I had two choices: continue playing Lone Echo on the Quest 2 or write about Lone Echo. I did both.
In Lone Echo (from PS stalwarts Ready at Dawn), you play the role of “Jack”, an ECHO series android playing second fiddle to Captain Olivia Rhodes on board the Kronos II mining station located in the rings of Saturn. Rhodes is set to ship out to a new posting soon, leaving Jack in charge of the operations. Of course, just as Cpt. Rhodes is getting ready to hand over the keys to Jack, something mysterious happens, causing havoc throughout the station as well as several nearby locations crucial to the mining operation. Being an android (and heir apparent), Jack is tasked with solving problems and investigating this new situation.
As Jack, I began the game by going through several training “calibrations” designed to help me get used to life in zero-gravity. Snap-rotation is present (a gimmick to ensure players don’t get motion sick), but primary locomotion is done by grabbing a stationary object and pushing off. There are copious railings throughout the Kronos II, although any wall can be grappled and shoved. For slower, more precise movements sans gravity, Jack has two mini thrusters built into his wrists. By moving the controllers and applying thrust, Jack can be maneuvered pretty much anywhere. Being an android, he comes with a lot of other bells and whistles such as a scanner, laser-cutter, an integrated job roster (a.k.a. “quest journal”) and radiation detector. The good news is that when Jack “dies”, he downloads to a new body nearby and picks up where he left off.
Throughout the start of the game, Jack accompanies Cpt. Rhodes. Early on, there are three tasks that need dealing with: fixing the hydroponics greenhouse, stowing errant cargo in the cargo bay, and swapping out fuel rods in the reactor. Conversation is handled by looking at objects (free floating object, Rhodes, or another ECHO helper bot) and choosing a response from a popup menu. Jack can respond to Rhodes’ questions or can make reports on quest objects by looking at them and selecting the appropriate item from the list. These first three jobs are designed to learn how to manipulate objects in the game world, like activating levers and pushing buttons, moving objects, scanning, cutting, and most importantly, getting around.
Eventually, though, in order to advance the plot, Jack needs to leave the station and visit several locations in nearby orbit, such as a mining platform and a storage rig. Here, Jack gains a jetpack which can propel him much faster than the normal maneuvering jets, and also offers thrusters which can help stop any kind of movement. In order to get from point A to point B, Jack can jump in an auto-piloted skiff that will deliver him where he needs to go.
If you have ever wanted to be “in space” but lack the qualifications (or cash, I suppose), then Lone Echo is the next best thing. There are many games out there which offer six degrees of freedom, but none of them do it in VR with this level of fidelity or this kind of narrative. It’s hard to move around when feet aren’t part of the equation (oh, yes, another thing: Jack has a body, complete with arms, torso, and legs, unlike most VR games which just represent your avatar as “hands”). Grabbing a railing and then dragging Jack forward with a matching real-world pull doesn’t always send him where I planned to go; I’ve bounced the poor boy off the ceiling, walls, and floors more times than is probably good for him. It’s faster to “throw” Jack this way than it is to use the wrist thrusters, though, so it’s a valuable skill to master and when I did, I felt like a goddamned astronaut when moving around the station. Trying to stay stationary when performing a task was also hard at first, until I remembered to always have the other hand holding on to a nearby handle. The Kronos II is fairly open, but there are a few hatches to float through that require a bit of movement finesse.
And then there’s the first time leaving the station. As Jack sits in the EVA corridor waiting for the airlock to depressurize, the tension is palpable. When the doors opened that first time to let me outside, floating out into the vast openness of space was a complete trip. My first mission outside of the station was to head to the active dig site which had gone offline. Not only did I have to guide Jack around the asteroid as I had when he was in the station, but there was the very real chance that I could just…float away. I should try that at some point and see what happens.
I don’t know how long this game is (HowLongToBeat.com says somewhere around 6 hours for the story, 9 hours to be complete) or where I am right now in the story, which I won’t discuss beyond saying that while I haven’t really “started” much of the main plot, it seems to be trending towards something really “Star Trek sci-fi” in scope.
I am kind of angry that all I can just sit here and spit words at you, offer these screenshots, and the game’s official trailer video as tokens of good-will, because these are literally the difference between a post-card of the Grand Canyon, and standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. There’s no way I can do justice to the levels of immersion that Lone Echo offers. I already love this game so damned much and feel that it completely justifies the investment in this headset.
The only downside is that Lone Echo is what I’m going to start calling a “desktop Oculus” game. See, the Quest 2 is basically a glorified cell-phone in terms of processing power. Simple games can be loaded into the headset to take advantage of the headset being wireless. Other games — intended for the Rift, mainly — can be purchased and run through the Oculus desktop application. The Quest 2 can access these games either via AirLink (wifi to a PC) or by high-speed USB 3.0 data cable (DataLink?). In order to support Lone Echo’s high-fidelity visuals, it has to be run on a PC and played either through the wireless link or via wired connection, nullifying one of the selling points of the Quest 2 headset. My PC area is a bit cramped, but since I get much better performance through the wired connection than I do via the wireless connection, I’m trying to play with as little body-rotation and arm-flailing as I can. I have already smacked my monitor and my bookcase. Also, if you’re claustrophobic, Lone Echo won’t do you any favors; every time Jack starts up a “calibration” session (there are several) or dies and downloads into a new body, the POV begins inside the coffin-sized android storage closet.
If there’s any game out there that would blow the doors off of the opinions of any VR-naysayer, it’s Lone Echo. This is a complete package and a “gold standard” of what a single player, narrative driven VR game should be. I really cannot say enough good about Lone Echo, except that when I am done with this game, there’s Lone Echo II waiting for me. For anyone with an Oculus headset (or anyone who can access the Oculus store through the Oculus desktop app and other-party headset), I cannot recommend this game enough.