Review: Blood and Truth (PlayStation VR)

Blood and Truth wants nothing more than to be an interactive, virtual reality spin on on the classic cockney gangster film. Set against a gritty London backdrop, it sees you caught up in an escalating gang war—with all the high-octane stunts and wild setpieces that come with that.  The good news is that, for the most part, it lives up to the hype: few things can quite compare to gunning down rival gangsters in a club while you rock the turntable with your free hand, just because you can. And that’s just the second level of the game.

You play as Ryan Marks, a soldier who’d managed to avoid the “family business”—that is, until a rival gangster uses the sudden death of Ryan’s father to move in and try to take over their operation. With things getting personal, Ryan—along with his mother, brother, and sister—set out to make things right amid ever-escalating stakes. So it is that you find yourself gunning your way through a casino, infiltrating secret bases, and parachuting off a giant construction crane.

It’s an edge-of-your-seat ride from beginning to end, and the added dimension of virtual reality takes all that to another level. I honestly tend to find action set-pieces boring, but being there in the thick of it, it’s hard to not get caught up in the excitement—to the point that even I found myself jumping out of my seat. Watching from a glass elevator while a casino blows up below you, or jumping out of a burning plane—and feeling like you’re actually there in the middle of it—will do that.

Likewise, virtual reality brings a neat new dimension to what would otherwise be a fairly standard rail shooter. Hiding behind doesn’t cover doesn’t just mean pressing a button; it means physically ducking or leaning to get behind whatever you’re sheltering behind, hearing the sound of bullets hitting your cover inches from your head, and sticking a hand out to spray and pray when things start getting hairy.

Gunplay, too, relies on manually aiming down the sights of your firearms—something easier said than done, especially if you’re just using iron sights. A tactical sight can help, but even then, it’s tricky. You’re not just moving a crosshair around the screen; you have to make sure that you’re holding your gun at the right level, and lining up your shots properly. Alternatively, you can just go nuts with a semi-automatic when you find one, with ammo being plentiful enough that you can just unload in your target’s general direction until they collapse.

Blood and Truth even manages to make reloading interesting: you do it by grabbing a clip from an ammo belt across your chest, then loading it into the gun. It works surprisingly well, and brings a sort of tactile element to reloading that’s not present in any other shooter. Especially in the middle of a firefight, when you’re under pressure, that simple act of loading a fresh clip into your weapon manages to be exciting.

The shooting isn’t quite so crisp when it comes to two-handed weapons, though. Holding two separate Move controllers up to simulate what is meant to be one single firearm feels disjointed, to the point that I found it actively hindering any attempt to steady my aim. This is at its worst with the pump-action shotgun, which requires a second hand to reload after every shot. Trying to do this consistently and reliably, while aiming properly at the same time, while people are shooting at you, is a feat of impossibility. Luckily, using the pump action is never required; there’s always another, better gun available.

Though shooting makes up the bulk of your interactions with Blood and Truth, the game does find ways to regularly break this up with simple “puzzles” built around things like picking locks and tampering with fuse boxes. I say “puzzles” here very lightly—these moments mostly just involving picking the right tools from your satchel and sticking them where the game tells you to, but they at least offer something of a distraction from the gunplay. The occasional climbing segments work much better, when you have to physically climb your way up pipes and scaffolding or crawl your way through vents. Again, “puzzles” would be a stretch since the paths are clearly laid out, but it’s surprisingly satisfying to monkey your way around by using your arms to climb imaginary objects in your surroundings.

So, when it’s all going smoothly, Blood and Truth is a great game. Unfortunately, it also falls victim to some design issues that can be a minor nuisance individually, but can converge to turn the whole game into a nightmare if you get a stroke of really bad luck—as I did a couple of times.

The first issue is that after starting a new game, there’s no way to change the difficulty level—despite the game telling you that you can, both when first choosing your difficulty setting and every now and then offering it as a “helpful” tip on a game over screen. If you want to change, your only option is to restart the whole game again from scratch, which is only possible by manually deleting your save data through the PS4 system. There’s no “new game” option once you’ve already got a file underway.

Similarly, there’s no way to restart a mission once it’s already underway until you’ve cleared it (at which point it becomes available for replaying from a Mission Select screen). Prior to clearing a level, you’re stuck at whatever the last checkpoint you passed was, with whatever loadout you had when you hit that checkpoint. If you don’t have the right guns on you, you might find yourself locked into a difficult fight where you’re wildly outgunned, with no option but to just brute force your way through.

Couple these things together, and you can find yourself in situations that are borderline game-breaking. Case in point, I found myself stuck trying to fight through waves of heavily-armed soldiers—including one with a big-ass shield that you’d normally need a shotgun or assault rifle to get past—with nothing but a pair of pistols. To make matters worse, this was a section of the game where none of the cover gave full protection, and where enemies have a nasty habit of flanking you. And here I was, locked into my shitty loadout, with no choice of dialling down the difficulty or restarting the mission (to try get some better equipment along the way) unless I deleted my whole save and started again from scratch.

Needless to say, that’s an infuriating situation to be in, and one that almost caused me to give up on the game entirely (and write a much harsher review!)—and all because of problems that video games solved decades ago.

I’m glad I persevered, through, because Blood and Truth delivers all the excitement and action you’d expect from a game that’s such a clear love letter to Guy Ritchie films. It’s not a deep game, but nor does it try to be; this is pure adrenaline from beginning to end, backed up by strong performances, a sharp script, and rock-solid gunplay.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.