to the expectations many of us set for the hardware. London Studio, developer of the acclaimed mini-game The London Heist, is aiming to change the landscape with its full-blown AAA action thrill ride, Blood & Truth. It’s full to the brim with gunfights and phenomenal, Hollywood-grade acting and motion capture, but its ability to wow you depends entirely on how high you’ve set your expectations and just how many quirks you’re willing to overlook in the name of fun.
"Blood & Truth is full to the brim with gunfights and phenomenal, Hollywood-grade acting and motion capture, but its ability to wow you depends entirely on how high you’ve set your expectations and just how many quirks you’re willing to overlook in the name of fun."
Blood & Truth’s narrative is surprisingly one of its best features, though you wouldn’t know it from its opening chapter set in a flashback of main character and former Special Forces soldier, Ryan Marks. The setup initially feels like a shallow and generic war shooter in VR, but it’s merely an introduction to the game’s mechanics. Things quickly kick into gear when Marks returns home to London to find that his father, patriarch of the Marks family crime business, has passed away. Soon after the funeral, another crime boss decides to infiltrate and take over the business for himself for reasons not entirely clear yet, essentially holding the family captive within their own business.
The Marks family aren’t one to simply take things lying down, of course, and quickly snap back with a plan of their own to take back their business and their lives. The story expands beyond its initially simple premise, but like a good season of The Sopranos, it’s this focus on family that creates such a compelling narrative. Ryan’s interactions with his mother, brother, and sister feel entirely realistic, with dialogue ranging from poignant to utterly hilarious. The playful nature of the interactions with Ryan’s brother, Nick, are especially slathered in dark humor and sarcasm, and since they have a good bit of screen time together, there’s rarely a few minutes that pass without some witty banter to keep things from getting too serious. But that’s not to say things don’t get serious, or even periodically shocking – Blood & Truth is an action thriller at heart, and when all hell breaks loose, Ryan is lucky to have an equally intelligent and hardy family backing him up behind the scenes.
Gameplay is split between fairly short, action-packed shooting galleries and slower-pace exploration and lite puzzle solving. These slower moments pack in a lot of exposition and character development that make the action scenes feel earned, and the larger set piece scenes never become oversaturated as a result. Using Ryan’s tool kit to pick locks, unscrew faceplates, and clip wires becomes a bit repetitive after a while, but thanks to the game’s intuitive controls, I never felt bored completing the tasks. These quieter bits allow the game to build momentum and make Ryan feel more like a person rather than merely a killing machine, and it gives you a chance to explore the locations for collectibles and hidden targets to shoot across each level. The lack of free locomotion during these segments feels like a missed opportunity though, as manoeuvring around using fixed points feels confining and unnecessary in small rooms capable of comfortably allowing for full player movement.
"Blood & Truth’s narrative is surprisingly one of its best features"
When fights get going, however, the lack of free locomotion is probably for the best and allows you to stay focused on the direction the enemies are pouring in from. You’re able to teleport from point to point throughout the area and peek out from behind walls and structures for some really well-implemented cover-based shooting. But while I understand the incorporation of walking and running movements may have caused some players to feel uncomfortable, merely gliding across the floor like you’re on wheels detracts from an experience meant to feel more realistic through the use of VR. More active segments have Ryan rapidly moving through a location while giving players full control over aiming their guns and mowing down swathes of goons, and it’s in these sections that the awkward movement feels the most jarring and cheesy. Flying through a room like some legless ghost distracted me enough to take some of the intensity out of the action.
Blood & Truth’s actual gunplay typically fares much better, but while I played a few chapters of the game on Normal, I chose to restart eventually using a mode that grants you immediate access to laser sights on all weapons. I didn’t feel that the original mode was too difficult, but I thoroughly preferred lining up easier headshots and having a little more health to keep things moving along in the action sequences. There are plenty of unique guns to find, and options like dual-wielding a revolver in one hand and an SMG in another yields useful results for different types of enemies and their unique armor arrangements. Using the game’s Max Payne-esque bullet time feature helps further by slowing the action down drastically for a short while, allowing you to dispatch enemies with pinpoint precision, and it makes you feel exactly like the badass Ryan Marks is known to be. Customizing guns with attachments and paint jobs before missions is a nice addition, but it feels complimentary rather than crucial in most scenarios.
Blood & Truth is clearly designed for Move controllers, but the majority of my time with the game was spent with the DualShock 4 due to comfort. While I was at a disadvantage in terms of interactivity, I only rarely felt truly encumbered by the lack of free hand movement. Use of the Move controllers allowed me to individually aim dual-wielded pistols, reload in a more realistic manner, and interact with objects a bit more naturally. But losing out on those features for most of the game never felt like I was missing any of the most important aspects of the experience, although navigating things like ladders or air vents or picking locks felt a bit stiff and less engaging when using the DualShock 4. Regardless of which controller I used, however, I’d sometimes be unable to move my in-game hands to the right places while trying to climb a ladder or move across beams causing me to use the controller(s) in unnatural ways to achieve my goals. I also suffered from some fairly regular calibration problems that would send my character’s hands flailing around ahead of me or completely distort my location, both of which would force me to recalibrate. These aren’t entirely uncommon issues to have with VR games, but it was especially consistent here and caused me plenty of unfortunate interruptions during otherwise exciting scenes.
"Using the game’s Max Payne-esque bullet time feature helps further by slowing the action down drastically for a short while, allowing you to dispatch enemies with pinpoint precision, and it makes you feel exactly like the badass Ryan Marks is known to be."
The inclusion of some challenges accessible through the main menu flesh out the experience a little, but Blood & Truth’s core story can be wrapped up in 6 hours or less, especially if you’re not looking to dig through every nook and cranny of its rooms in search of collectibles and expository items. For a VR game to offer such high production values for that length of a campaign is a real feat and sets Blood & Truth among an exceptionally small group of VR elites. Not everything is perfect, and the story and characters are the true standouts here, but overlooking its few kinks yields an experience you won’t get anywhere else.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Compelling story; Phenomenal voice acting and motion capture; Fun shooting gallery moments; Enjoyable object interactivity.
Finicky controls and calibration; Awkward movement.