Lone Echo/Echo Arena
Created by: Ready at Dawn
Year of release: 2017
Platform: Oculus Rift
Viewing System: Oculus Rift
Lone Echo is a single player adventure game that takes the user on a beautiful and often haunting experience based around investigating an odd space-time disturbance while aboard a space mining vessel near Saturn. The user, an AI occupying a robotic body, begins by waking up to their ship captain, Olivia Rhodes, who introduces the mechanics of moving around in zero gravity.
And it’s these mechanics that make the experience so interesting. Using the Touch controllers, the user has to push themselves around by grabbing onto railings or walls in order to navigate around the environment. The user can also move around using thrusters attached to their wrists for more precise movements. The sense of weightlessness is so engrossing that it actually feels like you are floating, and I never felt sick from sudden accelerations or stops because the navigation is so natural.
The movement system isn’t the only highlight of the experience, however. The world itself feels and looks so real that it’s easy to get lost and forget that you are really just standing or sitting back here on Earth. At one point near the beginning of the adventure, Olivia tells the user to look out the bridge of the ship toward Saturn, which sits in full view with its majestic white rings extending out to the user’s vessel. It’s a sight that is truly jaw-dropping and I would still be satisfied with the game if that was merely all that there was.
As the game continues, the user is tasked with completing various tasks and puzzles in order to repair their ship’s systems they are disrupted by a mysterious golden mist near Saturn. On the surface, some of these tasks would seem pretty mundane, and I have to admit they could be monotonous at times—take out an energy core, recharge it, put it back, repeat three times—but if the movement wasn’t so fun, I would have gotten bored pretty quickly.
Olivia eventually goes missing while the user is temporarily disabled, and so the rest of the adventure is about finding what happened to her. It takes the user through the vast emptiness of space to the close, claustrophobic, and dark maintenance tunnels of spaceships. The combination of an engrossing story, beautiful world, and natural controls make Lone Echo a fantastic and unforgettable experience that is perfect for VR.
Echo Arena is the online multiplayer portion of Lone Echo that uses the same movement controls in a zero-gravity game, which is best described as combination of soccer and ultimate Frisbee. It used to be part of Lone Echo, but was eventually released as a standalone game.
Players, on teams of 4, are launched into a cylindrical arena with square goals at either end. The objective is to grab the disc from the center of the arena and score on the other team’s goal. Players can pass to teammates, grab onto each other, and punch opposing team members to temporarily stun them. Because it uses the same movement mechanics as Lone Echo, the arena is also dotted with stationary blocks that the players can push themselves off of or use to grab in order to stabilize themselves for a pass or shot on goal.
At times, it can be weirdly personal, like when you grab onto the legs of another player during the game or some random person gropes your character in the lobby between games, but that doesn’t really take much away from the full experience. The game also requires that you have some movement room in your play space, as you will easily get disoriented and realize that there is a wall inches away from your hand in the real world (yes, I hit my wall with the Touch controllers many times). Even with the Oculus’ Guardian system, which warns the user when they leave the “play zone,” it’s easy to become so intent on grabbing the disc in midair or nailing the perfect shot on goal that you don’t notice the warning. In many ways, the game is so engrossing that it is almost dangerous.
It all makes for a very fun time perfect for playing a game or two in one sitting or getting completely engrossed and spending hours in. While not perfect, it seems a great start to what the future of digital sports could be.