Shooting guns in VR feels natural at this point. When VR headsets first hit the market games like Space Pirate Trainer made novel use of motion controllers by letting us gun down robots and other enemies from inside the immersive, virtual realm. But now, almost three years removed from the debut of consumer VR, pointing and shooting is second nature for most. That is, until you add zero-gravity gameplay into the mix.
Lone Echo is a shining beacon of the possibilities with VR storytelling and Echo Arena was a groundbreaking moment for multiplayer VR games and VR as an esport with its Quidditch meets Ultiamte Frisbee in zero-G concept. Now with Echo Combat, Ready at Dawn is back with a new format for its renamed ‘Echo VR’ platform, delivering an Overwatch-style objective-based multiplayer shooter that pits two teams against one another with a variety of weapons and powers in free-roaming zero-gravity arenas. The results are truly intense.
Echo Combat is, in a nutshell, a team-based first-person shooter with the novel twist of each map existing in a zero-gravity dome environment. Tis means that many of the classic FPS tropes gamers are accustomed to are all here (recharging shields, objectives to capture or hold, different weapons, various abilities, etc) but feel unique given the medium and environment.
For example, in a game of Battlefield V I might hunker down behind a sandbag for cover and pop my head out to take aim at enemies approaching in the distance. There are some elements of elevation at play, but generally speaking it’s just a question of distance and aiming my gun in front of me. Echo Combat applies that same logic to a full 360-degree environment. While floating through the air enemies could be above, below, behind, or any variation around you. This is amplified by the fact that weapons have actual force knock back based on their kinetic force. That’s why holding onto a surface for cover and stability is essential.
But then that brings us to the most genius part of the entire Echo VR lineage of games: the grappling and movement system. Since it’s a zero-gravity environment you can push off of surfaces to traverse areas, or simply climb along walls and objects hand-over-hand like you would at a playground. That small action is immediately satisfying and immersive in a way no other locomotion system is in VR. You can further tweak movements with wrist rockets that let you boost around like Superman.
Most of that applies to Echo Arena as well though, what sets Echo Combat apart is the focus on gunplay. There are a handful of unique weapons, from an auto pistol, to a long-range rail gun, to a short-range burst shotgun type of gun. Loadouts can be further customized by selecting from different sorts of projectiles to detonate, as well as special abilities like shields, healing, or pinging enemy locations in the UI through walls.
There are two basic game modes (Payload movement with an Attacking and Defending team and control point capture and hold king of the hill-style with two equal teams) across three maps all of which are set to an auto-cycle playlist similar to games like Firewall Zero Hour or Overwatch.
It’s a good and balanced selection overall, but not great. Part of the charm of Echo Arena was that it felt entirely original. We’d seen similar things in films like Ender’s Game or Tron, but we’d never seen or done anything like that, physically, in VR or any other game before. Echo Combat is basically just Overwatch with fewer nuances, dramatically fewer characters, maps, and modes. It gets the job done as a novel VR shooter, but comparatively it feels less inspired than its Echo-predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong — Echo Combat is a great game — but it doesn’t feel like a watershed moment for multiplayer VR like Echo Arena did since it’s really just an iteration on an existing formula. However, this does open up the door to more iterations on this formula and a curious concept of what that might look like a few years down the road with a potentially even wider assortment of modes and game types.
Whereas Echo Arena was all about careful planning, teamwork, and skill-based wrist-flicks, Echo Combat falls into a much more familiar gameplay loop of shoot, hide behind cover, die, and respawn. The teamwork aspect is still there, but it’s far less emphasized since simply shooting the bad guys is all you really need to do. This breeds a slightly different core community than the collaborative and creative matches of Echo Arena, for better and worse.
Echo Combat is a polished and well-balanced VR shooter in zero-gravity that mixes the locomotion from Echo Arena and Lone Echo with the team-based dynamics of shooters like Overwatch. It feels great to play and has a ton of action for fans of the genre. While it may not be quite as creative and groundbreaking as Echo Arena was at the time, Echo Combat scratches a very specific itch in a way that only a AAA-caliber development studio like Ready at Dawn can.