Review: Pistol Whip

What do you get when you mix John Wick, Hardcore Henry, LSD, thumping EDM tunes from artists like Black Tiger Sex Machine and virtual reality (VR)? Cloudhead Games’ latest videogame Pistol Whip, of course, an on-rails first-person shooter (FPS) with rhythm action gameplay which offers an immersive experience like no other. And one which will make you feel like an action hero badass.

Right from the start Pistol Whip is an assault on the senses, maximising VR’s immersive properties whilst ensuring a comfortable experience can be had by all. It’s a bold move for the studio considering wave shooters aren’t anywhere near as popular as they once were two or three years ago but Pistol Whip is no ordinary wave shooter.

Before you even get into the core experience Pistol Whip’s visual art style grabs you and slaps you in the face. With a colour scheme that ranges wildly from soft pastel hues to vivid neon, the twisted, fragment design is both eye-catching and complementary to the gameplay itself. The environments pulse to the beats as if you’re in some sort of dreamlike music video, being taken on a journey that’s both enthralling and slightly disturbing all at once.

This is a shooter which wants to muscle in somewhere between Beat Saber and Audica, whilst giving that illusion of being in an action movie sequence where the hero just doesn’t seem to miss a shot. With a single gun in hand there are ten songs – or as Cloudhead Games like to call them ‘scenes’ – to choose from at launch, featuring generally aggressive EDM/Dub-Step style tunes. So if you’re not feeling that kind of music you may get tired of Pistol Whip quite quickly. The studio has done a great job of marrying the two, making each scene seem more like a soundtrack set piece.

As mentioned, because the environments are so colourful the enemies are all monochromatic helping them stand out. They’re all faceless thugs eliciting a character design reminiscent of SUPERHOT, the difference being there are several grades. Basic enemies take a single shot and can be easily taken out in time with the music. The harder characters can take up to four shots thanks to body armour, creating extra point making opportunities as well as problems should more enemies appear.

Pistol Whip employs an auto-aim feature which works exceedingly well unless you’re really wide of the mark. This provides a double effect of making you think you’re an awesome shot whilst making those timed hits easier to pull off. And they do matter. A perfectly timed shot to the beat of the music can net you triple the points of a hit offbeat, which definitely matters as Pistol Whip is a point driven videogame, with online leaderboards one of the main reasons try and improve that score.

These enemies aren’t friendly either and will shoot back, so you’ll need to be light on your feet as well as flexible to dodge those incoming bullets. Likewise, each scene will have its own obstacles to dodge around or under. Play a few scenes and you’ll soon start to feel it, offering a fairly healthy workout at the same time. Adding to this mix is the ability to gun butt enemies which get too close, generally quite rare as few are in your path but it does give you a quick option to recharge your armour after being hit rather than having to wait which is nice.

Once you’ve played through a few scenes and got the hang of Pistol Whip it’s time to experiment with the settings and mods. The settings are where you can finely tune the gun characteristics to your liking, changing the response of the trigger or the angle in relation to the control. These are options very rarely seen in a VR shooter, almost giving an added simulation slant to the experience. Head on over to the mods to really mix things up, how about going dual wield or not being able to fail a scene? Dual-wielding certainly ups the fun but it also has a negative impact on the score multiplier. To increase the multiplier then you’ll need to switch on Deadeye, removing that ever so useful auto-aim in the process. Perfect for attacking the highscore of each scene, Deadeye will make you realise how good a shot you really are. If you’re not bothered about highscores then don’t switch this particular mod on, as it honestly takes a lot of the fun out of Pistol Whip, turning the videogame into the serious shooter it doesn’t need to be.

Pistol Whip is huge amounts of fun even on the easiest difficulty setting, suitable for VR players no matter their skill level. Like any videogame of this type there is an overly repetitive value to the gameplay, and with only 10 scenes to begin with, it could’ve done with a few more; especially when it comes to music variety. Even so, Pistol Whip can still be heartily recommended for all you VR fans.

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