When virtual reality slowly started to go mainstream in 2016, gamers were hoping for a renaissance. To finally be able to be inside the game – not just controlling an avatar but actually being there. Instead of a renaissance, we got hundreds of tech demos and cash grabs that had little more sophistication than the simplest smartphone games. With Lone Echo, developer Ready at Dawn starts to deliver on the VR promise that was sold to us over a year ago. It’s one of the most complete VR experiences to date – but it’s not without its flaws, much like the recent Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Packaged with Echo Arena multiplayer (which for now, can also be gotten for free separately on Oculus Home) Lone Echo is probably the first true must buy games of this VR era, transcending tech demo and finally reaching “full game” status. It’s not just an experience; it’s an actual game – and a pretty good one.
Lone Echo was lovingly crafted by those with an obvious love for science fiction. The first 20 minutes of the game are jam-packed with references from Firefly to Demolition Man. You play as Echo-1, an autonomous android that has been dubbed “Jack” by your human counterpart, Captain Olivia Rhodes. Captain Rhodes has developed a friendship with Jack – she is pretty isolated as the only human operator on a mining station orbiting in the rings of Saturn. As Jack, you are a walking Swiss Army knife. Inside of your cybernetic skeletal chassis is mounted a cutting torch and a computer scanner, both activated by touching buttons on either wrist. Also, a face shield and headlamp are activated by touching your left or right temple, respectively.
Using Jack’s tools are fun, and intuitive – it’s awesome to have a cutting torch extend from your wrist – but actually getting button presses to activate can be frustrating with the Oculus Touch controllers. For those unaware, the Oculus Touch controllers emulate finger movement – stick up your thumb and your avatar does the same, point your finger and you can use it to press buttons. It sounds simple, but button presses feel very squishy –having often to push your finger through something instead of against it. I often feel like I’m constantly pressing, trying to get that sweet spot – and without tactile feedback, it requires you to closely look at your finger to ensure you are correctly pressing the button. The Touch Controllers are slow to match my finger configuration, and the button presses are inconsistent – a problem I have amongst most of the spectrum of Touch enabled games, but something that rears its head in the most frustrating fashion in Lone Echo, as over half of the interactions you have with objects require to press buttons with your extended finger. Grabbing objects feels great, though.
Your main mode of locomotion in the micro-gravity environment on and around Kronos II is grabbing surfaces and pushing yourself off of them. If there isn’t a surface or object within reach, you have thrusters that allow you to traverse to the next hand-hold. Those with moderate to severe sensitivity to motion sickness beware – there are no options to make locomotion less sickness inducing – there is no teleportation or blurring of vision, only flying weightlessly through space. Oculus Home says this game is “moderate” on the comfort scale, but as someone who has played other “moderate” comfort games with no problem, I have to say this: I required quite frequent breaks to play through Lone Echo.
The narrative revolves around Jack and Captain Rhodes responding to problems that have arisen on and around Kronos II due to an anomaly that is messing with station systems. Your goal is to fix any malfunctions you come across, while determining the ultimate nature of the anomaly. Most of the gameplay consists of manipulating objects, replacing broken parts, and avoiding hazards and obstacles. You go into the dangerous areas that a human like Captain Rhodes can’t normally go. Sometimes there is light puzzle solving, but most of the objectives are merely moving one object to another. This is a narrative-driven adventure game. Player death has little to no consequence – if you are destroyed you will be uploaded into a new body and then you can go and continue where you left off.
The multiplayer component of Lone Echo is not just an added mode – it’s its own game. Echo Arena is a mix of Ender’s Game’s Battle Room and Tron. You join a team of up to four other players to score goals by throwing an Echo Arena disc into the opposing team’s goal. The arena is a large room with floating obstacles that you can grab onto, push yourself off of, or hide behind. You can temporarily stun other player’s by slapping them in the face which can lead to some comical slap fights mid-field. Passing discs and scoring goals can be satisfying when it happens the way you want, but I personally found throwing the disc with the Touch controller to be a little awkward. With practice this awkwardness is easily overcome. Echo Arena is multiplayer VR done right. It’s fast paced and quite addictive.
Lone Echo is one of the best VR games to come out, and starts to realize what virtual reality can really be. Those who are easily susceptible to motion sickness, approach with caution – there are no comfort options here to alleviate motion sickness that other VR games have. But if you can stomach it, it’s something you shouldn’t miss out on. Lone Echo is an Oculus Touch exclusive and available now. Echo Arena is currently free on the Oculus Home store.