Look out John Wick, there’s a clumsy new gunslinger in town.
Every so often a VR game comes along that makes such great use of the technologies immersive capabilities that it’s hard to believe it didn’t already exist. One such example is the latest release from Cloudhead Games (The Gallery series, Aperture Hand Labs), Pistol Whip, a fast-paced rhythm shooter experience designed to make you feel as though your the protagonist in a high-octane action movie, à la John Wick or Wanted.
Similar to other VR rhythm games such as Beat Saber and Synth Riders, Pistol Whip — described by its developer as a “cinematic bullet hell” — revolves around shooting targets to the beat of a thumping electronic soundtrack provided by Canadian label Kannibalen Records. However, whereas the afore-mentioned titles have you slicing blocks or tapping orbs, Pistol Whip instead has you strategically mowing down carefully-timed waves of SUPERHOT-Esque bad guys. Though the game features several different modes, the core experience remains the same throughout: you select a music track and embark on a 2-3 minute on-rails journey through a linear map littered with gun-toting henchmen bouncing to the rhythm of your chosen soundtrack.
While you do have the option to mindlessly gun-down enemies as soon as they appear, those looking to rack up the most points will want to time their shots to the beat of the track. These bad guys, represented as black “fractal” silhouettes, will pulsate to the beat of each track, giving you an additional visual cue for when to fire; if an enemy gets to close, save a bullet and pistol whip that baddie. Ah, see what I did there? In addition to the enemy AI, you’ll occasionally face large barriers blocking your paths, such as a pillar or small overpass; you’ll definitely want to duck around these whenever possible.
However, the real magic of Pistol Whip is in its level design. Each and every enemy is placed carefully throughout the map in order to sync with the music and, in turn, your gunfire. While normal enemies go down after a single bullet, bad guys wearing bulletproof vests require two shots, followed by armor-clad elites which go down after four. By pairing certain enemies of varying difficulty with one another, the game is able to anticipate and guide your shots to the beat of the game, turning your gun into an instrument; the better your timing, the better the song. Another nice touch is the movie theater layout, which depicts each track as its own action film, similar to the levels featured in the Left 4 Dead franchise.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a VR rhythm game without the customization. Pistol Whip features a variety of modifiers for enhancing the base experience. “Dual Wield” adds an additional pistol to the mix, allowing you to take on harder difficulties with ease as you unleash a barrage of firepower down on your enemies. “Deadeye,” on the other hand, increases the difficulty by removing the auto-aim assist, forcing you to line up your shots more carefully. There’s also “Infinite Ammo,” which removes the need for reloading; “No Ammo,” which forces you to punch your way through each track; “Hardcore,” a one-hit death game mode; and “No Fail,” which makes you invulnerable to gunfire.
In addition to modifiers, you can also unlock new weapon customizations, including various wraps, metal finishes, colors, SFX, and types of pistols — including a Walter PP, Beretta, and a Desert Eagle. You can unlock additional customizations by earning achievements and increasing your scores. Cloudhead has stated that more tracks, customizations, and levels are on the way. And what better way to share your hard-earned accessories and mediocre gun-fu skills than with mixed reality? Pistol Whip features dedicated support for the LIV mixed reality system, allowing you to customize your capture options directly from the in-game menu (dedicated green screen studio not provided).
In a year dominated heavily by ambitious, world-building VR experiences (Asgard’s Wrath, Vader Immortal – Episode II) Pistol Whip offers a more simplistic, albeit addictive, arcade experience impossible to replicate on a conventional, non-VR gaming platform. And therein lies Pistol Whip’s true brilliance; much like other standout VR titles — Beat Saber, Space Pirate Trainer — Pistol Whip offers a true one-of-a-kind gaming experience you simply can’t get anywhere else; it’s almost a genre in itself. Whether you’re a fan of rhythm games, VR shooters, or genuinely inventive experiences in general, Pistol Whip is a definite must-buy.
Pistol Whip is available now for $24.99 on SteamVR, Oculus Rift/Rift S, Oculus Quest, and Viveport. Those who purchase a copy for Oculus Rift/Rift S will receive an additional copy for Oculus Quest, and vice-versa, at no additional cost via Oculus cross-buy.
Feature Image Credit: Cloudhead Games