Lone Echo is one of the interesting virtual reality games coming for the Oculus Touch. Set in outer space, it gives you a real feeling of moving through zero gravity on a space station, and it looks like it will have great single-player and multiplayer VR experiences.
This game is part of the wave of exclusive high-end releases coming for VR that will determine whether consumers adopt the Oculus Rift, the VR headset from Facebook’s Oculus division. I previewed it this week at the Oculus Connect event in San Jose, Calif., where the Oculus Touch controllers, which players can hold independently in each hand, were introduced. The title was made exclusively for touch controls, said Dana Jan, game director at Ready At Dawn Studios, in an interview.
“Lone Echo is a first-person exploration experience, set near Saturn in the rings, where you are mining for helium,” Jan said. “It’s an open game where you are moving around. You are moving around, pushing, and pulling, and navigating with the Touch controllers.”
In single player, I played as a service robot named Jack. I was an android with a human-like body. I was immediately struck at how crisp and sharp the graphics were. A human astronaut character, Captain Liv Roades, needs my help and boots me up. In that process, I learned how to grab hand holds and pull myself forward to maneuver in zero gravity. I also used buttons on the controllers as boosters to give me directional thrust as I moved through space.
“We will probably never go into space, but we wanted to give you a feel for what it’s like to move in space,” Jan said.
As soon as I finished training, I was sent out on a spacewalk to accompany the commander. She directed me to maneuver on the surface of a space station toward an antenna. It was malfunctioning, so I had to use a laser cutter to cut through the bad part and fix the antenna. I pointed it at an anomaly, and it caused some kind of flash that damaged the antenna, triggering some very dramatic music and alarms. In a state of panic, the commander urgently called me over. I had to hitch a ride on a transport and take it over to her, where I discovered her foot was caught in a railing. I had to saw through some metal and free her, that was where my single-player experience ended.
Then, I was able to try the multiplayer, where five players teamed up against five others in a game that resembled the training missions in the film Ender’s Game. Our bodies glowed in orange or blue, depending on which team we were on, in an art style that resembled Tron. We had to learn how to move through the zero-gravity arena, capture a disc, and send it into the enemy’s goal, while the enemy tried to get the disc into our goal. It was like Quidditch in the Harry Potter tales.
I found that I didn’t get motion sickness even though I was bouncing around the arena, which had big triangular blocks in the middle that we could bounce off of. That was because there was always an intentional attempt to use my hands to move in a particular direction so that my head, hands, and sense of direction never got out of sync. Every now and then, the tracking was slightly off, and I had to try several times to grab something.
At the start of the timed match, we had to maneuver into holes to shoot ourselves out into the arena via a catapult. That was a little hard, as I had to grip the wall and then push a button to activate the catapult. As I flew out, I course corrected with the thrusters and used my hands to grab onto handholds and push in certain directions. If you pulled the hand triggers, you could charge up a punch. Then, I slugged my hand forward in a punch to hit the other virtual players in the face. If I connected with the punch, the players were disabled for three seconds.
Flying through space involves a lot of tricks. You could tap down on the right stick to stop completely, turn in different directions, and then thrust. It was a very tense, competitive game where I could tell who the seasoned players were. I grabbed the disc at one point and was point-blank in front of the enemy goal, but I threw it and let go too late, and it bounced off the corner without going in. The next time I had a shot, one of the blue players moved in front of the goal and blocked it. We wound up losing both rounds, but it was really fun, with a lot of hooting and hollering.
Lone Echo is coming sometime soon as an exclusive for the Oculus Rift with the Oculus Touch. Oculus Studios is publishing it.