Lone Echo Review – Oculus Rift

Welcome to the Rings…or more specifically, welcome to Kronos II, a sophisticated mining vessel nestled among the ice rings of Saturn. In command, Olivia Rhodes is prepping the mining ship for its new commander, you, an Echo Unit android she has fondly named Jack. But as is often the case with any sci-fi story set in deep space, the universe has other plans.

Lone Echo is the latest VR title to come to the Oculus Rift library, and it is easily the best game ever created for the system to date; not just in visual fidelity, but also in pure perfection game design, intuitive control, and complete immersion in the story and setting. With or without VR, Lone Echo is a masterpiece of visionary game design from the seamlessly integrated tutorials, to the perfect mix of exploratory and puzzle-solving gameplay.

The game opens when Olivia brings Jack online. Jack is an AI designed to inhabit a humanoid android shell; a brilliant concept that plays into the multiple lives trope of video games. If Jack takes too much damage he can simply upload his AI to a fresh body and resume his duties. The first hour of the game is a mix of tutorial refresher courses that eases you into the fine art of movement and gadget functionality. As new elements are introduced like your data scanner and cutting torch a tutorial will teach you all about it.

Lone Echo borrows heavily on themes from the movie Passengers; not only in the close relationship that Liv and Jack share, but also in the fact that a nearby anomaly is sending out dangerous bursts of energy that are damaging the ship. First on the agenda is to fix a list of damaged systems along with the overarching “collectible quest” of finding and repairing numerous sensor bots lying dormant in and around the ship.

Perhaps the single best element of Lone Echo is the movement. I’ve played dozens of these zero-G inertia games, in and out of VR, but none of them have come close to what I can only assume it’s really like to be in space. Jack has these tiny wrist jets that provide short bursts of directional thrust, mostly useful for slight course correction. Your primary propulsion is to actually grab the numerous handles around the ship and make realistic “push/pull” motions to slingshot yourself in the desired direction, correcting with wrist jets along the way. Expect a lot of sloppy navigation early on as you bang your head into beams and bulkheads, but you will get better, or at least I hope you do because the third act of the game will test all your skills of precision navigation in zero-G where touching a wall could result in instant “death”.

The first hour or so of the game is a fun series of fixit puzzles where you follow Olivia around securing cargo, repairing the greenhouse, and jettisoning some malfunctioning reactor cores. During this time you will learn how to use your data scanner to read and activate certain data nodes or use your cutting torch to melt away panels and bolts to access controls. These along with your helmet face shield and head lamp are activated with realistic touch motions within the game. The actual Touch controls are limited to your individual wrist thrusters and later on, a turbo boost from an equipped jet pack. Everything else is gripping and touching, which makes the game exceedingly realistic.

The second act will have Jack venturing outside the Kronos II, exploring mining sites, cargo containers, a coms satellite, and even the assembly line processing plant of the mining facility. These points are accessible via a Fury transport with one of several holographic interfaces where you need only point at virtual spots on the diagram to program the autopilot to take you there. What’s especially cool and realistic about this is that the computer will tell you to “hang on” and you really must hang on to the grips or the Fury will fly right out from under you. And if you let go in mid-trip you can just as easily fly out of the convertible cockpit. Even hanging on with only one hand can cause your body to twist crazily during these flights.

Your EVA adventures provide some more scenic exploration and puzzle-solving along with several of those sensor robots hidden about – often far off the beaten path – and yes, there is a point-of-no-return, so if you are out to repair them all do so before you do the thing that can’t be undone – you’ll be warned.   This second act was easily my favorite part of the game and had me feeling like a real astronaut doing real astronaut stuff.

That’s about all I can say without major spoilers. Rest assured that once the anomaly reveals it true nature and the third act kicks in you’re in for a huge twist in both plot, scenery, and even the way you’ve been playing the game. It’s almost like an entirely new game with basic elements that carry over from the first two acts.

Lone Echo is easily an 8-hour game, perhaps longer if you are going after total completion like the repair bots and some other optional side-quests that are added to your mission display. I finished the game in three sessions; the first being two hours, then a five hour marathon, wrapping up with an hour to reach the end. Surprisingly, I never once got sick, even after turning on smooth turning which the game recommends you don’t.   I found the snap-turns to be annoying and took me out of the game, but you’ll need a high-end rig to enable smooth turning. I was playing on a GTX 1080ti.

Admittedly, there were a few parts, mostly in the third act where things got a bit repetitive and the game seemed artificially extended. There is a lot of backtracking and your movements need to be much more precise, which slows travel down in half. The battery-fetching puzzles are mostly the same with only slight changes in scenery, but the final 20 minutes of the game had me on an emotional rollercoaster, all leading up to a very satisfying ending that may (or may not) tease at a future sequel.

Breaking down the tech, the visuals are unlike anything I have ever experienced in or out of VR. The level of 3D modeling and texture detail is beyond comprehension as I sat there with my robot hands in front of my face flexing my fingers watching all the shiny metal and leathery pads of my android construction flex and work just like a real robot. I felt like Luke Skywalker flexing my bionic hand at the end of Empire. Another nice touch is when Jack is exposed to radiation and his body starts to bubble and decay. You can recharge your radiation shield, but eventually you’ll need a fresh body, and there seems to be no penalty for dying.

The same level of detail went into the data scanner that would provide these pull-out disposable touchscreen tablets that you could read and scroll with a swipe of your finger then toss away.   Olivia was so lifelike in her movements and facial expressions. Jack is fully rendered so if you twist your body just right you can see his skinny torso extending out, but mostly you’ll just see his arms and hands, which are nicely animated clear up to your shoulders considering the Rift is only tracking your hands.

The environments are stunning, heavily rooted in realism with plenty of expected handholds required for human(oid) navigation around the ship interior and exterior. There are realistic consoles and holographic data terminals, and even a cool private cabin for Olivia with a fun Easter egg for fans of the movie Demolition Man. The floaty element of zero-G and the feeling of helplessness when you start to drift off course is thrilling, and I wouldn’t be surprised if NASA isn’t using something like this to train astronauts.

The voice acting is superb, with totally engaging performances for Olivia and Jack that really seal their special relationship; not in a creepy romantic way, but as two best friends that are in this to the end. Finding and repairing those sensor bots will also unlock diary logs that will reveal more backstory including how Jack got his name. There are plenty of conversational moments during the game, often giving you multiple responses to slightly steer the narrative.

This is usually the point where I would tell you that Lone Echo is reason enough to purchase an Oculus Rift and Touch combo; especially now that the price has dropped to $400, but nobody is going to spend that much for a single game – even one as mind-blowing as this. But if you do have a Rift/Touch then Lone Echo is an absolute must for your VR library.

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One thought on “Lone Echo Review – Oculus Rift”

  1. Yep! Thanks for an in depth and intelligent review. I recently set up an Oculus Rift S system (essentially for flight simulation) but your review piqued my interest in the Space Narrative form. Not being a great fan of shoot me up games the considered pace of this immersion really works for me, an older user with a wider interest in what makes VR and AI tick.

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