Sairento VR Review
Release Date: July 5th, 2019
Developer: Mixed Realms
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC
For as long as I can remember, I've always been fascinated by cyberpunk, the advance of technology, and martial arts. Seeing films the likes of Bladerunner, Akira, and The Matrix and their vision of a "neo" version of a city, how tech literally becomes embodied within us, and the evolution of combat with said tech and advancements. With some heavy influence by Ghost in the Shell, Sairento VR takes some of the best ideas from each of these and puts them all into a mission-driven, frenetic, and stylish experience that puts players into the shoes of Chieko Hatsuri to live out their cybernetic ninja action flick with plenty of adrenaline pumping moments and satisfying choreography.
Chieko Hatsuri is part of the Sairento Organization that helps participate in combat operations and espionage around the globe, though primarily aiding and protecting Japan on a national level. The year is 2066, and now sudden attacks more dangerous than ever have put her and her team at risk as they fight terrorism on an even bigger scale than they anticipated. Very little time is wasted to get players right into the action as you're put in a training simulation after Chieko wakes disoriented, so just to make sure she's up and ready for combat, she goes through some quick exercises that serve as a tutorial as you learn to wall jump, attack with both guns and swords, jump insanely high, and initiate slow motion known as "Acceleration". With all the insanity that will eventually go on, the most impressive part is how straight forward the controls are. Everything you need is at the click of a button, with slow motion lending itself to circle, jumps lending itself to the middle PS Move button, slides to square, and any weapon you want is with X. Drawing weapons is immensely satisfying, as when you click X you'll be doing the motion you would if you were grabbing a gun from your holster, or pulling a sword from your back. Actually having to extend my arm to behind me to grab the sword while pressing X never failed to make me feel amazing. The fluidity of movements between gun and sword - with you choosing which you'd like to wield in each hand - made the gameplay that much more exciting once you found yourself in a room of other cyborgs hunting you down. My preference was always having a gun in my left hand with a sword on my right as I kept my distance shooting them away while blocking any incoming projectiles with the quick reflexes of the sword. It was so over-the-top but I was having the time of my life.
Even with seasoned VR veterans, though, motion sickness is undoubtedly going to make itself known here. The high-octane, frenetic action between wall jumps, backflips, sliding in between enemies' legs as you shoot and slice away like a mix of Lara Croft, Ultraviolet, and Aeon Flux is more than the average person is used to unless you do, in fact, participate in similar scenarios such as The Transporter, The Villainess, or The Raid in your day-to-day life. I couldn't play more than 45 minutes at a time, and I'm not one to get disoriented during VR, but Sairento VR has a lot more going on than most VR games. Sairento VR gets you involved, and there's even a disclaimer saying that while you can play standing up, it is recommended that you play sitting down, even though standing is undoubtedly the most immersive way despite not being the safest. Having tried both, I can with confidence say that sitting is definitely preferred, but standing, if you can stomach it, is surreal and feels amazing. Thankfully, if you want to take it little by little, there are multiple difficulty options allowing players to choose whichever works for them, including a Novice mode where you take very little damage - great for newcomers and casual VR players. During downtime, you'll find yourself in a nicely detailed dojo overlooking Neo-Tokyo with a few rooms and tons of space for you to practice your jumps and other movement should you so choose. The dojo, while spacious, is primarily a hub for an interactive menu, however, where you'll be able to decide between jumping into further training, challenges, multiplayer, and story modes. With everything that you do, you'll gain experience and level up your character while unlocking new weapons to play with in both story and multiplayer. An insane amount of settings allow for accessibility for every kind of player in terms of how you'd like to withdraw your weapons, button inputs, whether slow motion is triggered automatically or not in certain instances (like double jumping so you can aim better and choose your landing location with more precision), head turning options such as preset angles or free movement, and tons more. With so much happening at once, despite me rather fluid, it's nice to see these options made available for people who may feel overwhelmed by it all so they can have the best possible experience they can while feeling like a true, borderline impenetrable ninja.
Despite the ability for me to only play about 45 minutes at a time, the game itself in regards to its campaign is rather short, and the bulk of your time will likely be spent on the challenges set in place and daily goals that reward the player with extra experience and parts. Even though a story like Sairento VR's isn't particularly inventive and rather cliché, it still would have been nice to get a little more out of it than I did. Unfortunately, it seems like multiplayer and challenges were the main focus for the game with the story coming afterwards from what I could gather during its Early Access days on Steam, and it kind of shows in the full release. What's made even slightly more upsetting is with my brief time with multiplayer, the game is dead on arrival on PlayStation 4, with a whopping two people (myself included) in the server I was in, which supposedly represented the entirety of the United States. Since there was just myself and another person playing, we were teamed up immediately, and when I had asked the person in the lobby with me - in which their avatar shows up in your dojo, watching them move and react in real time - if they had any experience with the multiplayer portion of Sairento VR, they simply responded, "If it wasn't for you showing up, my only experience would have probably been continuing to wait for someone to arrive." To make matters worse - or more hilarious depending on how you'd take this - when we did begin the attacks on waves of enemies, animations and connection of the raid I was in was horrendous, enemy movements were laggy, and other player models with choppy and hilarious, looking like they were being controlled by a drunk ventriloquist. I could not stop laughing as I saw the other ninja jump across the screen in a frame-skip fashion as their right arm would contort, going through their torso like a Mortal Kombat fatality, and hitting the enemy behind them while they're head is looking in the opposite direction with legs having a mind of their own. Every limb had a different scenario going on, and you simply could not tell if this ninja was being acrobatic, directing traffic, or doing yoga.
It's far from perfect, but Sairento VR makes dreams come true with the ability to put players in the middle of their own intense martial arts spectacle, filled with tons of gun and sword play with the flexibility of wall-running and other ninja-esque attributes to give the freedom of traversal and agile tactical combat. It can get extremely disorienting with all the fast-paced action, initiating backflips, wallruns, slides, and so much more with added slow motion effects, but to say it's thrilling would be an understatement. Sairento VR does a great job at keeping engaging gameplay, despite its cliché and uninspired story, and while enemy variety is kept to a minimum, with missions feeling somewhat repetitive - and unfortunately short - it's the perfect fit for adrenaline junkies looking for that next immersive virtual reality experience that makes you feel like you're in your own Jason Statham or Donnie Yen flick. Missions are bite-sized and don't last long, so it's not a game I think anyone needs to jump into right away, but if you're craving something new to play, I think Sairento VR will fill that void rather well, displaying what virtual reality is capable of now, with the exciting prospect of where we're headed towards the future.
Feel like you're in the most intense action film of your life
Controls are fluid, though they take a little bit of time to get used to
The cyberpunk and Neo-Tokyo aesthetic is fantastic, with complementary music
Even if you're prone to motion sickness, the frenetic nature of Sairento will likely still give you some disorientation
Multiplayer is dead and dysfunctional
The story campaign is rather short
Lack of enemy variety
A huge thanks and gratitude to Mixed Realms for sending us a copy of the game for the purposes of this review