Pistol Whip 2089 VR Review: The future is as bleak as it is bright

Pistol Whip makes the natural evolution from rhythm shooter to bullet-hell.

Pistol Whip 2089
(Image: © Cloudhead Games)

Pistol Whip 2089 Official Artwork

Source: Cloudhead Games (Image credit: Source: Cloudhead Games)

We've all heard it before: shortly after touching down on a planet, the entire crew of the space ship is massacred by a race of hostile alien machines leaving you, John Asimov, as its only survivor. The only way forward is to take revenge on this heinous crew of murderous robots before they can claim more human lives and, in the process, find yourself becoming more machine than man. Pistol Whip, once again, does what it does best: transforming classic movie inspiration into rhythmic bullet-dodging bliss.

Pistol Whip 2089 is a surprise-free expansion of the original Pistol Whip game in so many ways — from the new gameplay styles to the inclusion of a brand-new campaign mode, it's sure to add even more to an already impressive game. When Pistol Whip 2089 was announced back in September, it was thought this would be the first paid DLC for the game. Turns out that's probably going to be Concierge, the next "game-changing" update from Cloudhead Studios that's slated to launch in 2021. Pistol Whip 2089 is a free update, and that's amazing.

Pistol Whip 2089's fledgling campaign mode will have players shooting it out through 5 brand new songs in some surprising new ways. It's yet another reason to pick up one of the absolute best VR games you'll ever play, no matter if you own an Oculus Quest, Oculus Quest 2, a PlayStation VR, or even a gaming PC. It'll also make you wish you'd spent more time at the gym on leg day.

Pistol Whip 2089 is out right now on PC and Oculus Quest family devices. It'll be out on PlayStation VR in Q1 2021.

What's in a name?

Pistol Whip 2089: What I like

Pistol Whip 2089

Source: Cloudhead Games (Image credit: Source: Cloudhead Games)

Like most rhythm games, Pistol Whip has, up until this point, relied on arcade-style scoring to add longevity to a relatively short list of songs. That all changes with Pistol Whip 2089, an update that not only adds in a campaign mode for the first time ever but also tacks on a new challenge mode that's designed to keep you checking in every so often. Somehow, Cloudhead Games continues to make this game better and better with every update, and Pistol Whip 2089 adds in more new content than any other update so far.

The focus here is, of course, the new campaign mode. Following the short story of John Asimov, which is told between songs in cutscene format with absolutely gorgeous artwork, you'll embark on a journey to rid the planet of evil machines that have already killed everyone in your crew. The first level starts off innocent enough and just feels like another banging new Pistol Whip song, but things quickly pick up from there.

Players are introduced to a brand new 4-shot gun shortly thereafter, changing up the gameplay more than any other content addition so far. Pressing and holding the trigger will release several bullets at a time, clearing out those heavily armored enemies with a single well-placed shot, or clearing out an entire four-enemy group with a sweep of the hand. At first, I felt like this was cheating, as it auto-aims and generally doesn't seem to fit in with the level of difficulty — typically introduced in both accuracy and timing of shots — that I've come to expect from Pistol Whip.

Soon, though, you'll understand why having this type of weapon makes more sense. Pistol Whip 2089's mechanics quickly evolve from a rhythm shooter to a bullet-hell title as you'll be dealing with swarms of enemies previously unseen. On top of that, Pistol Whip's first boss fight cranks the action up to 11, and you'd better be paying attention to every single one of the rapid-fire bullets coming off the ship's machine guns if you're to survive.

On top of boss fights, all the enemies have been completely reskinned, and there's even a new type of enemy: the turret. This one takes dozens of bullets to dispatch, something that's made marginally easier thanks to the multi-shot pistol you now wield, but can also be taken out with the famous namesake of the game (a pistol whip, duh). The music fits right in line with what we've come to expect from Pistol Whip, and the entirety of the five-song story feels like the perfect extension to an already stellar game.

Pistol Whip 2089 Challenges

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Probably the most overlooked addition of Pistol Whip 2089 is the new challenges mode, which introduces the concept of timed challenges that are only available for a few days at a time. Each of these challenges picks an already-available song and adds multipliers to it, giving players a new challenge to meet instead of just playing through the regular song. One example was Sniper Training, which enabled the "Deadeye" and "One and Done" modifiers for a uniquely tough competition between actual aiming skills and the ability to multitask by shooting and dodging at the same time.

During the review, Cloudhead Games gave members of the press two separate challenges to try, each of which was available for a 2-3 day time period. Once the challenge was over, there was no way to play it again, and you just had to hope you made enough of an impact to kick TOMSELLECKSMUSTACHE off the top of the leaderboard. Thanks for that amazing reference, Cloudhead.

I need more

Pistol Whip 2089: What I don't like

Pistol Whip 2089 Scenes

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Alright, it's really not fair to say that this isn't enough of a campaign mode, especially since it's a free update to a game I bought well over a year ago, but it's still hard to get a brand new mode that's this freakin' amazing and go through it in under half an hour. Of course, as a rhythm shooter, the purpose of the game isn't how long it takes you to get through the songs — it's how high you rank on the leaderboards. But 2089 is a paradigm-changing update, so my paradigm of how to judge the game's longevity also changes.

The story here is highly enjoyable, even if it is totally predictable. After all, Pistol Whip has been designed from day one to mimic the feeling of going to a "movie theater", as you scroll through page after page of movie posters and select the one you want to play through. Taking the inspiration of an 80's science fiction movie means it's not necessarily going for a unique angle on a tried-and-true story, but the gameplay offered inside certainly breaks the mold of what's expected from the game at this point.

These new songs also cannot be played in arcade mode just yet, which cuts out a few features that you're likely to miss. You can't customize your gun for these new songs, and modifiers aren't applied just yet. These five new songs will be making their way to arcade mode with the next update, Concierge, in Spring 2021. For now, however, you'll just have to enjoy playing through the story as it's set up and compete on the leaderboards that way.

The competition


Source: Harmonix (Image credit: Source: Harmonix)

There's no shortage of rhythm games to choose from in VR, but there are two obvious comparisons that can be made. Audica is the other rhythm shooter you should be considering if you're looking to spend about $20 on a new VR game. The focus in Audica is all on timing and accuracy; there are no bullets to dodge, just targets to shoot. But describing Audica as a game where you shoot targets to the rhythm of a song is a gross misrepresentation of the way it feels to play the game. It's much, much more than that, but know the experience is all about living and dying to the beat of the song, not the number of bullets you take.

Then of course you've got Beat Saber if you're just looking for a killer rhythm game to play. There's no doubt that Beat Saber's gameplay isn't anything like Pistol Whip — unless you consider the loosely-similar wall-dodging mechanics — and that's actually a really good thing. Slicing blocks with a lightsaber laser sword is unbelievably satisfying, and putting those mechanics to the beat of a song just puts it over the top. There's a reason it's the best-selling VR game of all time.

If you've played Pistol Whip already and loved the Heartbreaker update, the chill vibes of Synth Riders might do you some good. The developers of Synth Riders describe the game as "a freestyle dancing VR rhythm alternative" title, and that's a pretty perfect description. Visually, it looks somewhat similar to Beat Saber in that you're standing on a platform while notes move toward you. The difference here is that Synth Riders is all about feeling the flow of the song as you move your arms to the beat, matching the position of the notes as they roll along a snake-like line of rhythm.

Pistol Whip 2089: Should you buy

Pistol Whip 2089

Source: Cloudhead Games (Image credit: Source: Cloudhead Games)

You should buy this if ...

You need more than leaderboards

I'm someone who just isn't very competitive. I don't play online shooters for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason is that the whole thing just feels pointless to me without a story. Pistol Whip 2089 adds in that important story component, albeit in a small package, but it lays the groundwork for even more to be added in the future.

You just need more Pistol Whip

Many VR gamers simply cannot get enough of Pistol Whip. If that's you, or if you're just incredibly intrigued by the idea of shooting enemies like John Wick to the rhythm of a song, you'd better get to downloading Pistol Whip ASAP.

Challenges thrill you

Pistol Whip 2089 changes up the gameplay style in big ways, and that means your old strategies just won't work as well as they did in the past. Are you up for the challenge of getting even better at a game that'll have you bending backward like Neo to avoid bullets?

You should not buy this if ...

You were looking for a robust story

The story mode is unique to Pistol Whip's existing formula, but lengthy it is not. If you're just in it for the story, you'll be disappointed when it ends in just 30 minutes (or less).

You don't want a physical workout while gaming

Pistol Whip 2089, in particular, will get your heart absolutely pumping at full speed after just a single song, let alone five of them in a row. You have been warned.

You're a multiplayer gamer

Sure, Pistol Whip relies on online leaderboards to add longevity to the game but, if you're someone who loves taking down other players and being crowned the winner of round after round, Pistol Whip is not the game for you.

We fully expected Pistol Whip 2089 to be a paid DLC, given that we've already had so many free updates to the core game since launch. Cloudhead Games once again surprised us not only with a free update but one that packs in more new content and game-changing mechanics than any update before it. The new campaign mode is a blast to play through, and I can see myself checking in every week to see what the next challenge is going to be.

While it's short, the new story mode is an incredibly refreshing and rewarding experience from start to end. Playing as a brand new character, in a brand new setting, fighting brand new enemies, and shooting brand new guns all at the same time is just plain awesome. 2089 is exactly what I've been waiting for in an update for what's already regarded as one of the best VR games you can buy, and it adds value to a game that's seen significant love from its development team since the original release of the title on Early Access.

What's presented here is a tantalizing view of what's to come without a doubt, and it's a new direction that's set to breathe life into the game by adding entirely new angles and styles of play. Based on what we've seen, I totally expect the next updates from Cloudhead Games to include more playable characters, even wider enemy variety, and mechanics I'm probably not even thinking of yet. 2089 is a pleasant surprise in every single way, and it's the perfect addition to a game that's likely to be one of the first VR experiences for many new VR players at the end of 2020.

Nicholas Sutrich

Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu