July 30, 2020
Nine months after its release for VR devices for Windows, on-rails rhythm shooter Pistol Whip has blasted its way on to the PlayStation VR. It’s quite the promising, action packed, heart-raising title. Depending on skill, players can either feel like a gun toting God, or feel the heat as they’re kept on their toes. I jumped in, keen as ever. Just how well did I manage to keep up?
First thing’s first, Pistol Whip has no plot. In the delivery of the game, it does away with that. It doesn’t need some B-grade action story to get you interested; no hardened protagonist with paper-thin motivations here. Instead, it does what it does best: it immerses you in its neon levels, complete with banging EDM beats. Gun (or guns, if you’re good at multitasking) in hand(s), you’re thrust on the hallway-like rails and demanded to raise some bullet hell.
Pistol Whip offers 15 odd song levels in the PSVR port. While it’s not the most extensive selection, and it misses the ability to add your own custom songs, it’s enough to warrant a good time. The songs also do well to vary in pace, ranging anywhere from 75-150BPM to help set the mood you’re feeling at the given time. I can’t speak too much to the quality of the songs: I’m far from knowledgeable on EDM. What I will say is that in contexts like this, I finally get the appeal of the genre.
Harder, better, faster, Wick-er
Largely, the levels are fairly similar. Blocky structures, oozing in neon, appear in the backdrop of levels (and even as obstructions), setting the scene with you as a heroic combatant in a cyberscape. There are dressing moments that add some solid distinction. The ‘Full Throttle’ level draws inspiration from Mad Max. In this instance, in-between moments of neon coloured brutalist architecture, hints of sand-coloured dunes appear in the background. Giant trucks launch themselves over my head. The song lyrics utter the phrase ‘put the pedal to the metal,’ over and over again. The level ends with a monolithic sandplower steaming towards me. There’s no context provided for these levels but there’s no reason to. Instead, they’re just awesome set piece obstacle courses.
It’s nigh impossible to talk about Pistol Whip without uttering the words ‘John Wick‘ and ‘Superhot.‘ So much of both of those franchises share the same DNA as this new addition. In this year’s SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE, you’ll be tasked with being aware of your surroundings in order to efficiently eliminate all enemies in your environment. Pistol Whip’s the same, except there’s the mounting pressure of always being on the move, enemies popping in and out of sight for you to dodge and weave around.
More, More, MORE
Combine this with the more immersed view the PSVR headset gives you, the active challenge of keeping track of your bullets and the insane bullet and obstacle dodging feats you’ll be pulling off, and it’s a hell of a ride. Whether its the rhythmic flow of shooting enemies to the music beats, or the literal nods in trophy names (the platinum is the famous Keanu Reeves “You’re breathtaking!” quote), nods to John Wick are unabashed. That’s not a bad thing either – when you’re in sync with the song you’ll feel like you’re in God Mode, starring in your own action-packed music video. Even the reload animation, a simple downwards pointing of the Move controller and your gun, is satisfying.
I have to caveat that on your first song or two in Pistol Whip, the idea of shooting to a rhythm in this format is at first intimidating. Get past this hurdle, maybe put on a solid headset so the music and you’ll nail it in no time. Before long I saw myself toting a gun in one hand, the other stylishly hanging behind my back as I swung, danced and murdered to the beat. It’s a blast when songs and your movements click. Maybe I’m not as double left-footed as I once thought?
“Blocky structures, oozing in neon,
appear in the backdrop of levels
(and even as obstructions),
setting the scene with you
as a heroic combatant in a cyberscape.”
The atmosphere and vibes of the game are all well and good, but how’s the gameplay? Frankly, it’s fantastic. By default, you control the game using one PlayStation Move controller as your gun. Expect a lot of precise arm moving to tactfully take out groups of enemies. Hell, angle the move controller sideways and you can pull off some seriously sweet kills with your gun in that sideways action pose. I adore the combat chess nature of this game.
Where Pistol Whip also excels at quite surprisingly is fitting quite nicely into the corner of being a VR game that incorporates exercise. Dodging, ducking, weaving, hell even doing a Matrix-style sway around bullets, all are physically intensive. It’s even enough so to even make my young near 23-year-old bones to ache. Due to the intensity, I’ve yet to successfully trump a level on hard difficulty and I don’t think I ever will. I’m okay with that. If all else, provided I keep this as a routine, I can only hope it helps tone my booty real good.
Pistol Whip is some of the most fun you’ll have on PSVR all year
Modifiers are also there to keep you busy in the game. These can be anything from adding the ability to dual wield guns in a level to adding tougher armoured enemies or even leave you without ammo, relying solely on your melee pistol whip attack. There’s stuff on the easier side too, such as the removal of obstacles and fail states. Not only does this help you cater to and learn your play-styles but add replay-ability in the form of mixing up and challenging yourself in new and different ways.
My complaints with Pistol Whip on the PSVR platform are quite nitpicky. In-between levels, you’re placed in a nice little hub room where you select your levels via firing at a movie poster that corresponds with the level. What’s also is here is the ability to mod your gun in different ways whether its the model or skin appearance. These are nice and welcome options, but all customisation options, at least in my version, are available from the get-go. It would’ve been quite sweet to add more progression in the game here, having players perform certain feats to unlock more mods for their guns. This would add to the need for replayability just that little extra inch.
Other comments could be made about how taking on enemies that aren’t in your front 180 degrees are difficult, but this stems more down to the constricting hardware of the PSVR than the game itself. The team did their best. Really, it’s hardly a splash in the win that is Pistol Whip. Just maybe maximise your play space as much as possible for this one.
- Sweet, banging EDM tunes
- Bombastic, satisfying and fluid gunplay
- Plenty of modifiers and ramping difficulty levels to up the challenge
- Needs a bit more progression to boost the replayability
- The Pistol Whip action not always the most responsive
- 360 degree actions aren't captured that great
Pistol Whip really was a satisfying play that’ll keep me revisiting for a long time to play. Songs from the soundtrack still ring in my head. I still reflect back on some of my sweet kills. Hell, I’m grateful it’s got my out of shape self off the couch some more. It’s definitely an essential for those that love their PSVR devices. So, why not chuck that headset on, get shooting, blasting, dodging and sweating?