Indie Game of the Month - Pistol Whip
Two of VR’s most beloved games are Beat Saber and Superhot. One has you slashing colored blocks to the beat, the other has you dodging bullets and shooting baddies as if you were a low-poly version of John Wick. Each manages to showcase what VR is best at, focusing on a few core movements extrapolated out into a gameplay loop. In both these games, all you have to do is stand there and focus on being badass.
So what would happen if we took these two games and mashed them up together? Well then you’d have Pistol Whip, the latest VR outing by Cloudhead Games, and honestly one of the best VR games we have played in a while.
In essence, Pistol Whip is a rail shooter. You are slowly advancing forward as enemies take aim and try to kill you. Your job is to kill them first, while dodging once in a while to avoid a stray bullet that gets through.
It controls pretty much how you would expect. Your VR controller is your gun. Aim, pull the trigger, lather, rinse, repeat. You can lean your actual body to dodge projectiles or obstacles that are put in your way, and if an enemy gets too close you can swing your gun wildly to perform the titular Pistol Whip. Roll credits!
This alone is a pretty satisfying arcade experience. Heck, to reload you have to aim “off screen” which is a huge throwback to games like Time Crisis and House of the Dead. It just works better in VR though. While aiming off screen just felt like a light gun cludge in arcade games, in VR you kind of feel like you are reaching into your pocket to pull out another clip.
This isn’t where the gameplay of Pistol Whip ends, though. You CAN play it as a standard arcade shooter, but the game comes alive as a rhythm game. You see every enemy that spawns in, every shot fired, every obstacle you come across, happens to the beat of a song. As you’d expect these songs are mostly dubstep and electronica, similar to the starting soundtrack of Beat Saber, and perfect for a gun-fueled murder spree.
When we say everything happens to the beat of the music we mean EVERYTHING happens to the beat of the music. Even the level itself spawns in pulsing to the beat of the music. The only thing that can move counter to the beat of the music is you.
And why would you want to. Moving and shooting to the beat actually gets you more points. If you want those delicious high ranks you are going to have to get into the rhythm. Also, moving to the music simply makes you better at the game. You know that every beat is going to synch up with a dodge or a shot somewhere. If you can’t see one coming, then you naturally want to look around and see where the threat you missed is.
Pistol Whip also has all the bells and whistles that rhythm games normally come with, which is to say you can add a bunch of modifiers to each level to make them either harder or easier and reach for a better score. You can take a score hit to use two pistols instead of one, which is a shame because dual wielding is way more fun than single wielding. You can turn off aim-assist which forces you to focus on both the beat and your aim at the same time. You can play each level at a variety of difficulties, with normal and easy modes being relative walks in the park and harder modes really causing you to get a workout in as you dip and dodge around bullets. It’s just a great experience all around.
The one complaint we have about Pistol Whip is the music selection. Like Beat Saber before it, Pistol Whip only released with about ten tracks. It’s not a whole lot of variety, even when you start applying modifiers to your favorite tracks and trying to get a perfect score. For the time being, it’s enough to entertain us but eventually there will need to be far more expansion packs released or, even better, a thriving mod scene that can source levels from the community.
Simply put, Pistol Whip is one of the simplest yet most fun VR games we have played this year. Yes, many of you might be thinking, “do we really need another VR rhythm game?” What can we say? The formula just works. For the most part, the best VR games have been shooters, rhythm games, and escape room puzzlers. This takes two of those three genres and combines them into something greater.
Now if only we could make a rhythm escape room with guns. That would be something to see.
You can pick up Pistol Whip on Steam and the Oculus Store for $24.99.