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access_time August 12, 2021 at 10:24 AM in Reviews by David Poole

VR Review | Pistol Whip: Smoke & Thunder

Where has this game been all my life? I’ve been away from the VR space for a while, but I’m glad I decided to take a chance here. Upon putting on the VR headset and starting up Pistol Whip for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. With no prior experience with the game, I was going in practically blind with just a vague idea of what to expect. Jumping right into the new campaign with Smoke & Thunder, I went for an amazingly wild ride. While there’s still plenty more to offer in Pistol Whip, I was already blown away by the content in the new update.

Smoke & Thunder puts players in the role of Jessie, played by Victoria Hogan. She’s a Wild West bounty hunter on the trail to find her sister Tess, played by Avalon Penrose. To find her, she’ll shoot first and ask questions later through numerous enemies in five acts. Each act will start and end with a comic book sequence with art by Fico Ossio and Raciel Avila. It’s a simple method, but effective for the quick action this experience delivers. Throw in some solid voice acting, and you have a nice presentation for this pick-up and play package.

In general, Pistol Whip is a rail shooter set to catchy music and challenging gameplay. What makes the game interesting is that the music matches up to the beat of what unfolds before you. Enemies will come out and shoot to the rhythm of the song, always aiming for your head. As you shoot back, you’ll be able to utilize a combo system to earn a higher score. You’ll even get more points when shooting on the beat of the music. After playing BPM: Bullets Per Minute last year, I felt right at home.

And what a soundtrack it is too. Shooting to the beat of songs like Devora’s “Not Dead Yet,” The Heavy’s “Short Change Hero,” Black Pistol Fire’s “Well Wasted,” and Bones UK’s “Pretty Waste” is an absolute blast. Then you have Magic Sword’s “Smoke & Thunder” as the cherry on top to finish the campaign with. I can say that after finishing the campaign, I’m going to have these songs stuck in my head for a while. It also helps that the sound design is rather satisfying as well, as each gun sounds unique. There’s even specific audio cues to help with certain attacks to avoid.

When you’re moving through a stage, enemies will pop out around you and take a shot at you as their target. While their bullets move slower, giving you a chance to avoid them, your bullets move much faster. Typically, you want to shoot an enemy before they get a chance to fire their shots, but if you don’t stop them in time, you’ll have to navigate around the bullet to avoid getting hit. The bullets thankfully give off a very clear signal to make avoiding them easier, but getting too many can still get overwhelming. Even so, the final boss will definitely challenge your skills in dodging bullets.

On the first stage, you’ll use dual revolvers, which can take enemies down in one or two shots. The rest of the stages will use dual “boomsticks,” which are pistol sized electric shotguns. These guns pack quite a punch, and while they only carry two bullets at a time, they compensate with power. The shot’s spread is wide enough to take out three enemies with one well-placed shot, making them quite effective. Most enemies will go down from one shot here, but eventually you’ll deal with armored foes. That means you’ll often have to double tap to take down some enemies.

The overall pace of the game moves quickly, but it maintains a certain energy that really gives you an adrenaline rush. Enemies will come out quickly and even charge toward you, so it requires being quick and observant. I would often be ducking and firing quick shots just to clear my path as much as possible. It really did make me feel like I was in a John Wick movie, which was part of the inspiration for the game. While enemies pose a threat, there are also the obstacles that you’ll have to weave around to avoid damage. Should you choose to, you can actually deactivate those for accessibility. This also makes for a more comfortable sitting experience.

Visually, the game utilizes simple shapes to form bigger objects. The colors will stand out while giving the enemies a certain glow to them to make them pop. As you move through these colorful stages, the music will often provide rhythm to the environment as well. It’s a simple approach, but it works extremely well for VR, and looks perfect for this game. For those that like a little bit of flair, you can even customize the color and style of your guns.

Speaking of styles, Pistol Whip adds the all new Styles feature with this update. This allows you to take on your favorite levels in the Arcade mode using different weapons and rules. With modifiers, you can make enemies have big heads or even make it so they can’t even fire back. When you finish a run, your score will go to a leaderboard specific to that Style. This makes being #1 pretty viable since most Styles are pretty unique. And when you’re done with your own challenges, you can take on the developer weekly challenges with a preset Style.

There’s a lot to take in with Pistol Whip, but after Smoke & Thunder’s fantastic first impression, I know I’m going to continue to play this one for a long time. With the 2089 campaign still available and many other challenges, I’ll have a lot to enjoy for a while. Even though the campaign isn’t exactly a long one, it’s still a fun time with a VR headset. The gunplay is solid and the killer soundtrack makes it an incredible experience overall. If you have a VR headset, this game is practically a must own.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

GotGame is on OpenCritic, check out our reviews here.

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