The club is just dim enough that faces are difficult to make out. Red and blue strobe lights tint the slick suits of attendees spattering the crowd. There are dancers. Le Castle Vania – The Red Circle plays as John Wick doles out justice one well-placed shot at a time. Each trigger squeeze is lined up beautifully to the music and every movement is placed with purposeful choreographic precision.
This iconic 2014 scene from John Wick is what inspired Pistol Whip, the newest Action-Rhythm FPS from Cloudhead Games. In it, players are thrust “gun first” into meticulously manufactured action scenes where they must become the most epic hero of all time by shooting, dodging, whipping, and sweating along to some seriously awesome original EDM from Kannibalen Records.
This isn’t the studios’ first VR rodeo, Cloudhead is responsible for 2018 ‘VR Game of the Year’ Heart of the Emberstone ep 2 from fantasy trilogy The Gallery along with the more recent Valve Index tech demo Aperture Hand Lab. Also a leader in the field of VR locomotion, the studio is known for its innovative solutions and for setting industry standards.
Pistol Whip joins its trailblazing and award-winning forefathers as the first of its genre by highlighting a well-done core of first-person shooter game-play wrapped up in a slick suit of rhythm game elements. Choose to focus on the music and timing of your shots as you search for your flow state in jaw-droppingly beautiful environments or ditch the aim assist and go for glory with modifiers like Dead Eye that force you focus on accuracy and aiming. There’s something for everyone in this fast-paced new VR hit.
Prepare to move like a master assassin from the Matrix. Stretch like you see in all the ninja action movie training arcs. Make sure to pay particular attention to your legs as you can expect ample life-saving squats while playing, especially when you first start. Take time to set up your playspace accurately and ensure your chaperon errs on the side of caution. I found myself edging about my designated hover spot frequently and in smaller spaces could see walls, desks, or furniture easily becoming victim to a high-velocity gunslinger swing in a given direction. If you have a Quest—or any other tetherless option—I implore you, consider it heavily. This game feels amazing when you’re free to dodge in any direction and spin to your action-loving heart’s content.
Even highly trained hitmen break a sweat so make sure you’ve got plenty of water on hand and a towel nearby. I recently bought a VR Cover and as a general rule, I replace it with a clean one every time I play. I use VR heavily for fitness so I also remove the detachable Index face-plate, cleanse it with warm soapy water, and allow it to air dry about once a week.
For tracking biometrics in VR I usually use two applications; however, at the time of writing and researching this article was terribly ill. I reached out to rank one beta player ProperD who agreed to record half an hour of his biometrics for me to analyze. Thank you so much Proper! He used the YUR desktop application in combination with Bluetooth heart rate chest monitor.
Pistol Whip vs Audio Trip
Calories burned: 209 vs 207
Calories per minute: 5.6 vs 6.5
Average heart rate: 144 vs 124
Max heart rate: 179 vs 166
Active Minutes: 35 (17 mins Cardio 5 mins Peak) vs 32 (12 mins Cardio 10 mins Peak)
The VR fitness mirror simulation presented above is the comparison of ProperD’s time playing Pistol Whip to my own playing Audio Trip. I can’t do anything but give Pistol Whip a 9/10 as that’s what Audio trip received and the numbers are spookily similar. By any measure, both games are incredible workouts. Proper’s heart rate graph above beautifully illustrates how well Pistol Whip delivers measured interval workout sessions super organically via the medium of music-driven maps; as the beat drops, your heart rate rises, and periods of build-up or song selection lend to natural rest times.
A surprising weakness is that gameplay revolves around a single pistol mechanic, which looks and feels cool as heck but leaves your non-dominant appendages a bit bored. In other words, my right shoulder is twelve percent larger than my left after twenty hours of game time. There are two basic exceptions to this: dual wield mode—which comes at a score penalty—and using both hands to aim. The extent to which your arms are working includes holing a steady aim, reloading by pointing up, down, or both depending on preference, and to perform one of my favorite mechanics in any VR game: a Pistol Whip™. The scoring on this mechanic does have a velocity consideration, so a weak ass pistol flick isn’t gonna cut it.
This is where you’re going to hurt in the morning if you play for too long.
Everyone plays for too long.
I played for too long.
Listen, the game is addicting and innovative, with that “just five more minutes” feeling a lot of us haven’t had in a long, long time. Interestingly, you’re also getting a better leg work out the more poorly you perform in the game. While the rhythm elements are loose-fitting and forgiving, they absolutely exist and if ignored can quickly lead to an overwhelming onslaught of steel. If you shoot on time, you frequently prevent enemies from shooting at you, thus reducing the number of bullets you have to dodge. Dodging bullets from enemies being the primary source of squats means that the better you get the less you move while playing.
I’m not very good and now all my friends call me spaghetti legs.
Core and Balance 8/10
My abs weren’t particularly upset after an extended session, but your coordination, balance, and core are all definitely going to lend a hand when you duck and weave to avoid level failure. There are also ultra-cool back bending dodge opportunities that make you feel like you’re in the Matrix but could push the limits of balance in virtual spaces for others. Be careful and always pay attention to your body.
Time Perception 10/10
Do you have any idea how much razer focus it takes to become a Dead Eye master assassin? Basically all of it. That means you won’t have the mental resources left to worry about petty things such as the passage of time or whether or not you need to be able to use your legs tomorrow. You’re also not just playing a song, you’re becoming the hero, the villain, the bad-ass of your very own action movie trailer.
As mentioned before the rhythm elements for scoring are existent, but forgiving. This allows for freedom in playing that leads to all sorts of meaningful choices and creative game usages. Try replaying maps with the OST replaced for an entirely new soundtrack. Transform the game completely by focusing on tactics with the Dead Eye modifier and toss aim assist in the trash where it belongs. These options give you several ways to re-enjoy the game anew increasing replayability dramatically. Once the game has a custom song mapper for community use, the possibilities will truly become endless.
Fitness Scalability 7/10
The game launched with ten tracks and each track comes with three difficulty levels. Aside from outfitting your ninja gear with ankle weights and without being able to map custom maps to individual difficulty preferences, this is the current limit to scalability.
Lack of Nausea 10/10
I didn’t experience nausea at all while playing despite constantly moving forward through the environments. Even when made to aim and shoot at stationary targets which had spawned in my peripheral I was dandy. Impressive, but not surprising as mentioned previously Cloudhead is a leader in VR locomotion innovation and confident in their ability to deliver a VR experience free from motion sickness.
Social Competition 8/10
For the competitive hitmen among us, use the global leaderboards to flex on other Whippers and to determine who the ultimate virtual John Wick is. I dinged a few points here for the lack of multiplayer as well as the lack of separate leaderboards. While the game allows you the freedom of choosing how you play, the flat twenty percent increase Dead Eye players receive makes them pretty difficult to chase on leaderboards. This means if you’re more interested in finding your flow state you might find it difficult to stay relevant. All that said, both of these ideas are already on developer radar.
VRFI Fit Score 8.5/10
The game is fresh, innovative, and flat out fun. Time flies in gorgeous environments while you listen to awesome original EDM from artists like Apashe, HVDES, and Black Tiger Sex Machine; with more to come… The modifiers and flexible design afford players lots of gameplay options making the game a pretty good bang for your buck while being an awesome workout.
No multiplayer and no custom mapper holds the game back minimally. For those of you looking for a rhythm game, you might find yourselves a little disappointed in the flexibility of this particular element.
Headsets: Valve Index, 4HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality. MSRP: $24.99 USD.