It's been two years since London Studio's Blood and Truth was unveiled at Paris Games Week 2017, and since then, it's mostly been crickets. But now the Cockney-accented, action movie-inspired shooter is just around the corner for its PlayStation VR debut.
Its developer, London Studio, is a first-party studio for Sony Interactive Entertainment. While its name might not be synonymous with the likes of some of the PlayStation's biggest exclusives, you've no doubt played its titles before. For instance, the studio built the AR experience Wonderbook, and shaped the now-defunct PlayStation Home. Most recently, it made PlayStation VR Worlds, a bundle of VR experiences heavily recommended to indoctrinate new owners of the PSVR headset.
"I still put people in shock now [with PSVR Worlds]," says Iain Wright, design director at London Studio. "One of those experiences was called the London Heist, and it was much shorter than this; it was like 45 minutes. A bit of a tip of the hat to like Guy Ritchie, East End London gangsters, and it got a really good reaction from the public and we loved making it. So Blood and Truth, we kind of moved straight off after that, after PlayStation VR Worlds, and because we wanted to do more of that. We wanted to give people the feeling of being the hero in their own action movie, so that was our big tagline in the studio: 'Be the action hero!' So that's what Blood and Truth's about."
The demo I played is near the start of the action-thriller Blood and Truth, introducing the character you'll be playing as, Ryan Marks. Marks is a former soldier, and my demo leads me through a flashback wherein he infiltrates a camp to save a pal who's being held hostage. It's a tidy, vertical slice of the sorts of interactions you'll be doing in Blood and Truth, from picking locks (an interaction that is appropriately tedious; you literally hold two lock picks and wiggle them to unlock doors) to unscrewing a panel to get at whatever's behind it. There's plenty of shooting, of course, but there are a lot of other tools too.
Like John Wick reloading his guns with apt precision, Blood and Truth is hoping that you too will make your way through the game with the same tangible finesse. And oh, how I tried.
I was dual wielding guns, as well as shooting one at a time while holstering the other. You have to reload the guns yourself too, by grabbing an ammo pack from your chest and popping it in the grip of the gun. When dual wielding, reloading became pesky, with me holstering a gun on my shoulder, grabbing ammo and then tossing into a gun, and then pulling the other gun back out. Luckily, the interactions came relatively naturally once I got the hang of it, and it did indeed feel cool.
Also, in immersive sim-like fashion, you can grab a lot of things and hold onto them for as long as you like. Object interactions, Wright tells me, was one of the studio's big design pillars in making Blood and Truth. I grabbed a bottle, for instance, while keeping my pistol holstered at my right side. I kept the bottle with me, hoping I'd be able to throw it at an enemy's head, but unfortunately I had to drop it to open a door that required both of my eerily crooked hands.
To maneuver, there is no teleporting, nor smooth analog stick movement. Instead you look with your head towards any designated point (signposted with a big white marker), and after tapping a Move control button, you automatically move to it. The movement is smooth, which made me feel a little queasy. While the London Heist was built to be mostly a fixed experience, Blood and Truth has been developed with the opposite idea in mind: it wants to keep players on the move like an on-rails shooter, except they can choose which rail to hop onto. This is so, Wright tells me, players can have less distractions, and can concentrate on the action hero elements alone.
"We tried a bunch of different prototype control schemes, but your background in the game, you play Ryan Marks and you're actually a soldier. So when he looks at a scene, he'll be at the spot where there's good cover, where there's a point of interest," says Wright. "So we really wanted to take away having to learn complicated controls. It's just, you look where you want to go, you go there; it keeps your hands free. You can shoot, you can catch grenades, search the environment. I think it works really well for our game for that action hero sort of vibe. Teleportin' doesn't really suit our fiction. It's about seeing something, going there."
Blood and Truth feels almost old school, in virtual reality terms. Just at this event, there is a falcon bonding simulator, an Iron Man adventure game, golfing, a 3D nature painting experience stitched onto a traditional game. Blood and Truth, at this event, finds itself sectioned alongside the jump scare heavy Five Nights at Freddy's VR.
For Wright, it's just a sign of how diverse the experiences for VR have gotten. "We keep an eye on what's going on out there [in VR]. And yeah, we wanted to sort of push and innovate in this space with the storytelling, the drama, the action. But I think it's a great time for VR. [...] I've been designing games now for 20 years, and this is probably the most excited I've been. It's like everything's so new and I think you can see the amount of different experiences there are."
Blood and Truth has been in development since the early days of PlayStation VR, which is perhaps indicative of its early VR vibe; and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. There is still a peculiar satisfaction in doing almost-real world things in VR, like anxiously reloading a gun in a firefight. And over the course of Blood and Truth's development, PlayStation VR's user base has continued to grow. An impressive 4.2 million headsets have been sold since its debut in 2016, and with that, Blood and Truth's ambition grew too.
"We've been pretty lucky. I mean, we had a fairly big list of what we wanted to do. You know, we wanted James Bond-style action set pieces and gunplay like John Wick, and even films like Die Hard, Jackie Chan movies don't take themselves quite too seriously," says Wright. "So most of what we wanted to do, we've managed to get in there."
Blood and Truth will release exclusively for PSVR on May 28 for $39.99. And to Wright, it's only the beginning, not just for London Studio's future with working with the platform, but for all of PSVR as well. "We've got a lot of ideas of stuff we can do in the future and I think VR is going from strength to strength," he says excitedly. "I mean, we're only, what, three years in now? And you're already seeing a huge jump in quality. So yeah, really excitin' times."