Worth playing | Quest 2 VR Review
VR is great for a variety of genres, but good stealth games are a rarity. Hitman VR ended up being a simple VR mod, and the first Exhale the game, while solid, didn’t capture my interest. It was fiddly to control and never reached the heights of a non-VR stealth title. Getting stealth gameplay right in VR is challenging, and I can only think of a few titles that succeeded in getting stealth to feel right in VR. Phantom: Covert Ops and Jurassic World Aftermath come to mind as good examples. Espire 2 wants to claim this crown, and it has quite a few things going for it, such as voice commands and intuitive, gesture-based controls. There are some really fun moments and stages, but the execution could use some improvement.
Espire 2 starts off strong by throwing us into an infiltration mission on an enemy missile base. The setup is great for VR, as we’re not penetrating the walls of enemy war facilities; we remotely control a robot via headset. The game continues the story of the first title and jumps into a story of high military stakes. The story, mostly told through our communication device, is a largely forgettable culmination of clichés, but it pulls off well Metal Gear Solid memories, which is a lofty goal for a VR game. Alas, it doesn’t come close to the high standard in terms of story – and only partly in terms of gameplay. Espire 2 has some neat tricks up its sleeve, and at best feels like a competent stealth VR game that’s noticeably held back by running on Quest 2.
Espire 2‘s gameplay follows the tried and true stealth format. Enemy bases are filled to the brim with guards, and ideally you’ll get in and out without killing anyone. Avoid security systems like turrets or cameras and pit guards against each other to take them out one by one. Each mission is its own stage and scores you based on performance, such as whether you are spotted and how many guards were eliminated (if any). This is where most of the challenge comes from, as the missions are often easy, unless you want a perfect rating, which isn’t too challenging either. Brute force can usually solve any problem – at the expense of good judgement.
This was essentially the same problem with the first game, but Espire 2 changes the approach slightly by providing two different robot frames to control. Sinder is a fairly large mechanical contraption that can handle assault rifles, carry guards out of sight, or knock them out. It also comes with some handy calming darts. Sooty, on the other hand, is a much smaller frame in terms of stealth. Sooty has access to smaller vents, is much harder to detect and comes with a decoy that we can control via voice commands to distract enemies from afar.
Once you’ve made it through the intro mission, it’s up to you to choose which operator to use, and each of the seven stages can be completed with either. If you choose Sinder, it’s more akin to the previous game with the same pitfalls of being able to shoot your way out of a bad situation. Using Sooty is much closer to a true stealth experience. I enjoyed both and took advantage of the freedom that the levels in Espire 2 made sure of.
We’ve certainly had some great releases on Quest 2, like the absolutely gorgeous one Red matter 2but Espire 2 looks very tough at times. There are sharp edges everywhere, and there are low levels of detail on enemies and the environment. There are some moments that are clearly designed to be massive set pieces, but the low-poly representation often works against the epic sights it wants to portray. That’s the most disturbing part for me, and I’m not usually thrown off by the visuals.
The most frustrating part of the experience is the AI which often, for lack of a better term, seems brain dead. Alerted search teams run aimlessly across the map, sight cones are very forgiving, and even when spotted, there’s usually enough time to retreat and regroup. It’s not bad, but it can feel too forgiving at times.
The design and controls are quite excellent. Espire 2 on Quest 2 might not look too impressive, but it has some fun ideas for how a VR stealth game should be played. Some levels are open-ended and allow several different approaches, based on the two different operators and the player’s preferences. There’s always something to climb, a valve to find, or a camera to disable to move forward. This is where the game shines brightest. It’s not necessarily a long journey to complete the seven available chapters; someone can run through them in a couple of hours. I appreciate the replayability and the freedom to feel like an actual operator making choices in the moment.
But most importantly, Espire 2 tries out a new approach when it comes to interacting with enemies and the environment. Activating a terminal is done by arbitrarily hacking your hands on an imaginary keyboard, and raising your hand to your temple grants x-ray vision to tag and track enemies through walls. Flipping one of Sinder’s wrists reveals a taser that doubles as a repair tool to restore health and to hack enemy weapons. Add to that the tranquilizer darts shooting out of Sinder’s arms or Sooty’s decoy, and you’re well equipped even when no gun is taped to your chest.
The movements alone make a few moments in Espire 2 feel infinitely cooler than they have any right to be, and that’s even before you figure out the voice command system. Raising a hand to your mouth activates voice recognition, meaning you can sneak up on enemies and command them to drop their weapons, get on the ground and incapacitate them. While it’s obviously limited to a handful of commands, it worked surprisingly well throughout. The lure uses a similar voice command system for distractions, so either way you’ll find yourself yelling for imaginary enemies. Do not worry; the game has a text-based system that replaces voice commands if you choose. Of course, it also has the usual VR comfort options, based on how well you deal with motion sickness.
As a sum of its parts, Espire 2 is a very solid VR stealth game that is only held back by a few issues, but those issues usually interfere with the player’s enjoyment. The rough visuals and AI never made me buy into this otherwise well-executed stealth fantasy. It has good ideas, all of which are well done, but they wear out quickly with repeated playthroughs. If you have a friend to play with, Espire 2 also offers the ability to play missions cooperatively, so that may be a reason to rank Espire 2 slightly higher, but the overall game remains the same. Ultimately, Espire 2 does some impressive things with VR controls and offers great open level design, but it’s not an overly long gameplay experience and it feels rough around the edges.
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