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Lone Echo Review: A New Kind Of Space Odyssey

by Jamie Feltham • July 20th, 2017
Platform: Rift
Positives

- One of VR's most immersive experiences yet
- Incredible locomotion system
- Character-driven story shoots for something more interesting than action

Negatives

- Occasionally sluggish pacing
- Mechanics need more room to grow
- Lackluster ending

Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells could only dream of the words they envisioned when they began penning sci-fi classics. Some of those would come to life inside our TV screens and movie theaters in the decades that followed, but the futures they painted are still far outside of our lifetimes. Most of us will never get to have a space odyssey of our own.

That is, unless, you play Lone Echo.

Ready at Dawn Studios’ VR debut isn’t a direct adaptation of any of those author’s works, but you can feel their influence coursing through its tense, moody 4 hour run time. This sci-fi epic is far more interested exploring familiar themes of survival and human/A.I. connection than it is raising your heartbeat. The zero-gravity gameplay, meanwhile, is centered around immersion, atmosphere and interaction instead of explosive escapes and gigantic set pieces. This isn’t the action-packed blockbuster recent trailers suggested, so if you were hoping for VR’s very own Gravity you’re best looking elsewhere.

What you’re getting instead is something far more interesting. Lone Echo is set in the year 2126 aboard the Kronos II Mining Platform, a space station sitting on the rings of Saturn. You play as Jack, a cybernetic A.I. that embodies robotic shells, assisting Captain Olivia Rhodes in the day-to-day functions of the facility. Picking up towards the end of Rhodes’ tenure, the two share a close relationship that you can somewhat personalize with dialogue choices and contextual interactions.

It’s the bond between these two central characters that pulls you through Lone Echo’s story. Jack’s cybernetic shell often leaves you questioning just how deep his connection with Rhodes really goes, while her own mortality is the reason you find yourself pushing on as an inconvenient repair job quickly escalates into a much larger battle for survival. But, while the stakes are high, the game rarely veers into anarchy and action.

Much of Lone Echo’s gameplay is comprised of busy work. In videogame terms that means a lot of fetch quests. More often than not you’ll be floating around a room, searching for batteries to power a generator, switches to open doors, or cutting surfaces with a laser to uncover panels and pathways. Its pacing feels deliberate, only rarely dipping into sluggish, and shows you why immersion in itself can be more than enough to pull you through a VR narrative.

If you’ve played the beta for Lone Echo’s multiplayer spin-off, Echo Arena (also released today for free), you’ll know just how startling a revelation the game’s movement system is. Jack can grab onto any surface and then throw himself towards his next destination using entirely intuitive and natural movements. As you progress, you’ll also get thrusters to steer you through much bigger environments, but it’s those core mechanics that are the most engaging.

They become second nature almost instantaneously, and I often reminded myself of the movements I’ve seen real astronauts make as I hung onto the side of a computer to talk to Rhodes, or instantly stopped my zero-g drifting by quickly latching onto a handle. It’s worth pointing out, too, that this was all with two Rift sensors; quick turn options make Lone Echo entirely comfortable and accessible in VR and I didn’t feel shortchanged without true 360 gameplay. That said the three sensor setup is obviously still preferable.

You get the sense that much of Ready At Dawn’s time has been spent fine-tuning all of this as close to perfection as it can get. You’re not able to clip your head through walls and objects like in most VR games, for example, and Jack’s fingers will seamlessly slide across a circular handle as you rotate your arm while a projection of the actual position of you arm will appear if its virtual counterpart isn’t able to follow. Simply put I really felt like I was in the body of the protagonist, more so than I have with most other VR experiences. Ultimately that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Similarly engaging is Lone Echo’s take on user interface, which expands upon the wrist-mounted menus that have come before it. Using Touch’s gesture recognition, you can reach out to you wrists, arms, and even the side of your head to activate different features. You might control an A.I., but your body is the living, breathing controller you’d expect it to be. Going beyond that, your physical presence has meaning inside your space; you can interact with Rhodes by giving her the peace sign or a thumbs up, and she’ll shake you off if you start grabbing her arm.

This high sense of presence fuels the game’s fascinating sense of discovery. The joy of Lone Echo is really just being inside of it. Watching the universe go by as you ride transports from station-to-station and venturing into the unknown to explore the many halls of a mysterious construct perfectly captures the revelatory heart of those classic sci-fi tales. The only difference is this time you’re living it.

Pacing isn’t always on point, though. The repetition of tasks and a wealth of reused assets in the game’s second half is very noticeable as sections start to drag and you begin to anticipate the next menial objective. In those moments it was the thought of reaching my ultimate objective that got me to push on rather than taking a break.

It’s offset somewhat by a clever twist on the gameplay that rears its head at the two-hour mark. Here Ready at Dawn brilliantly turns its locomotion mechanic on its head. Suddenly there are large portions of rooms that you can’t touch, and that liberating, carefree movement needs to be honed in and refined. Your throws have to have pinpoint accuracy and you’ll have to negotiate complex paths to safety. This was some of the most inventive, unique and engaging VR gameplay I’ve seen, I just wish there was more of it and that the idea had been given space to grow further.

That is to say Lone Echo doesn’t defy what’s quickly becoming an unwelcome trope for VR; the lackluster ending. What you get here is a cliffhanger with little in the way of a climax outside of a touching moment five minutes beforehand. An interesting turn in the story convinced me I had just reached the halfway point, and then the credits appeared. There was still so much of this world I wanted to explore, and so much space for its mechanics to grow, but it all ends just before it has a chance to really ascend beyond the current upper echelons of VR experiences.

Final Score: 8.5/10 – Great

Lone Echo is a landmark achievement in three key areas of the VR experience: locomotion, UI, and interaction. The winning blend of intuitive movement, discovery-based gameplay and character-driven storytelling create a compelling sense of presence that few VR games could hope to match, while the considered pacing gives it a fresh identity. I hate to mark it down on such a trivial aspect as length, but the package simply feels incomplete, rounding off in the second act and depriving you of both the narrative and mechanical evolutions I was expecting to encounter in the third. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that I expect its sequel to be one of VR’s very best.

Lone Echo is available now on Oculus Rift for $39.99. Check out these official review guidelines to find out more about our process. 

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  • Walextheone

    Just pre-ordered it! This one seems to be a real gem

    • Shea Foley

      Me too! I’m pretty excited to try it out!

  • David D. Taylor

    This both makes me happy and disappoints. After trying to find the length of the game, and not being able to find anywhere, I took the plunge and bought yesterday, having a bit of faith in the developer. 4 hours is not enough content for $35-$40. I love the Intel sponsorship, that Arena is free, but did the devs not realize that took value away from the purchase of the base game? $40 game would be worth 4 hour campaign and multiplayer. 4 hr campaign alone? Not unless there is a lot of replayability, which it doesn’t sound like there is.

    Besides me being upset, I am excited for the game. I’m sure I’m going to love it. But with limited money, I have to pick and choose what I buy each year, and the amount of time I spend in a game is a large factor for me.

    • Myztkl-Kev

      I thought the same thing, I pretty much figured the game would only be 3 to 4 hours but then I saw the page where they were selling echo arena for $20 which you get with lone echo. So I thought, ok that’s cool $20 for sp and $20 for mp. That makes sense, but then they announce the MP component will be free for the first 3 months which basically just threw that out the window and I’m back to paying $40 for sp. The game should only be $25 for the first 3 months.

      • David D. Taylor

        agreed

    • Frogacuda

      4 hours is straight-up inaccurate, though. It’s a fairly open-ended adventure game, so hour count can vary a lot, but six hours seems to be the average, and outside of this review I haven’t heard anyone claim four on a first playthrough.

  • dan bryant

    Offering a discount on preorders for a game that’s only 4hrs long seems disingenuous to me
    Basically selling as many copies to people before they realise it’s only half a game

    But hey I preordered it so I guess it worked!
    I’ve only got myself to blame and won’t fool for it again.

    • Myztkl-Kev

      right? and devs were completely ignoring any posts asking about length of game. like I said below. I would be ok with paying what they are asking even without the pre-order discount, if they weren’t giving away echo arena for free for the first 3 months

    • elev8d

      Pretty genius marketing, along with the Oculus store not allowing refunds. I almost bought it, but then thought the better of it because I have too many unplayed games in my library. Now I’m glad I didn’t.

      • polysix

        Oculus store does allow refunds now doesn’t it? within 14 days and under 2 hours playtime?

        • elev8d

          Does it? I haven’t returned tried returning anything on their store yet, but I only have 5 or 6 games on it and no intent of returning them.

        • Jonny

          Only available in the UK

    • DJ

      Well, this game was made by the guys that made The Order, soooo…..

    • CURTROCK

      I have already gotten 20 hours of free Kick-Ass gameplay out of the beta. Without a doubt the best VR experience yet. I bought the game just to show my appreciation and support the Devs. Forty dollars for a 4 hour cutting edge VR campaign(Lone Echo), and endless re-playability with Echo Arena? Seems like a pretty good deal to me. I just wanna help to make sure Devs like this get rewarded so they can be around to make their next VR title. Seems to me they could charge $40 just for Echo Arena and it would still be the best VR value proposition so far.

      • David Mann

        they need a forum for the game, been stuck in the big ship can’t find
        the last out of three power cells to start the generator to wake up the
        crew. Games getting boring now that I’m in the big ship way to much time
        spent flying around the, reminds me of (star trek the movie) how boring
        that was. The game is great until you game to the big ship

        • Ugur

          Hey, maybe you found it meanwhile, but just in case you didn’t: So you know the center area there (where on one side there is also the element where you have to put in the 3 power cells), when you fly around that central pole, there are some large container like rounded containers. You can open the containers on their right side by using that lever handle. In one of those containers you’ll find the 3rd power cell. And yes, i searched around quite a bit for that one, too at first =( =)

  • OkinKun

    Considering how long I’ve been waiting for this game.. I really expected it to be more than 4 hours long.. That just seems cruel or mismanaged, how can they create such an amazing game, but not find enough content to fill a game closer to 10 hours long?? How is that possible?
    I’m still a huge fan of this game.. But I’m a bit disappointed about this.. VR NEEDS games like this that are more like 10+ hours.. And until we regularly have games like THAT, it’s still going to be hard to convince people that VR games are worth the high entry costs of the hardware.. :/

    • cole

      I don’t know if you have a psvr but I played all of Resident evil 7 in vr and that was truly an incredible experience. I hope they get it onto rift/vive soon because its a 7-10 hour vr spectacle (hopefully it will be even better with the higer quality headsets and systems. Only downside is it will still probably only use a standard controller.

  • Christian Ortiz

    The game is badass, and worth the price, especially since it comes with lone arena

    I recommend it especially at $35

    • polysix

      echo arena

      • elev8d

        I thought echo arena was free for anyone that installed it already though?

        • polysix

          echo arena is free for 3 weeks (download within 3 weeks = free forever), yes. No need to buy lone echo to get echo arena. The guy probably meant it was worth it to show support but as echo arena is free I’m not sure what great reward those who actually BUY lone echo are getting for that money. This game should probably be around £15 not £30 (uk) even if it is highly polished. Once echo arena is no longer free? sure put it back up to £30 because then the two game combo is more worthy than currently.

  • chienDISQ

    As i’m very sensitive to motion sickness, i’m curious how this locomotion system is accepted by a large number of players.

    • blueredgreenyellow

      “I get motion sickness really bad in real life” I like the motion system. I feelt a bit sick at first but after 10min I was good to go. To me it feels a lot like “The Climb” which is my favorite vr game.

    • Frogacuda

      A LOT of research went into it. The 1:1 grab and move thing works (as it did in The Climb) because your body ties it to your hand’s motion. The drifting works as an extension of that because there’s no accelleration and it behaves intuitively in a way the brain accepts. Then there’s a lot of little things, from the texture work, to the graphical effects, to the design of the sets that is made so that it doesn’t create excess visual noise or intense parallax effects. You’ll notice the asteroids, for example, have a kind of simplified plasticky look — this isn’t because they couldn’t make them look more real, as their engine is more than capable, it’s just because they make the game more comfortable that way.

  • Ethan Newman

    At this rate VR will never take off with 4 hour length games, smh.

    • Frogacuda

      It isn’t four hours. I feel like that was a typo or something. Even if you’re rushing it’ll take you 5. It took me 6, and a lot of people took 8.

  • Ugur

    It’s interesting how much opinions can vary =)
    I totally agree with the review regarding the atmosphere, the feel of immersion, really feeling like being that character thanks to the great controls and simulation of the entire body.
    Where we already go apart some is that it already took me a good bit longer than 4 hours so far and i haven’t completed the game yet. At around 6 hours it feels like i’m getting close to the end, but still not there.
    Sure, different people can play through this at different pace, but to me that point of the length is noteworthy since a lot of people in the comments seem to see 4 hours as too short regarding the price and that duration you listed appeared really short to me considering only explored some of the optional missions and am already at around over 6 hours.
    Where i disagree with the reviewer is regarding how he sees the second half part of the game. While i liked the story progression that lead to the more “obstacle course” level structuring of the second half of the game, i enjoyed that gameplay/level design aspect way less than the first part of the game.
    The obstacle course level layouts in the second half of the game to me were only very briefly enjoyable and then got very quickly quite annoying. Especially because the game gives one few hints at that point where the next objective points are so that i had to traverse some areas forth and back more often than would be fun to complete some objectives there.

    But in general i also just liked the exploration on the ship and in zero g in outer space way more and felt like forcing the player through tight corridors later on for longer periods was just basically reducing the main strength of the game, which is the locomotion, feeling like one is floating around in zero g, grabbing onto objects and pushing oneself further etc.
    Anyway, i’ll still complete it because i think i’m close now.
    But if there would be a followup i’d definitively prefer it to be more like the first part of the game than the second.
    Overall i loved the first part of the game and that part in my eyes is a big achievement for VR gaming in general, this excellently working locomotion system, the greatly simulated character, the level of immersion one gets while for example floating around on a satellite fixing the solar panels while one has the saturn with it’s rings behind one and floating around freely in zero g then, grabbing onto objects, pushing oneself in the direction one wants, having super precise controls with the hand trusters etc, that it a very unique experience one can’t easily have without VR right now.

  • MowTin

    I bought the game. It should get a nod for GOTY. It’s not just 4 hours long like some say. Moreover, it’s the most immersive sci-fi experience of any game to date.