If you’ve played Ready At Dawn’s acclaimed single-player, story-driven “Lone Echo” or its excellent esports expansion “Echo Arena,” you’ve experienced the developer’s unique gravity-defying VR gameplay. Introduced in the former title, but further polished in the latter, the mechanic allows players to not only enjoy 360 degrees of freedom within a virtual reality world but to do so without bringing up their breakfast.
As immersive as it is intuitive, the zero-g mechanic, according to the developer’s CEO and creative director Ru Weerasuriya, has become more than just a cool gameplay gimmick. “We actually don’t view it as a game mechanic; it’s more of a game genre, one that’s brought up a story-driven game, a sports-based game, and now a shooter,” he said.
The “shooter” Weerasuriya referred to is “Echo Combat,” Oculus’ and Ready At Dawn’s latest entry in the Echo universe. Described by Weerasuriya as an “objective-based, VR first-person shooter”, the game pits two teams of three against each other in a neon-soaked, Tron-evoking virtual space that will look familiar to anyone who played futuristic Frisbee in “Echo Arena.”
Unlike its predecessor, however, “Echo Combat” trades a discus for an arsenal that wouldn’t seem out of place in a more traditional multiplayer skirmish. During our demo, we unloaded shotguns, sniper rifles, and even grenades into our opponents. It’s more laser tag than “Call of Duty,” of course, but it’s still a far cry from the more rugby- or football-style competition offered in “Echo Arena.”
The game’s single mode sees one team attempting to deliver a payload – in this case, a large pink flamingo that would look right at home floating in a swimming pool – while the other tries to stop them. The aggressors also need to clear three objective points, while pushing the over-sized bird forward within a time limit. The result is quick, tense, tug of war-like games that favor teamwork and communication over lone-wolf tactics.
A big part of this cooperation comes from assembling a team of members whose loadouts complement each other. “Echo Combat” doesn’t use traditional classes, but instead encourages players to craft their own by choosing equipment from a trio of categories – weapons, abilities, and grenades. Weapons include an assault rifle, sniper rifle, and shotgun, while grenades come in the explosive and EMP variety. As for abilities, players can choose a deployable shield or an item that heals their teammates.
Given that we needed to reacquaint ourselves with the zero-g controls and environment, we mostly hung back with the sniper rifle, cherry picking targets rather than diving into the fray. We also favored the shield ability, as pairing mobile cover with ranged attacks made for the perfect marriage. While we didn’t select the healing skill, we’re still grateful to the guy on our team who liberally used it to save our bacon.
As in the previous two Echo entries, “Combat’s” lack of gravity is balanced by the ability to grab onto objects, pull toward them, or push away from them. Toss in other movement options, such as boosters and brakes, and you can start to imagine the potential for creative combat scenarios. We kept our distance as a sniper but still embraced our momentum to float from cover point to cover point. Grabbing ledges, after desperately drifting to avoid unexpected attacks, felt especially rewarding.
We really enjoyed our time behind the scoped rifle, but couldn’t conclude our demo without shouldering the shotgun. As expected, the hand-cannon did monster damage when we were within spitting distance of our targets. This also brought an unexpected change in strategy that saw us closely following the payload, essentially using it as mobile cover. In fact, our most satisfying kills came from surprising targets as we popped from behind the big, brightly-colored bird. The shotgun also paired well with stun grenades, allowing us to stick enemies in place before introducing them to an up-close blast to the face.
Based on our time in “Echo Combat’s” virtual battle zone, it seems the game’s retaining the awesome zero gravity gameplay of its predecessors while evolving it with multiplayer shooter dynamics that left us anxious for more time under the Oculus Rift.
Although it doesn’t yet have a release date, “Echo Combat” will launch as a $9.99 in-app purchase in the Echo VR Lobby. That said, players can begin giving gravity the finger on June 21, when its open beta begins.