While Lone Echo is not the first game to take science fiction trappings and add a sense of weightless movement to the proceedings, it is easily the best example to date so far. The story is fantastic, the controls and visuals are completely immersive and is truly one of those games that could only be effectively conveyed with virtual reality.
You take on the role of a robot named Jack, and you assist Captain Olivia Rhodes – referred to as Liv in the story. As her assistant, Liv has become rather attached to you, and these two companions at the heart of the story make for a really good pairing. Their personalities are offset and different, but there is some genuine feeling that drips through in their dialog and actions during the game, propelling a solid story into something more memorable than it might have been without these two core characters.
As the pair’s space station suffers system failures to a mysterious anomaly, Jack and Liv have to go about fixing the damage. This creates a somewhat obvious training scenario as Liv gives you a series of basic objectives to repair different issues along the way. While obviously a ‘get your feet wet’ story-based tutorial, it does an excellent job of teaching you how to move about in zero gravity and use important tools like your radiation meter and blowtorch. Radiation is important because Jack doesn’t really die – I mean, he is a robot. He is a very intelligent AI however, that is more than his metal casing. As your get damaged from things like radiation, you may have to jump bodies to new body. Yay for still being alive! Boo because it does create some treading over familiar territory to get back to where you were – kind of like dying in a platformer and kicking off at the last checkpoint really.
Mechanically speaking, all of this works really well. Movement in zero gravity is awesome here. Seriously, I came away very impressed. A lot of games with all directions of movement can kick of VR sickness pretty easily, but whether the devs just nailed the speed of camera movement, or the area layouts are designed smartly, I never had any issues at all despite the freedom of movement. The movement is built off of pushing against surfaces and coasting along the room in zero gravity. You have some light thrusters to help with fine tuned corrections as well (which made me really want an Iron Man VR game). The core gameplay mechanic is around puzzles – you are generally trying to fix things. So you might be aligning some items, or looking for others that need locating – none of them really stretch the brain too hard, but are handled well enough that they don’t necessarily feel like a boring string of fetch quests either.
With the fantastic visuals, movement is a treat. I found myself improving with the evolving difficulty inherent to a game like this, moving around more complicated locations – and yet all of the time I felt as though I was sight seeing as well. Small details like the hand movement interact with the environment in convincing ways that only further sell the sense of immersion.Because the visuals back up the fantastic use of the touch controls, Lone Echo manages to successfully sell me on the idea that I am in space. There are a few glitches now and again that remind you this is a sci-fi game and that you’re not actually there – but those are few and far between. This is the type of game I think most people envisioned with the advent of VR.
While the above puzzles don’t provide a lot of replay value, there is a bit to be had in your conversations with Liv. You learn more about your companion as you work through the station, finding items that relate to her in some fashion. Additionally, the dialog is very well voice acted, and brings a real sense of companionship to this odd couple. Similar to the various Telltale Games, Liv will talk to you along the way and you are presented with different dialog options – including silence as an acceptable answer. Since the puzzles are kind of a one-and-done deal, I found these interactions to be the key reason to play again. Given that Lone Echo weighs in at a solid six hours or so, it’s an adventure worth reliving for that reason alone. One minor quibble that I have is the lack of subtitles – or at least if the option is there I didn’t see it. Given that there is so much
While Lone Echo is a single player experience, it is worth noting the free multiplayer futuristic sports game Echo Arena. I don’t want to spend a ton of space on this title in the review, but suffice to say the already outstanding systems that support locomotion and visuals are in place here to make this an intense, unforgettable multiplayer experience. It is much faster, more frantic and tickles the imagination in an equally great if very different way than the puzzle-based gameplay of the single player experience.