There's something incredibly alluring about the ninja lifestyle. Skilled in the art of swordplay, capable of dispatching multiple enemies and then disappearing into the shadows. Armed to the teeth with all manner of weaponry. Light-footed and nimble with every step. Maybe we've seen too many movies, but ninjas are cool.
Being able to don a not-so-nimble VR headset and suddenly become a cyber ninja in virtual reality is also an extremely appealing prospect. That's exactly what Sairento VR is all about.
A simple premise full of thills and spills
Sairento VR has been built from the ground up for virtual reality. The developers claim that this had to be a VR game. And they're not wrong, because Sairento VR is certainly something special.
You play a cyber ninja, whose mission is to deal death to a wide range of enemies as quickly as possible. In order to survive, you need to jump, bounce, run and leap your way in and out of danger, while fighting a variety of enemies with different attacking styles and weapons.
It's an absolute monster of a game that leaves you in an exhausted, crumpled mess by the time you've finished a play session. At least it does the first time, anyway.
A new level of VR chaos
Right from the start, Sairento VR is a frenetic battle for survival.
As a ninja, you have the ability to double jump, wall run, duck and slide your way to victory. A number of other special abilities include a short burst of "bullet time" - which slows down time, thus rendering enemies slower - to give you the upper hand.
You can zip across the map with blistering speed, which is an essential as standing still for any amount of time will see you surrounded by enemies all intent on ending your existence. Movement is the main highlight, with fast-paced dashing combined with near constant turning needed to both avoid and tackle the great swathes of enemies the game throws at you.
With a sword in one hand and a gun in the other, we found ourselves shooting, stabbing and slashing our way to victory. The first time out this was absolutely exhausting, leaving us in a hot and sweaty mess. Once you get the hang of Sairento, though, it becomes a lot easier to deal with threats more effectively.
You still need to be quick on your feet and have plenty of play space though - we managed to smash our controllers into real-world surroundings several times when waving our swords about in the virtual world.
Much more than just another wave shooter
Sairento VR is packed full of interesting mechanics that make it a fantastic VR experience like no other that we've tried.
The ability to double jump and wall run are powered by clicking your control pad and pointing the controller in the direction you want to go. Green arrows plot your course and show the arc of your movement. While in the air, time also slows, giving you the ability to adjust your course, pick a new landing location, bounce off a wall or jump even higher. With this in mind, you get a sense of just how quick movement can be.
Things get even more frantic when you start tackling enemies - who also happen to be ninjas. You can shoot at them and you have a variety of firearms for doing so, but they can deflect incoming rounds with the flick of their sword. Some of them are better at this than others, so you need to get up close and personal to get the upper hand.
Gameplay is made up of a series of maps broken into different levels. Each map has a certain objective to it - survival, wave, elimination.
Going into a map with the goal of killing everything in sight makes sense, but how it plays out is different each time because you might have to survive for a certain amount of time or take your time and eliminate every threat on the map at a slower pace.
Role-play elements of complexity
Each slain enemy drops a pick-up, with everything from ammo to cash falling where they were once standing. You can also find cache boxes stashed around the map with more useful pickups. Health and ammo drops are essential to surviving, but you'll also find relics and cash to help you upgrade your gear.
Upgrades are a highlight here and add more to the game to keep it interesting. Where other VR games don't offer much, Sairento VR offers loads in terms of levelling up. There are unlockable skill trees, weapons and armour "relics" which can add damage and other modifiers to your attack stats, as well as the ability to craft new items. It's a VR game with RPG elements - and that's something we've not seen much elsewhere.
Unlocks include upgrades to your skills, which improve the damage you can deliver, but also special abilities like ground-pound manoeuvres or the ability to jump more often – you can already do a double jump as standard, but being able to triple jump, for example, gets you out of harm's way really quickly.
The more you unlock, the more interesting the game becomes - and the more ninja-like you become as a result.
Upgrades for weapons and armour collected during missions can be used to increase damage, improve chances of critical hits or add a wide range of other attributes to your abilities. As you progress you also increase through a ranking system, which gives you skill points and the ability to craft new caches. Those cache drops can then be used to craft more relics to use on your weapons and armour. Each weapon has four slots, so you can add different relics to make your attack abilities more deadly and effective.
The different weapons have their own advantages and disadvantages. We found that you need to combine close and long-range weapons if you want to be successful. As much fun as it is to pretend to be a full-on ninja and wield a sword in each hand, you'll soon come unstuck when enemies dodge out of the way or are flying in hard-to-reach places.
Similarly, dual-wielding pistols makes you feel like some sort of ninja cowboy. Again, that's no good when a particularly talented enemy simply deflects all your shots until your ammo runs dry.
Meanwhile, the bow and arrow combination is deadly as it's often a one hit kill, but takes time to draw and aim so puts you at risk.
There are a lot of guns available: pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, even a sniper rifle (we felt the action was far too fast-paced for that). There's plenty of choice here and bound to be something to fit your particular play-style.
We did find gun sounds to be a bit of a letdown though. The shotgun, for instance, sounds a bit mediocre. We were expecting a satisfying boom, but were found wanting.
Reload mechanics are simple enough, which is just what you need in the heat of battle. Aim your gun up (or down), shake that controller and it'll reload. We didn't experience any problems with this either which is great, because issues with tracking that sort of thing are painfully frustrating in other VR games.
Room-scale space required
Sairento VR looks pretty and feels immersive. The game requires room-scale space - and we'd recommend having plenty of room indeed. We'd also recommend ensuring no one else is in the area when you get started. There's a lot of moment, so we found we got so wrapped up in the game we often lost track of where we were in the real world and bashed controllers on surfaces or knocked things off tables. We'd hate to accidentally hit a family member while fighting off enemies.
The speed of the game also resulted in us getting tied up in HTC Vive's cables a few times. A frustrating downside of the tethered VR experience and not a slight on the game itself.
Despite Sairento VR still being in early access - it's not due for full release until sometime December 2017 - it's still a magnificently well-crafted and enjoyable game that really shows off VR's potential.
We thoroughly enjoy the movement mechanics, despite how fast, frantic and exhausting they can be. The game's role-playing elements, weaponry upgrades and overall play mechanics also all work really well together to create a wonderfully engaging and long-lasting experience.
We didn't want to put Sairento VR down, but when we did we felt like we'd burnt more calories and had more fun than we'd had with a lot of other VR games.
With the promise of more game features in future - including co-operative gameplay - Sairento VR has a lot going for it. Just make sure you have plenty of room to play and no priceless ming vases on any nearby surfaces.
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