It’s been hugely popular ever since it came out, but we somehow hadn’t covered Cloudhead Games’ Pistol Whip yet. Time to rectify that! The game came out for PlayStation VR this summer and very recently received its “Heartbreaker” update, so we took that version and looked at it next to the Oculus versions we had played before.
Although the developers claim that movies such as John Wick and Equilibrium served as sources of inspiration (and this is clearly absolutely true), the action in the game also evokes memories of classic arcade shooters like Virtua Cop. Instead of moving forward through a level in an on-rails mechanic, however, the action in Pistol Whip is choreographed to the beat of the music tracks that have been included.
While the original release of Pistol Whip had 10 songs (and thus levels) to choose from, the PSVR edition came with 15 at launch and the recent (free) Heartbreaker DLC adds another three to the mix. It also addresses the fact that the original soundtrack for the game featured mainly high energy electronic dance music and dubstep, since Heartbreaker has a much mellower feel for it.
None of that changes the core mechanics for Pistol Whip though, which transforms your Move controller(s) into in-game pistols and sees you moving forward through each level as you take out enemies, dodge obstacles and bullets and give enemies a knock over the head with your pistol if they decide to get up close and personal with you. There’s a range of difficulty levels and gameplay modifiers to choose from, with the easiest combinations (that include auto-aim) transforming you into an almost unstoppable superhero but an excellent learning curve giving you the sense that you’re actually growing into one over time as well.
Pistol Whip’s emphasis on music means this is technically not just a shooter/action game, but a rhythm game with shooter/action mechanics – which in practice means you’re playing through action sequences backed up by a soundtrack that helps get you pumped up. Most of the tracks are of the EDM variety and as relatively unknown tunes they’re not all winners in their own right, but they certainly go well with the action and pacing of the game, which is quite intense and physical.
Visually, the game presents a mix of minimalist influences and a style that’s a bit of a mix between Tron and Superhot – a great fit for VR as the game performs as well on PSVR as it did on PC-backed headsets. Tracking also works well 98% of the time, with slight exceptions when you look behind you to see what’s passing you – which are very rare but cases where you miss the wireless freedom of the Quest.
If you’re a PSVR enthusiast, then this is one of the must-have releases of 2020. One that works very well despite the shortcoming of Sony’s headset in terms of processing power, and one that’s still being supported with new content. The game already has close to twice the number of songs that it started with, and if you consider that that was all through free updates this is an absolute steal.