I don’t know if you can recall playing cops and robbers in the school playground as a kid. I’m old, so it’s all getting a bit hazy for me. What I can remember is that there was always one kid who fetishized reloading. Other kids would be taking cover and pulling off imaginary headshots, but there was one kid who wanted to do the whole bit, as it were, crouched behind an elephant see-saw, risking desperate glances at his mortal enemies by the drinking fountain, ramming home another round of imaginary bullets. Sixteen in the clip, as Warren G once put it, and I’m pretty sure he was talking about guns.
This kid feels like a universal constant. I’m sure that there was a reloader in every playground around England, just as I’m sure that kids who grew up in the nineties, a decade in which nothing unfolded at the correct speed, had to incorporate slow-mo and gun-fu into their shootouts too. Now I think about it, we had a kid in our playground who even did the ad-breaks. No matter. Blood & Truth is here, and it’s one for the reloaders. Reloaders rejoice! Your time has come and you’re fresh out of bullets.
Let us descend by not just one but two leagues. Blood & Truth belongs to what could be termed the High Ritchieverse. London is Lahndan and everyone in it is in a right two-and-eight. But Blood & Truth also belongs to VR, which means that levels become sets and in-game assets become props. In the inevitable sequence in which you find yourself tied to a chair and taunted – as crucial a lynchpin of the High Ritchieverse as a dishy swordsman holding back the hordes is in high fantasy – the taunter leans right into you, eyes glinting with studied mockney malevolence, skin revealing pores and the veins running underneath.
Bring on the guns. Blood & Truth is a first-person affair that follows a familiar trajectory. Called back from a tutorial war by the death of your father, you find yourself on home turf, your family’s firm being threatened by a hostile takeover. The firm does something fairly criminal, I gather, because everybody speaks in air quotes – “the firm”, “hostile takeover” – and your dear old ma, left in the hot seat now that the big man’s checked out – “checked out” – tells you not to swear but then swears herself.
What this amounts to is a series of action vignettes spread across a range of inventive gangster locations. Movement sees you moving between a selection of pre-baked hotspots by aiming at them and then pressing a button to get in motion. Meanwhile, if you’re playing with Move, which is the recommended manner, each controller becomes a hand. Guns are kept in holsters on your hip with heavy artillery on your back – you have to reach for it – and bullet clips are slung across your chest. You have to manage all this yourself, so when you’re out of ammo you have to fumble for a new clip and then ram it home. When you’re duel-wielding this can get a bit clumsy. At its worst it’s like having a gun glued to each hand. But it’s also childishly thrilling. As with a lot of VR, you have to indulge the ridiculousness of it all. You have to decide willingly to be fooled. If you do, pleasures await.
Levels are extremely linear, and the on-rails feeling is enhanced by the removal of headbob, presumably to minimise nausea, which means that the game can feel like Lock Stock and Everyone’s On Segways. No matter. There’s lots of invention here. Alongside shotguns, assault rifles, and weapon mods like silencers and laser targets, missions are very happy to mix things up. One scene tasks you with breaking into an abandoned block of flats, blasting crims in the hallways and then scaling bits of scaffolding, hand over hand, as you work your way higher and higher. Another scene puts you into an art gallery with no baddies, just a bunch of amusing installations to mess around with.
Even the busiest sequence still finds time to vary things. There are a lot of locks to pick when you’re a bad’un in the big city. There are a lot of bits of wiring to cut with your clippers – another cinematic idiom that is unsurprisingly delightful to pull off in real virtual life. Most levels end with an actual on-rails section, movement taken away from you as you are bustled through a cinematic gauntlet of carnage, popping peoples’ melons as you go. There’s also a delight in the sheer promise of virtual space. Stated simply, set decorators love to put you around things that are very large. One shoot-out is fairly ordinary, but then you look up and see you’re in a vast structure surrounded by cargo planes, dark wings and engines looming suspended.
Throughout all this, Blood & Truth wants you to look good. There’s a button just for giving people the finger, which is useful because for the most part you’re just a pair of hands anyway. (This is quite weird actually. Look down at the chair you’re sitting in at times and there’s no body, while the shadow cast by you is just the shadow of two disembodied hands.) The same button allows you to do tricks with your guns and while reloading. Then there are the silly collectibles scattered about which you can pick through back at the hub. Generally if something looks like you can touch it and mess around with it you can. Reader, I picked up vape bottles. Reader, I scratched on a turntable while gunfire erupted all around.
And all of this adds up to a game that is surprisingly charming. Certainly more charming than anything the actual High Ritchieverse has ever mustered. There is a sense of silliness to Blood & Truth that loves the idiotic family drama at the center of the story, that understands that VR is at times a very clumsy business so you’re going to accidentally shoot the person you’re meant to be talking to or shoot yourself in the groin while you’re trying to put your gun away. (I did this so often that anybody watching me play might have suspected it was my own personal jam.) I forgive the game the bits that don’t work, just as I forgive the dice-rollers of VR who decided that this game above all the others I had played would be the one that gave me genuine motion-sickness.
(As is often the case with VR, incidentally, the bugs can be brilliant. I accidentally glitched back from a flashback mission into an interrogation scene and discovered that the glitch had brought my gun with me, stuck to my hand because my holster hadn’t made it. Then the guy in the interrogation scene decides he wants to shake my hand and I had to find a way to transfer the gun between hands so I could oblige him. He took it well. A pro.)
What’s a bit of motion-sickness when some mug’s moving in on your turf though, eh? Have an Alka-Seltzer, Princess, and get back out there before someone gives you a rap on the beezer. Okay, I may have descended through the High Ritchieverse and struck the nineteenth century by this point but what does it matter? Blood & Truth is a lark, a caper, a nice bit of business. And if you’re the kid who loved reloading, you’ll be particularly happy.