For better or worse, so far Konami has shown zero interest in bringing its long and storied Metal Gear series to VR. But if you’re looking to scratch that stealth combat itch with more than a flair for superhuman acrobatics, you may find Espire 1: VR Operative a serviceable Generic Snake, albeit a bit rougher around the edges than you may like.

Espire 1: VR Operative Details:

Official Site

Developer: Digital Lode
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Available On: Steam (Vive, Rift, Index, Windows MR), Oculus (Rift, Quest), PlayStation Store (PSVR)
Reviewed On: Rift, Vive
Release Date: November 22nd, 2019
Price: $30


Espire 1 offers up a pretty standard story that fits in the same basic vein as many entrants in the Metal Gear franchise; there’s a terrorist group, superhuman agents, infiltration of opaque national intelligence agencies, and plenty of talking heads that radio in to give you constant guidance and objectives along your stealthy way—that’s of course in addition to the game’s trope of puppeting a military-grade telepresence robot, of which there is ample supply stashed at various points throughout the game, making death an inconvenience, and not a total showstopper.

Robot-stuff notwithstanding, you should feel right at home dispatching the faceless, nameless baddies with a variety of weapons, some silent, while others announce your presence to the world. It’s your job to slink around, avoid security cameras, defuse trip mines, crawl through conveniently placed air ducts,  you know, spy stuff.

Image courtesy Digital Lode

Shooting is predictably a big part of Espire 1, and it’s a pretty unforgiving experienceyou don’t simply line up the dot in your red dot scope or your green glow sights and blast away. I mean, you can totally do that, but there’s actually significant recoil applied to your gun after every shot. That’s not to say it’s inherently a bad thing, although it does make your rely on a few other tricks at your disposal so you aren’t wasting an entire magazine on a single guy, namely your ability to temporarily go into bullet time. Not only does it slow down time, but it also smooths out your hand movements so you can get a better, more focused shot when it counts the most. Reloading is done by jamming your gun down onto an available magazine sticking out of your hostler, which is less fiddly than it sounds.

You can also use what’s called ‘Espire Vision’, which highlights in the vicinity all enemies, objectives, and traps like auto-turrets and laser mines. This feels a bit cheaty to be honest, but I can see why it exists; it eliminates some of the frustration of coming around a corner with your pants down. There’s also a tossable camera that you can throw around corners, which is actually an even cooler idea in practice, but I found myself more readily abusing Espire Vision instead simply because of how easy it was, and how regularly I was allowed to use it. Espire Vision, repairing, bullet time (more on that in a bit), and stunning guards with the repair tool all takes energy, which auto-refills over time.


There are genuine moments in the beginning when you’re scared stiff of being caught, as you slink around corners and hope the guards aren’t alerted to your presence. I’m not the most stealthy of players though, and I only died once throughout the campaign, which lasted a little under six hours for a single play-through (end game content prolongs this substantially, but more on that below). That’s true even near the end, where you encounter heavies that take multiple shots to kill, and a few baddies with active camouflage that require you to use your Espire Vision—one of the few times when you actually have to use it outside of detecting otherwise unseen laser mines.

Image courtesy Digital Lode

I didn’t die that many times because it’s super easy to fix yourself with your repair tool, and you also seem to have a pretty large number of hitpoints available to you. Juice is infinite too, and while it takes its time regenerating, you can easily wait it out by ducking into an air shaft or in a quiet place behind a box. Repairing is done by touching the device to a number of holographic orbs placed in front of you. Why? Because you’re a robot in the future and you should stop trying to make sense of things, that’s why (apparently).

Like the Hitman series, you don’t necessarily need to be a silent killer to pass any of the game’s missions, although your score will take a major hit as you’re expensed for every bullet, gun, death, etc. The less Rambo-like you are, the less money you’ll spend, and the more cheats you’ll unlock for end game fun. I would have liked to see a higher level of difficulty here in place of the unlockables, which include cheats and starting weapons. There isn’t any difficulty levels to speak of too, only progressively harder objectives to fulfill such as freeing all hostages under a minute, or using your repair weapon to knock out all the guards in a level. That’s up to you though.

Image courtesy Digital Lode

There are a few real sore spots in Espire 1, the most egregious of which is melee. It’s rough, and I never once felt like I actually intentionally landed a punch on a bad guy after running out of bullets. When you get too close to an enemy, their character animation magically teleports them a meter away from you, which feels wrong on so many levels. You can also technically “hold up” bad guys by snatching their weapon from their hands, but this is really hit and miss unless you’re using bullet time, and even then it’s not a sure thing due to the aforementioned animation fuckery.


AI is also painfully dumb, and going undetected whilst walking in front of a guard only 20-feet away is laughably easy. It’s unclear what they can see, and where their field of vision ends, so you’re basically just guessing and hoping they don’t see you as they robotically walk their planned loops. Make not mistake: I’m not hating on planned loops here. After all, that’s a well-established feature of the genre.

That said, it’s still really fun to climb a wall, sneak over and stun a bad guy, or alternatively launch yourself through the air, engage bullet time, and line up a few choice shots to take out multiple targets, all while having zero auto-aim at your disposal for maximum self-pats on the back. All of this just nearly makes up for some of the unsightliness of dumb AI.


Once all is said and done, you can do a few cool things with Espire 1 to keep the fun going. You accumulate unlockable cheats by fulfilling extra objectives during the campaign, which changes up the feel by giving you things like invincibility, invisibility, a one-shot golden gun, etc. You won’t be able to save that progress though, or get on the leader boards, but unless you’re really a points-chaser, you probably won’t care about the leader board anyway. I certainly don’t. But you might, and if you do, there’s plenty of opportunity here.

Not only that, there are challenges too, which are apart from the campaign. Here you’ll be able to hone your stealth, combat, and various objective-focused things.

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Level design is actually one of the real high points to Espire 1. While the game’s multilayered levels offer admittedly contrived, conveniently person-size air ducts, they play an important role in filling a melange of attack vectors, be it through an air duct, overhead by way of pipeworks, through easier side routes, or straight down the middle through a gang of guards. It’s really up to you, and this makes me actually think about where to go and what to do next as opposed to dumbly following orders and waypoints to my next bullet sponge. Ok, enemies are bullet sponges, and I would have liked at least more than a single boss to fight, but you catch my drift. Anway, I like it when games don’t hold your hands and simultaneously offering help—not forcing it upon you—when you need it most.

Image courtesy Digital Lode

It’s easy to get lost in the sprawling government facility throughout the game’s six missions, and there’s a degree of backtracking that you have to do too, although I was happy to see that Espire 1 avoids the temptation of simply giving you a map and floating objectives, which would otherwise make it feel a little more flimsy, and a little more hand-holdy. You can however toss your repair device on the ground to give you a line to your next objective if you do find yourself in a tight spot, however your omnipresent mission buddies will always give you some sort of clue as to where to go to next.

That said, voice acting is particularly good, but the rate at which the game launches the same lines at you over and over really makes me want to turn off audio completely. The cutesy teenage Japanese girl voice goes from interesting to downright unbearable as you’re fed the same prompting dialogue, something that magnifies in the game’s challenge portion. The same goes for whenever you’re hurt, as your served up a barrage of the same shrill lines about heading for covers and healing. Here, I would have liked to be left to my own devices, and the game definitely steps on some toes by insinuating I can’t see the plainly visible health meter.

Visually the game is fairly dark, drab, and doesn’t offer a bunch in variability when it comes to the environment, but it seems to be cohesive enough graphically.

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Positional audio is less-than-alright however, as solid structures don’t occlude sound in the slightest, so you can constantly hear enemies prattling away to themselves behind massive concrete slabs, or sometimes entire floors of a building, which forces you to use Espire Vision to confirm they are indeed not walking on top of your head, or sticking their heads into your armpits.

Climbing is a missed opportunity due to it lack of haptic feedback the transience of the world’s geometry (i.e. you have ghost hands). There’s a slight audio cue when your hand touches a grabbable surface which is typically metal, but your hands can pass through geometry with zero haptic feedback to help you understand where you can climb and where you can’t, making the world feel like a less solid place in general. Climbing involves guesswork, and that’s not great.

Espire 1 also features voice commands, but not only will you feel silly shouting ‘Freeze’ at an enemy, but I found it didn’t work all the time, so I basically just forgot about them.


If you’re looking for maximum movement, you’ll eventually find yourself swinging through the air like Spider-Man. Although you can take it easy by climbing one hand at a time, flinging youself around isn’t only more efficient, but it’s actively encouraged during timed events. Of course, this level of unpredictable movement can cause discomfort in some users.

If you’re planning on going full ham on being Spider-Man, you may want to use the game’s ‘Control Theatre’, which applies a grid around your field of view that creeps in every time you turn or move. I turned this off in the settings immediately, but it is a tried and true method for keeping the player more grounded, as it eliminates movement in your peripheral, something that typically triggers discomfort in sensitive users.

Image courtesy Digital Lode

Variable snap-turn is also available, but you can just as easily forget it if you have an inside-out tracked headset, as you can simply move forward with the stick/touchpad forward movement scheme. Nope, no smooth motion turning here, but you shouldn’t need it if you aren’t on an OG Rift CV1 or a PSVR.

There’s also no teleportation, which is demonstrably the most comfortable (read: not most immersive) way of moving around. That may be for the best of things, as you’ll want to move quickly and fluidly when shit hits the fan.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • So how does the Quest version compared to PC?

    • VR4EVER

      The graphics are subpar with lowres textures.

  • Alextended

    Personally I found the level design to be pretty bad. The actual encounter spots/rooms (and the challenge missions) were okay but the overaching environments were confusing with no visual or other indication on where you might need to go outside constantly using the magical waypoint from your repair tool/taser thing. It became a real problem made worse by the unintuitive checkpointing/sectioning off system and how you never could even tell when a mission was about to end as it seemed to cut off in completely random places. The requirement to complete challenge missions before being allowed to continue the rest of the main campaign was weird too.

    Additionally, the game never recognized my “freeze” and “open console” commands and that probably means i can’t even complete the hold up challenge missions as they don’t have any button command for the robot to say “freeze” in your place even though so many buttons on the controllers are completely unused in the game (ie there aren’t even alternate firing modes on the weapons to switch through with the buttons as you can in other FPS like Onward).

    I like the core mechanics, it’s just so clunky in so many peripheral but equally important ways that I just don’t find it very fun even though I love stealth games. I think the best thing about it is how lethal the guards can be so you really want to be stealthy. At least before you discover you can recover health infinitely after going on a killing spree. Maybe if it had an old school item based health system or if raised alarms had constantly respawning via some of the otherwise inaccessible locked doors reinforcements it’d deter doing that but they kinda squandered that potential too.

    • Alextended

      To add to the level design stuff, maybe this isn’t the intent but to me it feels like the better stealth
      games like Metal Gear Solid more often than not gave you a clear view of
      your objective in each area (whether that’s one of several exit points
      to progress to the next area or an item you need or whatever else) and
      then you had to figure out how to get there with all the environment
      design and security between you and that objective or check out other
      bits and pieces in case they hold useful stuff. It was never about giving you a labyrinthine area you can’t find your way around without a map. Or in more exploratory
      sneaking games like Thief you still had a good idea of your goal (steal
      this or that and accumulate a given amount of valuables on top) and
      explored the logically designed areas until you found it. Even those
      harbour warehouses in Thief 2 had way more distinct visuals between
      areas so you always knew where you’ve been and what else is left to
      check out. Plus you still had a vague map with you.

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  • PerpetuallySkeptical

    Bought the game for PSVR, but unfortunately it doesn’t allow you to turn on smooth turning or to turn off the peripheral blinders. Hopefully it gets patched eventually, I wouldn’t recommend getting the game on PSVR yet though.

  • Alex

    I simply Rambo-ed the only 1 hour of gameplay I did. A stealth game should not be that easy, at least put on a difficulty mode, and for godsake when the alarm goes on add an infinite number of guard to respawn.
    Infinite health = fail
    Magical waypointing = fail, give us a wellbuilt map that’s it.
    Level design = fail
    Melee encounter = fail

    It’s unacceptable in 2019 to have a game delivered like that. Refund for sure. Sorry for the devs, learn from it!

    • Andrew Jakobs

      And that’s where different tastes comes in.. You may not like infinite health, but others do, you may not like magical waypointing, but others do..
      That’s the problem with a lot of games, they tend to serve a specific type of crowd, and others won’t like it. Trying to add realism mostly ruines games for me (I like arcade), as realism doesn’t suit many games (as it still is far from realistic).

      • Alex

        For sure it’s all a matter of tastes, I just feel sad to see they don’t give the choice and only go for the arcade feeling. Scoring and time trials are just not for me I guess. I’ll wait for the next *realist*-Metal-Gear-like game XD

      • Alextended

        He never said to make it realistic? And obviously it’s his opinion, should I respond to your post with the same stuff exactly when it’s obviously your opinion too? A very defensive one at that, did you even play the game yet (since you focus solely on attacking his opinion rather than explaining your own opinion of the game I have to ask, lol)? It doesn’t have to be a realistic game to not have those elements. Metal Gear Solid (since it was compared to that all the time even by the developers) on PS1 of all systems didn’t have infinite health, requiring ration items instead, or magical checkpointing, guiding you with good level/mission and encounter/objective design instead. Nobody would call it realistic though (I mean, it’s a 1998 top down fast paced game). Although I never played a stealth game in the arcades and most of the popular stealth franchises on other systems don’t employ all these systems either, not at once, maybe one at a time to appease the modern non-gamer.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    The thing is I don’t have the money to get it today but want this game more than stormland.

    • Alex

      huh I’m surprised, spreading the Good News is not profitable?! ;)

      • aasdfa

        hey its been a while since hes spread gossple on here. Dont antagonize and bring it back. just be happy things are chill

  • The Bard

    Odyssey+ on Amazon Black Friday for just 229$ !!!!!!!!

  • Lucas Cunningham

    *Takes 1 hp of damage*

    • Lucas Cunningham

      I have about 2 hours of play time and i’ve heard this line far to much