Dashing through a hyper-futuristic Japan, I stumbled through a door into a market teeming with hostile ninjas. Leaping into the air as I grabbed both pistols from my waist, time slowed and I unloaded both magazines into the foreheads of three weaker enemies to my left. Before hitting the ground, I used my second jump to reposition around an incoming shotgun blast, holstered my empty handguns, and reached frantically for the weapons at my shoulders.
They were a sniper and an assault rifle. The sheer absurdity of what I was doing hit me as I no-scoped the biggest ninja while spraying down the final baddie with my other weapon. I'd dispatched five enemies without taking a scratch, feeling like Neo and John Wick combined – the living embodiment of all things Keanu. Sairento VR enables this incredible madness, and in such an intuitive way that you can react contextually and worry about your brain catching up during the fluid slow-motion.
I couldn’t believe this hadn’t been recommended to me, sooner, until I did some digging on its history. Sairento VR is a woefully underrated virtual reality title, partly due to a somewhat staggered release. It entered Early Access in a wildly different state back in 2016 and it’s even gone through some drastic changes since its 2018 release. Now releasing on PSVR and Oculus Quest, this is a very different game from the one you might have seen before.
Perhaps most importantly, extensive work has been done to overhaul the game engine, making massive improvements to the graphics, frame rate, and performance. These were the most common complaints from early reviews, but my playtime was completely unencumbered by performance issues.
Other additions include Daily Challenges, two Endless modes, new environments, and numerous bug fixes, but the five hour campaign will probably be the first thing you play.
Apart from being the romanized spelling of “silent” from Japanese, “Sairento” is a secret organization in the game’s setting of 2060’s Japan. After learning that a recent attack was orchestrated by rogue agents, you take control of Chieko, one the elite Sairento ninjas. Dialogues between you and another agent, Broke, bookend each mission, but there aren’t any cutscenes to speak of, and though it isn’t the deepest story ever, you are given the option to skip many sections of speech.
As for combat options, Sairento VR has just about everything you can imagine. Want to use a quiet approach? Slap a bow on your back and replace your pistols with kunai or shuriken. Or better yet, dual wield swords and go in swinging like you’re playing Beat Saber on Expert. If you’re more of a “both guns blazing” chap like myself, though, there’s also an arsenal of firearms to try out.
The pistols alone feel fantastic to use and they're more than capable of getting the job done. Equip some automatic weapons, however, and those no-good ninjas will be nigiri in no time.
There’s also the sniper, which doesn’t have the most reliable scope, but is an absolute riot to hip fire from one hand while you mop up enemies with another weapon. The sheer delirium of a VR game that allows hand-to-hand combat alongside 360 no-scopes is a spectacle worth experiencing, just by itself.
Personally, I found the blades and throwable weapons were a little finicky to use, and I wished the sniper’s scope was more robust, but these were minor issues in an otherwise stellar combat system.
To augment your combat potential, there’s also a series of skill trees, an XP progression system, and equippable relics that increase your weapon’s stats. While these don’t fully mesh with the ninja theme, they do provide ample replay value and a reason to grind for better gear if you feel like tackling the harder difficulties.
Though at first, I lamented the lack of nuanced controls that we see in modern titles like manually reloading magazines or smooth locomotion with the joysticks, it quickly became apparent that Sairento VR doesn’t need them. In fact, it’s better off without them.
Allow me to explain: in place of manual reloading, you simply thrust your weapon(s) above or below your eye-line, and a disembodied animation plays of a new magazine being loaded in. Not only does this let you get back into the action faster than manual reloads would, it also allows you to dual wield weapons.
Whether you’re living out your Lara Croft fantasies or channeling your inner pirate with a sword in one hand and a pistol in another, dual wielding just makes everything better. After a bit of messing around, the absurdity of holding a sniper in one hand and a rifle in the other as I slow-motion jumped settled it for me. This is a much better tradeoff than having the immersion of manual reloads.
The same applies to smooth movement, too. Though it can be enabled via the menus, using the default teleportation jump makes the experience far more enjoyable than walking around with the left joystick or touchpad.
Not only does it let you leap over foes’ heads as you gun them down in gorgeous slow-motion, but you can also jump again in midair, wall run, and bounce off walls for even more jumps. All of this is far more impressive than manual movement would have been, and heightens that ninja feeling that Sairento VR emulates so well.
– Reviewed on PC
Sairento VR was originally released in 2018 before it was done cooking. A year later, with some more time in the oven, and this is honestly a must-have VR title for anyone with even a passing interest in action games, ninjas, or good old-fashioned slow-motion combat.
It costs a fraction more than SUPERHOT VR, but has no right living in its shadow. Sairento VR deserves enormous recognition for its excellent gameplay loop and extensive replay value.
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