It only takes one mistake. I pulled the trigger on my Gravometric Hook an instant before the Berserker was in range. An instant later, he clocked me in the face, and I was gone. I woke in up in Recovery inside a freshly printed clone body. I’d been near the end of Deck 3, and now all the progress I’d made on the deck was gone. If I wanted to finish my objective and move onto the next deck, I’d have to do the entire deck again, and the layout would be completely different.
That’s life aboard The Persistence, a colony ship that’s jumped too close to a black hole and is now stuck in its orbit. You begin the game as a clone of Zimri Eder, the ship’s security officer, who’s been resurrected by Serena Karim, the ship’s engineer and only other survivor. Your objective is to restart the ship’s stardrive, which will allow you to escape the black hole, but the ship’s systems are severely damaged. Before you can activate the stardrive, you’ll have to go through the ship’s four decks one by one and get the ship ready to jump. This is harder than it sounds. The Persistence can rearrange its deck modules, but the black hole has caused the system to malfunction. Every time you use a teleporter (or die), the modules will rearrange themselves, completely changing the layout of the entire ship.
"The Persistence started life as a VR game, and that influence is obvious. You interact with most everything, from the controls to a door to items you’d like to pick up, by looking at them for a certain period of time."
But your problems don’t stop there. While the clone printer that brought you back may be the key to your salvation, reviving you has caused the other printer on the ship to malfunction. Its continually printing botched clones all over the ship, several of which have deadly mutations. The only good news is that every time you die, and you will, you’ll be able to print a new body, and start your journey through the labyrinthine maze once again. The resulting game is a terrifying Roguelike that will test your endurance. Every enemy can kill you, and you never know what you’re going to get when you respawn. You’ll need persistence to see it through.
The Persistence started life as a VR game, and that influence is obvious. You interact with most everything, from the controls to a door to items you’d like to pick up, by looking at them for a certain period of time. The rest of the game’s controls, however, have been admirably changed to work with either a mouse and keyboard or a controller. I mostly used the former during my playthrough, but the latter works, too. The Persistence is immersive and works well as a traditional game, but I never managed to escape the feeling that it would be doubly effective in VR.
The Persistence bills itself as a horror title, and that’s especially true in the first few hours of play. Your equipment and skills are limited initially, which means you’ll have to sneak around if you want to succeed. Your basic weapon, the Harvester, isn’t much good as a melee option, but it works great if you’re stealthy. By sneaking up on enemies, you can use it like a taser, except this taser burrows into your enemy’s spinal column and sucks out their stem cells, which can be used to upgrade future clones in Recovery. The Harvester is extremely effective against most basic enemies, but you’ll have to be right behind them to use it, and it’s easy to spook them, at least initially.
"The best upgrades are often in supply crates located in challenge rooms that are hidden around the map. Conquering them offers incredible rewards"
Fortunately, that’s not all the game starts you with. Your suit also stores Dark Matter, which can teleport you short distances and grants you Supersense, allowing you to see enemies through walls. As you explore levels, you’ll acquire FAB chips. Chips can be spent at fabricators scattered throughout the decks to purchase weapons and items, which you can unlock and upgrade by finding Erebus tokens.
You’ll also find tubes of stem cells (because apparently people just leave those scattered around) in addition to the ones you collect from your Harvester, which can be spent to upgrade your melee damage, stealth, health, shield, and Dark Matter reserve. You’ll also find schematics, which upgrade your suit, offering bonuses like increased weapon damage, health bonus, shield regeneration, and the like. Stem cells, FAB chips, and Erebus tokens carry over between deaths, so you’ll gradually become stronger, even if you die a lot.
The best upgrades are often in supply crates located in challenge rooms that are hidden around the map. Conquering them offers incredible rewards, including Porter keys that unlock the ability to teleport to decks you’ve already played through from Recovery, but there’s always the risk that you’ll die and lose all of the progress you’ve gained on that floor.
"Once you’ve got some upgrades, stealth becomes a bit more optional. At this point, you can start to explore the game’s rather large arsenal, which is varied and impressive."
Naturally, you can skip any room you wish and head straight for the objective if you want – they’re clearly marked on the game’s map – but you’ll miss out on valuable upgrades along the way, along with the game’s story rooms, which reveal additional plot and unlock new clones bodies for you to fabricate. Each body has a unique ability – the engineer finds loot schematics more easily, while a scientist might allow you to harvest more stim cells. These bodies cost FAB chips to make, but their abilities are essential if you want the game’s best stuff.
Once you’ve got some upgrades, stealth becomes a bit more optional. At this point, you can start to explore the game’s rather large arsenal, which is varied and impressive. The Reaper, for instance, is a spinning blade that allows you to teleport through enemies, killing all but the most impressive in one hit, while the Ivy Serum converts even the scariest enemies into loyal servants who will happily die for you. The Gravometric Hook I mentioned at the beginning of the review lets you pick up enemies and slam them into walls and ceilings before firing them into their friends, and while Rage makes you strong enough to kill anything with your bare hands.
There are several others – knives made of glass that kill in a single hit, grenades that create mini black holes or summon swarms of defensive drones, and electric lances, to name a few. One of my personal favorites was the Valkyrie, a silent gun that shoots powerful electric harpoons. Weapons you upgrade will benefit from larger ammo counts and longer durations, even if you find them on the ground or loot them from an enemy. Each fabricator can only produce one weapon at a time before needing to cool down, however, so make sure you buy your upgrades first, and them drop the FAB chips on your preferred tool of destruction.
"The arsenal and your own enhanced abilities might make you feel powerful, but The Persistence’s enemies are still more than capable of keeping up with you. "
The arsenal and your own enhanced abilities might make you feel powerful, but The Persistence’s enemies are still more than capable of keeping up with you. Berserkers are beefy bruisers who can kill you in a single shot and are best avoided. Listeners lack eyes but hear well and have accurate weapons. Engineers may look normal, but they’re fast and hit hard. Fireballs are cloaked until they spot you, and then they’ll run at you and explode. Lurkers will hide behind cover, rush you with a knife, and then run away. Weepers are terrifying enemies who can teleport through bullets and fire bursts of concentrated energy. By far the most frightening, however, are Bloodhounds, which have incredibly tough armor, an electric lance, and will follow you, albeit slowly, across an entire deck until you one of you dies.
You have defensive options: you can teleport, Supersense lets you see enemies before they see you, and if you time the use of your energy shield properly, you can parry enemy attacks, opening them up for retaliatory strikes. You’re still extremely fragile, however, even with some upgrades, and a couple enemies (or one really strong one) are more than capable of killing you, especially if you don’t have much to defend yourself with.
By the time you’re done, you’ll have left a mountain of corpses in your wake, many of them yours. The game’s procedurally generated levels help alleviate some of the frustration of having to do entire decks again, but backtracking from, say, deck 2 to get to what you want to do on deck 3 is often a chore, especially since you’ll often have to go out of your way to get decent equipment. Eventually, you’ll start to see how the building blocks of a level fit together, and the game will lose some of its magic. But it remains tense regardless.
"The Persistence isn’t a pretty game, even on the highest settings (especially when it comes to character models), but it looks good enough. The real standout is the sound design, which constantly keeps you on your toes. "
The Persistence isn’t a pretty game, even on the highest settings (especially when it comes to character models), but it looks good enough. The real standout is the sound design, which constantly keeps you on your toes. Steam bursts from pipes, electricity sparks from broken wires, and damaged plating clatters to the floor.
These sound effects will stop you dead in your tracks long after you’ve heard them for the first time, and get you scanning for enemies, who scream when they see you. Whether it’s the telltale clanging of a Bloodhound’s lance tapping against the floor or the muffled sobbing that signifies the presence of a nearby Weeper, The Persistence uses its sound design to keep you on edge throughout its runtime.
A run through will clock in at about ten to twelve hours, and The Persistence remains strong throughout most of that time. The game starts to feel like it’s running out of ideas by the time you hit Deck 4, however, which eschews the more open design of earlier levels for larger, emptier rooms that force you into fights you’d probably normally avoid. If you die, you’ll need new gear, which you’ll probably have to farm on previous levels, and by the end the whole thing feels like a slog.
"The Persistence still feels like it would be best played in VR, but this is still a good game without it."
And then the game just… ends, in a way that feels both abrupt and anti-climactic. It’d hard to say what prompts this change – maybe developer Firesprite thought most players wouldn’t make it that far, so they focused on the earlier decks – but it’s disappointing, nonetheless.
Still, the early decks are worth experiencing, and the game’s plot, much of which is conveyed through conversation between Zimri and Serena, isn’t bad. They’re easy to root for and have enough personality that I wanted them to succeed. It’s enough motivation to see things through, provided you can overcome the slog of farming that the last level requires. Finishing the game unlocks the much more challenging Survival Mode, and there are standalone challenges to complete should you want them, but I imagine this will be a one and done for most folks.
The Persistence still feels like it would be best played in VR, but this is still a good game without it. I wish the last level was less restrictive and didn’t require so much farming, but I enjoyed my time with the game overall. I did encounter one technical error – the game locked me in a room and refused to spawn the keycard I needed to leave it, requiring me to restart an entire deck – but The Persistence’s translation from VR is largely a success. If you’re looking for a creepy sci-fi Roguelike, you could certainly do worse than to get lost among this ship’s decks. If you do board The Persistence, be careful; this journey isn’t for the faint of heart, and only the most patient, or should I say persistent, will have the strength to see it through.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Genuinely scary. A huge arsenal and lots of different enemies to use them on. Intriguing setup. Good writing and voice work. Lots of upgrades. Plays well on a mouse and keyboard and a controller.
Later levels can be a slog. Still feels like it was designed for VR. You often have to navigate old decks to get to new ones. The character models don't look that great. After a while, you can see how the pule pieces fit together. Occasional technical errors.
The Persistence may not fully escape its VR origins, but it's a good game that's worth your time without it, provided you can endure the slog of the last areas.