Ready At Dawn Studios morphed the gameplay in two virtual reality games from last year, Lone Echo and the multiplayer Echo Arena, and turned them into a new multiplayer VR release, Echo Combat. This looks like a great decision, based on a preview demo that I played recently.
The game makes you hot and sweaty as you play 5-on-5 battles in zero gravity, and it makes me optimistic about the potential of VR to deliver unique gaming experiences that we can’t get any other way. That’s important, as VR isn’t doing as well as some projected it would, and this emerging tech needs to deliver more fun experiences like Echo Combat.
Ready At Dawn and Oculus will show the game at next week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show in Los Angeles. The free open beta starts on June 21, and the game will sell for $10 when it formally launches as an exclusive for the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch.
Lone Echo is single-player VR game with a story about a robot and a human crewer dealing with a mysterious disaster on a space station. Echo Arena is a companion multiplayer game where two teams try to score points on each other with a flying disc while maneuvering through zero gravity. It’s a wonderful mashup of Ender’s Game, Tron, and Quidditch in Harry Potter.
But there was something missing in the high-adrenaline game. And that was combat. So Ru Weerasuriya, the president and creative director at Ready At Dawn Studios in Irvine, California, took the team and repurposed the assets that they had labored on for a couple of years. Now, less than a year later, they’re back with Echo Combat, which has the same neon glow art style as the earlier games.
Echo Combat takes place in the same zero-gravity environment as its progenitors, only now it has been modified for firefights. Much like with Echo Arena, you suit up in an Oculus Rift with Touch and meet in a lobby. You go through a tutorial that reminds you how to move around, like by grabbing objects and pulling yourself along to give you the momentum to fly through space in zero-g. Those controls take getting used to, but they are fairly intuitive once you remember what you’re supposed to do.
Then you meet your teammates and chat with them via voice communication. You can talk about strategy and guide the new folks to show them what to do. You have to be taught how to do some things, but once you know what to do, it’s a lot more enjoyable. In contrast to some other first-person experiences, I didn’t have any troubles at all with vertigo.
Once you’re ready, you head into a tunnel and the propel yourself out into the arena. In the mode we played, one team has a payload to guard and deliver, and the other team has to stop it. So the experienced guy on our team set us up in an ambush, so all five of us could hide behind cover and fire at the moving enemies.
Normally, I have a tough time shooting in VR, since aiming down the sight isn’t easy to do. But you can see the tracers flying when you fire, and you can adjust your aim without getting into a cumbersome pose. At first, it was easy to forget you were playing against real people, and I stayed in the open too long and got shot. Before I respawned, I could see a 3D map of the arena and where the action was happening. So I respawned with good situational awareness. That was a nice design feature.
I got used to grabbing on to cover and pulling myself up and down. I fired when I was high, and I ducked when I was low and reloading. I popped my head out and shot several human enemies. They took a while to get used to the fire-and-dodge tactics I was using. It took a few hit to bring down each player, and we stopped them from getting the payload to the target. I learned afterward that I could have been easily dislodged from my hiding spot with an arc grenade.
In the next round, we were on the offense. That didn’t go so well. We flew into space, and I found that it was a lot harder to shoot enemies when you were moving. So I had to practice getting into a vantage point with cover, flanking the enemy, and staying alive long enough to get some shots off. Since the payload is always moving forward, the game forces you to come out into the open. We failed to win the round, as they stopped us from getting through.
I found it a lot of fun. It takes a little bit of training, but the Echo Combat is easy to play once you’ve warmed up. The voice communications are quite effective for organizing your tactics against the enemy.
When I took the Rift off my head, I was covered in sweat. But it felt good, like I had some adrenaline pumping in my veins. At the end, I didn’t see a leaderboard on how I did, but things like that will come. Weerasuriya said in an interview that the team will be able to change weapon loadouts and modes in the future. Different weapons, like sniper rifles, can have a drastically different effect on your health, if you’re hit.
In other words, the game is meant for replayability, with lots of different tactics or strategies, depending on the mode or scenario.