Two years ago, "The London Heist" seemed little more than a slick piece of evidence for the potential of virtual reality on the PlayStation 4.
When Project Morpheus became the PlayStation Virtual Reality headset and released to the world a bit more than a year later, "The London Heist" was packed into PlayStation VR Worlds, but it was still very much more experience than game.
That changes with Blood & Truth, a fully-realized virtual reality action game inspired by not just "The London Heist"s approach to gaming, but the overwhelmingly positive reaction to that bit of gaming.
James Oates, senior producer on VR Worlds and now Blood & Truth, says that "The London Heist" was by far the most played experience in VR Worlds. So a bit over a year ago, the team at Sony’s London Studio started working on this new game.
The game has you using two Move controllers to maneuver a soldier through a crime world in London, solving puzzles, blowing things up and shooting people.
While it may seem familiar to those who played "The London Heist", Oates said that the game is set in a new universe with a new storyline, the games aren’t connected.
“This guy is an ex-soldier who has had to come back to London because of family drama and he gets sucked back in, stuck in a gang rivalry between family and another group.
“He joined the army to escape this.”
Playing through a small chunk of the game, about half a mission set a third of the way into the game, it’s clear that this is a much more realized, polished take on some of the elements seen in The London Heist. And that the team has also made sure to add a lot of new elements.
The cinematics, audio, writing are all much better, the dialog pulls you into the world, making you pay attention instead of looking for a way to skip the cutscene. That’s in large part due to the immersive perspective provided by the PSVR headset.
I played the game standing a few feet from a television, not seated, as with The London Heist. While I can’t walk to move, I can look around and use the move controls to place a marker in the world to move to.
Oates tells me the movement was something that the team spent a lot of time thinking about.
“It’s something we had to explore,” he says. “We explored a lot of options. The things we want you to notice in this game are the one-to-one movements, the big events and the traversal system.
“We didn’t want teleportation because it didn’t suit our world. We had to have real movement.”
The approach the game take, which has you looking around for where to move, marking the spot and then looking through the eyes of the main character as he walks there, lends itself nicely to the fiction.
“It works really well,” Oates says. “He’s analyzing the cover, the exits when he prepares to move and that’s what you’re seeing. This just hit in terms of context, in terms of strategic movement, using Move controls.”
The game does an amazing job of translating your upper-body movement to what you see on the screen as well. As the player, you’ll find yourself grabbing clips strapped to your body, pulling your gun from its holster, pushing elevator buttons, assembling bombs and planting them. It all feels natural and works nicely with that strategic movement. Shooting is, most importantly, fluid and realistic in a sense. You aim by gut or by aiming down the sight.
On top of the controls and immersion, the game plays around a bit with player-driven narrative. In the mission I played, I was meant to break into a casino, find a particular person and get information out of them. Near the end of the mission, I tracked down the bad guy and was presented with two lines of questioning. I could choose by pointing at the question I wanted to ask. Instead, I aimed my gun and shot the guy dead.
The game didn’t hesitate a minute, it reacted and carried on with the game. I don’t know what that did to the storyline, but it certainly seemed like the developers were prepared for that.
“We are exploring different ways to give the player agency for the story,” Oates says.
Oates says in designing Blood & Truth, the team started by bringing forward everything that worked in "The London Heist" and then they added those new elements like movement, and refined capture.
“We’re also trying to create these big action sequences,” he says. “We want interactive and immersive story-telling. We wanted to point you to big action, set pieces, something we didn’t have in The London Heist.”
In my gameplay, that means I had a moment where I ran down a hall and lept through a window in slow motion or was able to pick off bad guys with my gun as I ran through an area.
All of this extra effort results in what he and his team are considering a second-wave game.
“The initial wave was about interesting mechanics, this is about a triple-A, fully fledged title,” Oates says. “We wanted to make sure that the story really worked, that it was fleshed out, that it worked as a narrative.”
The final version of the game will be a “full-length title,” Oates says.
While he’s not worried that players won’t be able to or want to play a full game in VR, the team did make sure to mix things up in the title to give players a break.
“It’s something we have looked at, in terms of missions and the way we break them down,” he says. “We try and mix them up as much as possible so it’s not blazing guns throughout.”
One section of the mission I played, for instance, had me using closed-circuit TVs to find the subject of my hunt. That involved a lot of staring, button pushing and joystick manipulation using the Move controllers. It was played at a much slower pace than the later gunning scenes.
While the team at London Studios, most of whom are now dedicated to VR game creation, leaned heavily on what they learned from "The London Heist", they also looked at the other experiences in VR Worlds, Oates says.
“We are fortunate as that was a broad experience,” he says of VR Worlds. “It had a lot of different types of gameplay. The shark dive and lounge, that’s all good context, lots of learning.”
In creating this action adventure VR game, the team isn’t trying to just deliver a good game, they’re also trying to prove, in a way, the value of VR and gaming.
“A big focus for us is making a product that is a justifiable evolution of VR,” Oates says. “That is bringing everything we know as VR experts to create a triple-A VR product.”