Virtual Reality is meant to transport you to a new world, letting you become a spellcaster (Our preview for The Wizards), a silver bug that bumps its ass on the walls to music (Our review for Thumper), a Ultramarine (Our preview for The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth), another kind of Space Marine (Our review for Doom VFR), and many other experiences that transport the player to new and exciting worlds. There have been a few games that cast you as a fighter, but none that quite captured what it means to be a ninja. Well, we now have that covered.
Sairento VR (Sairento being an onomatopoeia word for Silent) casts you as a Cyber Ninja named Chieko. You are a member of a covert group comprised of deadly ninja assassins, all augmented with nanotech that allows them to move at lightning speed, attack with unparalleled precision, and communicate with one another across vast distances. When things start to go sideways with your cyber implants, you find yourself now facing off against your one-time allies as you try to figure out why the Silent Ones have dropped into a semi-conscious murderous state. In what has to be the best mashup of cyberpunk and martial arts, you’ll race across a futuristic neon-covered Cyber Tokyo of 2066 in your bid to find the truth.
Before we dig into the game proper, I have to commend the developers for providing a great deal of options to tweak the player experience. There are a myriad of options, including handedness, what shows on screen, audio, and even integration with haptic suits and VAQSO to add impact and smells to your experience, respectively. There’s a lot of blood in this game, so that’s kinda scary to think about.
Sairento VR uses a teleportation as its primary mechanism for locomotion. You can teleport just about as quick as you can hammer the trackpad, but you can also double jump, wall run, ground slide, and bounce off of every surface at a very high rate of speed. There is also an optional smooth motion system that allows you to ‘dash’ in a particular direction instead of teleporting. What surprises me is that developer Mixed Realms has managed something very few companies manage to pull off in VR – high speed locomotion without nausea. Whether I was playing the game on a GeForce 770, or with a GeForce 1080 TI, I was able to tear across the landscape using the rapid teleportation mechanic without suffering any sort of ill effects — something I’m not usually able to do. Instead, even when performing the most acrobatic of upside-down crazy ninja nonsense, I was able to continue to play for hours without feeling nausea. As somebody who normally suffers at the slightest of ‘unnatural’ movements in VR, this is a massive accomplishment.
There are players that have spent literally hundreds of hours perfecting their movement in the game that can demonstrate this easier than I can, but suffice it to say that VR is built for the kind of action Sairento has on display. I’ve jumped over an enemy, bounced off a wall, shot an arrow in slow motion, bounced off the ceiling, and while upside down simultaneously shot three more arrows into the heads of incoming foes. Before I hit the ground, I drew my akimbo swords, slid on my knees through the crowd, and eviscerated a few more. What’s more, this is just a normal level in Sairento – the action is always hectic, and you always feel like the biggest badass in the room. If VR is escapism, Sairento is the among the best at it.
To create a more complete world, the team at Mixed Realms have also built a full campaign to go with the extensive multiplayer experience. With 11 missions in all, Sairento VR’s single player story mode puts you in the tabi boots of Chieko, the protagonist featured heavily in Sairento’s promotional imagery. She belongs to a neo-yakuza-like organization called the Silent Ones, who are essentially corporate-backed ninja. After a massive explosion goes off, wrecking a portion of downtown, the team’s nanotech goes haywire, and a handful of the Silent Ones, including Chieko, set off to uncover who is behind it. Overall, the 11-level storyline is serviceable, minus the groan-worthy cliffhanger ending, and helps tie the otherwise disconnected multiplayer mission structure together into a cohesive package. Like any single player game in a multiplayer-focused title, it also serves as a great way to introduce mechanics and overall difficulty to the player, providing a gradual escalation of new foes and challenges. Here’s a quick look at the first four levels of the game running at 1080p / 60fps:
Sairento has one element that is almost entirely absent from the VR landscape — character progression. Every mission begins with a choice of just how challenging you’d like that level to be. Novice, Normal, Skilled, Elite, and Shinobi difficulty levels provide extra experience at the risk of additional enemy damage to you. Shinobi, as an example, gives you 50% extra XP for completion, but there will be 1.4x the number of enemies, and you’ll get just one attempt to clear the level. When you complete a level, whether it be in the campaign or in multiplayer, the game grades your performance. Objective time, style (sliding helps!), control, offense, defense, and the number of relics you find in the environment all add up to some additional experience points, which is then modified by your selected difficulty level. Leveling up allows you to put points into several categories, each improving your ninjutsu skills. While you likely won’t need to fiddle with the skill system much for the campaign, it comes in very handy for tackling them at higher difficulties, and for multiplayer.
I was surprised to see that there the developers haven’t locked any weapons in Sairento — the entire loadout payload is available from the moment you start your missions. Instead, weapons become more powerful through the use of relics. As you play through levels you’ll encounter little green boxes — let’s call them “Loot boxes”…on second thought, let’s not. Anyway, these containers have items inside of them. Sometimes it’s ammunition, other times it’s a health refill, and occasionally you’ll pick up money and relics. Back at the home base, you’ll use your crafting materials and in-game money to purchase in-game relic boxes which provide both cosmetic and damage-increasing modifiers to your weapons and armor. It gives the game a Diablo-esque feel, though it never quite scratches that itch. The armor options feel a bit light, which is somewhat expected as you never really see yourself in the mirror, but it could make for some great personalization for cooperative multiplayer. I feel like this upgrade system is an area of strength that the developers could build on as we roll into a sequel or expansion for this game.
I have to pause and pay the highest compliment to the audio team at Mixed Realms. The music in this game is fantastic, and I’d love to own it digitally. Similarly, the weapon effects are punchy and feel like they have weight. The Plama Blades have a great non-infringing sound that is sure to put a smile on your face, and can be grabbed sword forward, or reverse grip, or “Zatoichi style” for maximum awesomeness. While I can’t be as complimentary of all of the voice acting, I have to say the rest of the audio work is absolutely superb.
There are a wealth of weapons in Sairento VR, and most of them feel pretty good in combat. Specifically, there are four projectile weapon (kunai, shuriken, glaive, and a bow called Razorwind), three swords – Masamune (Gorō Nyūdō Masamune is widely considered Japan’s greatest real-world swordsmith), Amaterasu (The Japanese Sun God, also featured in Okami – here’s our review of the recent HD release on PS4), and Plasma Blade (essentially lightsabers), one submachine gun called Tempest, three machine guns named Harrier, Fury (a battle rifle), and Artemis (sniper rifle), three pistols (Stinger, Intercessor, and Vindicator), and two flavors of shotguns named Pilgrim and Vanguard. In practice, I never found my rhythm with Artemis as the action gets pretty close quickly, rendering a sniper rifle fairly useless. The swords all function the same, as do the pistols for the most part. The throwable weapons are a nice touch, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of using them. All of these things could easily be fixed with practice, but I did find myself settling into a groove and only using a handful of weapons for the bulk of my play time.
Sairento VR does something that many VR games advertise but can’t often deliver on — stealth. Every mission starts off quiet, and if you plan your paths and approach carefully, you can end it that way as well. You have control over your equipment, so using a bow, shuriken, and swords is as viable as going full Matrix lobby scene with machine guns, uzis, and shotguns. I personally kept a blend of both, keeping a compound bow on my back, an uzi behind me, a shotgun on the other shoulder, and a sword on each hip. It allowed me the flexibility of picking off foes from a distance until things were noticed, then switching to swords or guns depending on the foes in front of me.
To bring all of this together, the developers have implemented a tried and true mechanic — bullet time. Pressing the button above the trackpad initiates a Matrix-like slow motion that lets you bounce off walls, pull off insane kill combinations, eviscerate your foes, and otherwise become a complete badass. It feels less like a cheat, as it often does in other games, and more like a well-integrated feature in Sairento. It makes all of the high-octane combat possible, including deflecting bullets, flipping over foes and stabbing them in the back, and nailing three enemies to the wall with a triple arrow shot. It’s a finite resource that recharges over time, but the team nailed the balance, keeping the action frantic but restrained.
If I have a legitimate complaint, it’s that the enemy variety is a small pool. You’ll encounter many of the same foe types time after time. You’ll square off against one exceedingly tough cyber-sumo boss in the campaign, but otherwise it’s sedge hat-wearing grunts, red and blue samurai, the occasional semi-invisible cyber kunoichi (female ninja), and fast moving snipers. It’d be nice to see this roster expand.
Mike and I tackled some multiplayer, playing a bit of cooperative action, and accidentally leaving the lobby open, we picked up a third player. The game was lag free, and having two more high-polygon count players flying around the screen left the game running at a butter-smooth framerate. Setting up your lobby, you’ll be presented with quite a few options. You can turn on friendly fire, select from a dozen maps, run in cooperative or PvP, and tackle objectives in five different modes. Elimination, Survival, Wave Assault, and Assassination either have you taking out waves of enemies or fighting to survive for a period of time. You can also select the same six difficulty levels, as well as three tiers of modifiers to provide additional challenge modifiers. It’s clear that the team has intent to build on this universe, so I suspect we’ll see this section continue to expand post-launch.
Overall, Sairento VR is an absolute hit. Any shortcomings I pointed out are the result of my desire for it to reach its potential, not for any level of defect. The team has been tightly engaged with the Steam and Reddit community, and they’ve taken that feedback seriously. The result is a game that feels more complete, and in a more finished and polished state, than nearly any game in the current VR space. Put simply, Sairento VR is a must-have.