Oculus Game Lone Echo Is the Most Fun I’ve Ever Had in Zero-G
I’m excited about virtual reality for the same reason I was so excited about motion controls: the potential to play videogames that feel different from anything I’ve ever tried before. That makes me especially excited when the two interfaces combine; Lone Echo, announced during today’s Oculus Connect keynote in San Jose, is a perfect example of that synergy.
You’re an astronaut in zero-g, and you move yourself around like an actual astronaut would in such a situation—by grabbing on to the walls, handholds, any surface, and pulling yourself forward. Pull slowly and you’ll leisurely meander through space; pull hard and you’ll shoot yourself off in a direction (hope your aim was good). It should not surprise you that this Rift game will require the $200 Oculus Touch controllers, which will be released on December 6.
If games like Super Mario 64 taught us one lesson, it’s that first and foremost a game about locomotion, it must be fun just to move around aimlessly. Lone Echo nails that right off the bat. I was grinning like a stupid idiot during the tutorial. Grab, push, release, grab, push, release, fly through space. So much fun.
So what do you do, you ask? The demo’s action involves you heading out to repair and realign a sensor (like a giant satellite dish) on the outside of your massive spaceship. So you push and pull yourself along the hull, over to the sensor. You can also thrust by using the buttons on the Touch controllers—this is too slow and far too boring to use for long trips, but lets you be precise (and move when there is no handhold).
Once there, you use your laser cutter to bust into the sensor and rewire it. This is a smartly-designed tool as well. It’s just a handheld device that shoots a laser and can only cut special cuttable things (attempts to hack my friend’s leg off with it were woefully unsuccessful), but to activate it you have to press a button on the inside of your right wrist. That means you have to briefly let go of whatever you’re holding on to that’s keeping you near the thing you need to cut. Just turning your weapon on is a brief moment of tension.
Once the sensor is re-aligned (in the direction of a massive, beautiful, and frightening “space anomaly”), it’s time to throw yourself in the direction of a little transport ship so you can get back to the space station. Just clambering up the side of this thing to orient yourself in its seat is fun.
There is one weird thing I noticed about Lone Echo. You know those optical illusions where a drawing can either look like a rabbit or a duck, but not both? Sometimes while playing, my brain would tell me that I was moving around the environment (rabbit). But other times—perhaps when I had less context around me—it would feel like I was standing still and I was moving the entire environment from one place to another (duck).
Note that this was still fun, in either case. Just that developer Ready at Dawn (The Order: 1886) might look into what causes that illusion to shift back and forth. But I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in an attempt to fix it—the freewheeling fun of pulling yourself around unfettered in space is the key here, and it works surprisingly well for a first proof-of-concept demo.
Lone Echo doesn’t have a release date yet, Ready at Dawn told me after my demo. I’m hoping it’s not too long a wait, because I’m already bored of gravity.