The Persistence Review

Richard Walker

Imagine, in Alien, if the Nostromo had been a constantly shifting, procedurally generated maze. Ripley would likely have lost her mind before she'd even encountered the xenomorph,  probably choosing to jettison herself via the nearest escape pod. Similarly, The Persistence is an exercise in, well, persistence, as you're stranded aboard the eponymous ship, adrift in the arse end of outer space with little hope of making it out alive. A first-person roguelike with its own line in random jump scares, The Persistence is characteristically challenging (like most roguelikes), and also a mite annoying at times (like most roguelikes).

Originally released as a VR title almost two years ago, The Persistence still wears the hallmarks of its headset-powered past in the slow and measured pace, the spherical 3D crosshair, and the absence of button presses normally required for interaction. Instead, simply looking towards a terminal, a locker, a switch, or an item will activate it, open it, flick it on/off, or pick it up, respectively. The game does work as a non-VR experience, but you can't help feeling that it's lost a certain something, in terms of atmosphere and immersion, at least.

A labyrinthine vessel infested with mutants, The Persistence's setup is classic survival horror – you wake up aboard a seemingly deserted deep space colony ship and are tasked with restoring its malfunctioning systems, in order to make your escape. Only, you start with scant resources, and each attempt at making it to the ship's four different decks, where a different, vital system needs to be restored, can be a patience-testing affair. Little tricks, like unexpected loud noises, falling pieces of clattering scenery, or ambushes from mutant foes – devices that were quite effective when played using virtual reality – fall slightly flat without your head enveloped by the game. The Persistence has the odd moment of tension, but really, the overriding sense is that of repetition.

Of course, as a roguelike, this comes with the territory. Amid the grand pantheon of roguelikes, however, Firesprite's sci-fi horror take is one of the less demanding genre examples we've faced, though it's not without its own series of challenges. Enemy types quickly graduate from weaker, flailing mutated crew members to imposing Berserker types, sinister whimpering Weepers that wait menacingly in dark corners, and Lurkers that quite literally lurk in confined spaces, watching with glassy eyes, preparing to strike with a hypodermic needle (the bastards). Engineers, meanwhile, are stronger basic enemies that you soon learn can bash your brains in with a single drunken swipe, whereas Bloodhounds are to be avoided at all costs – they're marked on the map with a red icon for a reason, as their presence is an almost surefire guarantee that you're going to die.

Naturally, death is an inevitability in The Persistence, and it's all part of the process. Dying means having a new clone printed out, of which there are several, based on the found stem cell data of fallen crew members that didn't succumb to mutation. Each clone has its own unique attributes, like collecting bonus loot, harvesting increased stem cell counts, or getting a nice discount at the many fabricators and armouries dotted all over the ship.

Collected fabrication points can be exchanged for handguns with limited ammo (the enemy-impaling Valkyrie pistol is a personal favourite), grenades that come in various flavours (swarm grenade, the enemy-distracting siren grenade, grenades that slow time, or offer a means of escape from certain death), and a selection of gadgets and melee weapons that include handheld sawblades, batons, and the Gravimetric Hook, which tethers foes and lets you toss them about the place a bit (all initially unlocked then upgraded with Erebus Tokens).

The game's signature weapon is the Stem Cell Harvester, a device that initially proves slightly tricky to get to grips with. It's the only doodad you get to hold onto permanently, and as well as sucking the stem cells from mutants, it can be used as a bludgeoning tool. Crouching and moving slowly through The Persistence's corridors opens a brief window to execute a stealth takedown using the Harvester, firing its tendrils into the nape of an unsuspecting enemy's neck, before violently drawing forth valuable DNA currency. Regular, non-crouching movement is deliberately slow, too, and while the absence of a run button in a horror game seems counterintuitive, it kind of works.

Amazingly, the glacial pace of movement – that we can only assume is another hangover from its original guise as a VR game – seldom proves a real problem, as everything else moves at a similar pace. And you can teleport a bit, as long as you have ample reserves of dark matter energy to do so. Having the ability to project a deflection shield as a means of defence also gives you a fighting chance against marauding monsters (assuming you deploy it at the right moment), while gathering dropped schematics from enemies allows you to craft potentially life-saving ability upgrades, like more efficient shields and teleportation, for instance. Part with stem cells, and you can bolster health, melee power, stealth attributes, and dark matter capacity.

Consequently, each successive run (after you've died and been cloned umpteen times over) becomes a scavenger hunt for fabrication points and stem cells in a bid to boost your survivability, so that you can eventually grow resilient enough to reach the stardrive and refuel it, repair the ship's sensors, then hopefully find your way home. But is the journey ultimately worth it? Certainly, once you're over an initial hump and start to acquire upgrades, The Persistence does begin to feel rewarding, but it's not the most engaging of roguelikes, with fairly sterile environments and repetitive enemy encounters. That said, The Persistence succeeds in being a solid sci-fi roguelike that provides a decent enough – if somewhat forgettable – survival horror experience while it lasts.

The Persistence

A sci-fi horror that gets better with perseverance, The Persistence is worth delving into, despite more than a few frustrations. Give it time, though, and you'll ultimately discover a rewarding roguelike experience.

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The clanks and creaking sounds of the ship recall memories of Dead Space, while music is used sparingly.


Perfectly functional, but slightly unremarkable. The Persistence looks like any number of sci-fi games.


The game's slow pace might not be to everyone's tastes, but there's a solid survival horror experience in here.


A decent-sized campaign and various challenges provide hours of play, and it's all perfectly well presented. Whether you'll be lured back, however, is debatable.


An extremely solid, very well put together achievement list with a good mix of tasks, some of which are fairly creative. Dig in for a wee bit of grind, though.

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