Sometimes sci-fi games need only put you head-first into a shiny new world, let you inhabit a universe seemingly ripped from TV and film, and call it a job well done. Then there’s games that use science fiction as a backdrop to a more human story, one that’s been told a million times and in a million ways before, but because we’re human, we always love to hear. These stories co-exist alongside the awe-inspiring technology of holograms, faster-than-light travel, giant space ships, etc. Lone Echo, a first-person narrative-driven adventure, is one of those intensely human tales; a pretty big undertaking considering you’re a robot from the 22nd century.


Lone Echo Details:

Official Site

Developer: Ready at Dawn
Available On: Oculus Rift (Touch required)
Reviewed On: Oculus Rift
Release Date: July 20, 2017


Note to the reader: Like all of our reviews (unless otherwise marked) this article contains NO SPOILERS. Read away with the confidence that we won’t ruin it for you!

Gameplay

The year is 2126. As an Echo-1 artificial intelligence aboard Khronos II, a mining facility just off the rings of Saturn, your programming compels you to assist Captain Olivia “Liv” Rhodes with her daily tasks as the sole human aboard the space station. Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise her right-hand android has become a close friend and confidant, but it’s almost time for Captain Liv to rotate out. Despite Liv’s characteristically British stiff upper lip, the thought of saying goodbye to her Echo-1 buddy, who she affectionately named Jack, is palpable.

Everything is going well until an anomaly suddenly appears in the distance, knocking out systems all over the ship. Snapping back into action and leaving the thought of teary goodbyes behind, you both set out to undo the damage the anomaly has caused, investigate a strange ship that’s suddenly warped into view, and go further than a little prospecting Echo-1 unit has ever gone before.

image courtesy Ready at Dawn

In the beginning, Captain Liv acts somewhat as a taskmaster, sending you out to repair parts of the vast station complex, which includes areas far away from the main station that require small (‘on-rails’) ‘Fury’ transport vessels to reach. Although she’s the boss, she relies upon you for advice, which you can give via a dialogue box that provides you with a number of canned responses. You can alternatively choose to not answer Liv, leaving her wondering what she did to upset you. It comes off like a normal conversation at points, as she even frets about your well-being when you inevitably head out into the wild black yonder to repair systems.

Even though she is a taskmaster, the action doesn’t feel over-tutorialized by Liv because basic instruction is carried out by Hera, Khronos’ resident AI—conducted in independent, in-software learning modules. This leaves you more room to experience the narrative with Liv as your captain and friend, and not your schoolmarm. We’ll talk more about Liv in the ‘Immersion’ section.

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Through these training modules, you learn to maneuver in zero-G and use the two tools at your disposal; a blowtorch and a scanner that doubles as a radiation meter—both of which are activated by pressing a button on either side of your robotic wrist. Radiation is the number one killer in the game, and the scanner helps you navigate around hot spots that present themselves throughout. There are plenty of things to slice open too with your torch, like access hatches and control panels, although at times I found the game’s order of operations a little frustrating. First you have to inquire what something is by using the dialogue box, at which point the game lets you use your torch, evidenced by a blue print superimposed on the metal panel.

using the blowtorch

Trying to cut before ‘officially inquiring’ renders your torch ineffectual, as it is on everything in the game (yes, I tried to torch Liv, I’m sorry). This only happened a few times, but it’s always show-stopping, making you look for the little arrows above everything to determine they aren’t important, story-moving elements. Once you understand that the order of operations is infallible, and that skipping ahead will get you nowhere, you accept what must be done and move on. Once you get the hang of things, flipping out the little torch and slicing through stuff becomes natural, if not an interesting exercise in turning something seemingly banal into a cool, immersive way of interacting with the world.

Let’s talk about death. As an artificial intelligence, you can’t really die. Every time you take on too much radiation, or get damaged in some way, you automatically transfer your consciousness to another fresh body. This pretty much removes some of the sting from dying as you step out of another pod, but there’s still the frustration of having to navigate back to where you were originally. You can also recharge your mobile radiation shield by visiting recharge sites periodically placed throughout. As a human, Liv doesn’t have this luxury.

I clocked around 6 hours to complete Lone Echo, although there are plenty of optional side tasks, audio logs concerning Liv, and Easter eggs to find throughout the game. If you’re like me, you’ll blow past most of these unless they’re right in front of you as you try to move the story forward—something I would consider to be one of, if not the most suspenseful and artfully-crafted narratives in VR to date.

Immersion

Presence (with a capital ‘P’), like in many games, tends to grip you when you least suspect it: you’re grabbing a tool from Liv, trying to figure out how to fix a satellite, or cutting open a vent with your blowtorch. You just… forget you’re actually in your underwear work appropriate clothing in your apartment for a brief moment. Granted, there are times when you buck up against the technical limitations of the game (a 3×3 meter play area is highly suggested) but from tip-to-toe, Lone Echo absolutely entranced me.

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image courtesy Ready at Dawn

Despite her space-hardened exterior, deep down Liv cares about your safety even though she knows you’re effectively immortal. Because she imbues you with humanity, you want to return the connection by helping her, by being her only human despite the fact you have a hard time understanding her typically acerbic jokes with your near-human AI. Lone Echo masterfully sets the scene for this connection to organically grow from the start, so that through and through, Liv feels like a sweet, caring older sister—truly the real star of the show.

Ironically, her own game AI predictably has its limitations, and sometimes her gaze-tracking isn’t quite right, leaving you with a stare that might shoot over your shoulder instead of directly in your eyes (in VR it’s easier to see those smaller details, and they’re more important)—but Liv is undeniably human. This is thanks to a number of factors including competent voice acting, obsessive work in character modeling, and excellent motion capture that puts her nearly on the other side of the uncanny valley. It’s amazing to say the least.

image courtesy Ready at Dawn

As for your own body, the game’s inverse kinematics are as good as I’ve ever seen in VR, with your arms and hands matching well-enough with your physical body to be believable—besides your feet which naturally trail behind you as you float in the zero-G environment.

Looking down at your robotic hands, covered in a swath of different textures like rubber fingertips (complete with raised fingerprints for added grip) and openly visible connections, combined with the ever-present whir of tiny servos as you flex your robo-appendages, all adds to the cumulative immersion. The developers also innovated procedural grip animations, which conform to the world around you dynamically for a more realistic hand pose.

image courtesy Ready at Dawn

Then there’s the scale. Suffice it to say that the world is jaw-droppingly massive, and rendered in sufficient detail—strange ships and their alien weirdness included—to hit all the right beats in what feels like an intimidating, but ultimately real place.

Comfort

The game’s world-shifting locomotion scheme has been proven to work in other titles before, including Climbey (2016) and The Climb (2016) for Oculus TouchIf you haven’t tried either of those—or the free multiplayer game Echo Arena (2017) launching alongside Lone Echo which uses the same scheme—the best way to describe it is “grabbing the world and flinging yourself.”

There’s a high degree of predictability to moving through the world of Lone Echo as you grab onto the ship’s structure and use it to propel yourself, which is partly why Echo Arena has celebrated so much fanfare in the recent weeks of beta access. It’s easy to wrap your head around how to move through the world at a fast clip with your hand-mounted boosters and it’s—a phrase I use all too often—exceedingly comfortable as a locomotion scheme.

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Of course, with elements in your peripheral vision helping to ‘anchor’ you to the world, much like a cockpit does in games like EVE Valkyrie (2016), the zero-G element becomes an easier proposition to handle as well. Important to note: Lone Echo starts up with a default ‘horizon lock’ that keeps your constantly oriented with a verifiable up and down that never changes. This can be toggled off, but isn’t recommended for comfort reasons.

That said, popping out of the headset and walking around my gravity-burdened house after learning to navigate in virtual zero-G was an interesting experience to say the least. In the back of my mind, I kept imagining myself grabbing onto door jams, my couch, anything and using it to fly off into another room. If that doesn’t speak to the impressiveness of the game’s rock-solid locomotion scheme, I don’t know what does. The only niggling bit is the game’s transport vessels, that take you on a somewhat twisty-turny ride to your medium-distance points of interest. These introduces some artificial (i.e. unwanted) turning, and can be somewhat uncomfortable.

image courtesy Ready at Dawn

For the hardcore smooth-turning junkies, the game’s settings allow for smooth turning on all axes, meaning you can effectively ‘pilot’ yourself through the world without having to so much as move your head left or right. For many this will be unsettling, which is why a more comfortable snap-turn is available by default for players using a two-sensor, front-facing setup. Lone Echo users with three or more Oculus sensors will undoubtedly benefit in terms of comfort and immersion simply by virtue of the fact that you can spin 360 degrees without your body blocking view of your controllers.

As a user with only two sensors, there was a certain amount of frustration with this. I kept naturally turning my body to face the action, which invariably meant I was occluding my Touch controllers. Eventually I sat down in a chair, which limited this somewhat, but I was still so immersed in the game I would only notice I was physically positioned away from the sensors when my hands would do the weird skittery dance I’ve grown to dislike intensely. This can be solved by adding another sensor, but it’s neither standard, nor requisite if you can keep your feet more or less planted in the same place physically.


If you’re looking for info on Echo Arena, Lone Echo’s free multiplayer mode, head over to our coverage on the past Echo Arena open beta.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
9

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  • Piotr Wojtan

    Never been more happy with my Oculus choice as main VR headset. So many superior exclusives already and more to come this year.

    • Logan Hunter

      and how is this a good thing ?

      • Piotr Wojtan

        Exclusive means – someone is paying big money just to get this released on his platform. If there is no exclusivity then that someone won’t be even interested in spending anything and the game won’t even exist. People who complain about exclusives have no understanding about basic economy.

        • Suitch

          Yep. Oculus’s exclusive platform has proven the correct decision for advancing the industry. It simply provides a direst avenue for excessive funds to be provided to cutting-edge projects instead of only getting “safe” games such as Star Trek, or crappy low-budget games like most of those found on Steam. I love both platforms, but denying the advantage of exclusivity at this point is simply closing one’s eyes to the mountain of AAA evidence.

        • GigaSora

          Basic console market -> Basic Economy -> Basic Money -> Basic Everything…. They have no idea about literally anything… ever.

    • Revive works flawlessly, with this and every other game that I’ve used it with. I’m tired of the silly VR fanboy wars, and Revive has made them almost entirely moot. Both headsets are great, there’s currently no wrong choice to be made.

      • Suitch

        Unfortunately, you’re wrong. I have both the Vive and the Rift and getting a Vive right now is absolutely a terrible decision. It is twice as much for a lesser headset. The touch controllers are so much better that I barely touch my Vive, and the tracking is also superior once a third sensor is added. (Which is only $60, versus the $130 a third lighthouse would cost)

        • I fully appreciate that the Rift is less expensive, and I’m happy that they’ve made VR entry easier for people. I also agree that the touch controllers are superior to the Vive wands for nearly every application (with the Vive knuckles also looking like they could be a nice step forward). A third lighthouse? Two is completely sufficient for room scale. This is where we get into the opposing strengths, they each have their own, though crowning one doesn’t make a lot of sense. Rift controllers and price currently bests the Vive. Vive tracking currently bests the Rift. I have and love both, but unfortunately, using the Rift is not feasible for work, since I have to travel with it and set it up an new areas constantly. The lighthouse sensors just make life on the road a lot easier and more bulletproof. I love my Rift, but the Vive is the clear choice for business right now. Again, it’s hard to go wrong with either.

          • Suitch

            I disagree again. It is worse in tracking even. My Vive loses the controllers way more than I have ever lost with the rift, and given the price difference it isn’t even close. At best they are equals, in which case one is literally half the price. But in reality, the non-virtual one, the Rift wins almost every category from comfort to presence to content to tracking. Neither headset is good for traveling, so that comparison is about the weakest I can imagine. They both require about the same amount of setup and tear down.

          • Luckily, disagreement isn’t the end of the world.

          • Alexisms

            Depends which two parties are disagreeing :-)

          • CENTER

            There is something definitely wrong with your either your Vive or your setup. Why didn’t you just return or contact customer service if it wasn’t working right? It kinda makes your tracking argument suspicious for the simple fact that everyone familiar with VR knows that Vive has impeccable tracking.

          • Ghastous

            lol the vive better for traveling with. Man the vive is meant for room scale VR mainly so how is that better to travel with then the rift which is a simple 5 mins setup and ya done compared to steams shitty setup procedures. I own both and sorry the rift is way better to travel with then the Vive.

        • CENTER

          I’ve never had issues with tracking on the Vive. There is absolutely no occlusion or tracking issues with two lighthouses and that’s with a small or big room.

        • GigaSora

          I like how every article turns into a Rift vs Vive battle in the comment section. No matter what the article is about. People get hardcore when they spend 800 on something.

      • Punk0

        It can’t work flawlessly on every game, especially ones with smooth locomotion. You are playing with paddles that have no thumb sticks. I’d have gone with Vive if not for the Touch controllers and the overall clunkiness of the Vive HMD. Now, with the price difference, I don’t know why anyone would buy a Vive right now. I’d hoped to get a Vive next generation, but the new controllers they are showing still have track pads instead of sticks. I don’t get Valve’s obsession with these.

      • Agree, both awesome products

      • Factual

        Unless money matters to you . Then the vive is the wrong choice :p

  • Kris Bunch

    I purposefully skimmed this article as not to ruin my own impressions of the game. I have been looking forward to this title and can’t wait to get off work and give it a try.

  • bud

    Very excited by this…

    Not sure if the original author team or story board team look over these comments, but this is the kind of story I love, 1million percent I am purchasing this on the weekend.

    thanks guys!
    bud
    #
    Edit: just bought it on the store, you don’t have to put your headset on just to buy some thing, weighs in at 14.6gb (lucky to have fiber here, will be just a few minutes).

    might have to jump in!

  • Tommel

    I played this game for about 2.5 hours now and I don’t know what to say. It’s by far the best game I’ve ever played in VR (even Mage’s Tale looks like an Indie-title compared to this one; no offense, I love Mage’s Tale!). Of course, the graphics and the moving system are fantastic, but what really make this game so unique is this strange but lovely relation between Olivia and you, a robot. It feels so real, I don’t know what to say.

  • Aku Aku

    Can’t wait to play this!

  • Jack Liddon

    Neat! Looking forward to using my Rift for something other than just Medium. Not that that’s a bad thing.

  • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    Buy a 3rd sensor you welfare slob.

  • ShiftyInc

    For me this is hands down the best vr experience out there. Compelling story, great gameplay and graphically amazing as well. A must have to own with your headset.