‘Oi, oi – look at this! Wave your hands!’ So says Nick Marks to his brother, Ryan, whom we play as in Blood & Truth. The pair are creeping through an art gallery at night when they stop to play with an interactive light show on the ceiling. It’s an odd moment, about a third of the way through the game, which, crammed as it is with explosions and gunfire, isn’t short of interactive light shows. What it does reveal is developer SIE London Studio’s understanding of VR – that its magic, predictably, lies not in the bassy crump of a set piece but in the little moments of just being. ‘That is good, though, you’ve got to admit,’ he says, before Ryan agrees, ‘Yeah, that is… that is pretty impressive.’
Blood & Truth is about a gang war, rival families, the intelligence services, and something resembling the Illuminati. All of which can be resolved with plentiful shooting, something Ryan is happy to supply – and something we have to wrangle with a little. Play is an odd mix: first-person shooting and light gun action, with a few puzzly odds and ends – snipping wires with pliers etc. – all shaken together and served up between cutscenes that have you leaning in to inspect the freckles on characters’ faces. Think Time Crisis, only you can choose where the rails take you, an experience akin to scooting about on an office chair while swivelling your head. What’s more, you have hands, which serve not only as useful grabbers, for clambering across railings and squirming through vents, but also for giving the finger to those attempting to advance the plot.
It’s supposedly set in London, but I’m not convinced. We waft through warehouses and trendy lofts, into art galleries and alleyways of brick and blinking neon. It all has the unclogged cleanliness of a car advert. The city is described, on the game’s web page, as being possessed of glamour and grit, but I say leave the glamour and the grit and focus on the greys: roads, streets, and skies. Such are the shades of London, and occasionally I’d turn to peek at something familiar – a workaday backstreet, a man on his phone at a pelican crossing – for some genuine texture. How odd that London Studio (formerly Team Soho) should falter in crafting an authentic capital, especially given its history with The Getaway (from which some old textures have been plucked).
Those fleeting moments made me all the more sad for want of a Getaway game, a series close to my heart; it feels as if the talented souls at London Studio should be released from Sony’s chic interiors – away from the likes of SingStar and DanceStar Party – and sent out into the street. How else do you get vivid British flavour into the game? One thing you don’t do is get Colin Salmon, the veteran British actor with a voice like velvet (and who’s spent a large part of his career swimming upstream), to put on an American accent and thus sandbag his considerable suavity. It certainly put a dampener on my attempts – during the segments where he’s in your ear, guiding you through – to pretend I was in a Bond game, and that it was Salmon’s character from Tomorrow Never Dies, Charles Robinson, providing vital support. (Thankfully, it is a fantasy supported by the brassy, Brosnan-era soundtrack.)
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The narrative is framed by an interrogation, giving us ample chance to hop about between missions – cue a summery jeep chase that sets the crackle of gunfire to It Just Won’t Do, by Tim Deluxe, and another section that sees you haring through a construction site as it crumbles around you. These blockbuster set pieces – mouldy by most blockbuster action standards – are heightened and tuned up in VR. Bringing your gunsight up to eye level is a thrill, likewise peeking round corners and popping off shots from cover. You realise that what London Studio has done – and perhaps what VR should do – isn’t to reinvent or revolutionise, to offer showy ‘experiences,’ but to tease out fresh joys from what we already have.
Its finer details – plot, character, context – vanish like gunsmoke, and its tiny touches loom large in my head. It’s no wonder my recommendation of Blood & Truth springs from my close admiration of nothing much: the knurled grip of a gun, turning on my sofa to check the road rolling away behind the car, holding a vape up to my mouth so that Ryan can take a drag. These small moments that replicate tiny bits of real life seem far more immediate and captivating than clearing out a hangar full of heavies with an assault rifle. It’s the truth, not the blood, that gets me in the end.
Developer: SIE London Studio
Available on: PlayStation 4
Release Date: May 28, 2019
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