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Espire 1: VR Operative, Hands On

A blur of a few weeks ago at PAX I go to go hands-on with Espire1: VR Operative from Digital Lode. On that day the release had been pushed back to a loose ‘pre-xmas’. It felt appropriate to hold back until a day like today, when the launch date was finally announced.

And that Release Date is THIS WEEK! Yes, THIS WEEK!

Here at the Cottage we don’t have an Oculus, which meant I had a learning curve with the demo. That was fine, because Michael from Digital Lode was very confident the game would, with some tweaks, be just as good on the PSVR.

The game has been described as a Stealth VR Shooter, Guy has been dribbling over it for months because to him, it’s Splinter Cell VR. Either way Espire 1: VR will certainly tick some boxes. Given the sci-fi setting and in the stage I played a very steel blue environment it did everything right. The dedicated, small team have worked hard to minimise any motion sickness and levels have been designed with multiple paths.

Be the Game

The immersion level was deep and for me this came down to a sweet narrative detail. As Michael explained to me the Espire itself is a robot and your role as the player is to Virtually Control the machine. This opens up a world of possibilities for the designers and the players, being able to hot swap to other Espire models in the game. Not forgetting to mention the stats and load outs for different models will be useful for different encounters. This adds a puzzle element to some levels as you swap from one unit to the next. I for one can’t wait to see what the other units offer.

Seeing through the eyes of the Espire unit also cleverly explains some of the unique abilities available, for example attaching equipment to your magnetic belt. One of the nice touches was sneaking up behind a guard and actually telling them to freeze. Before grabbing them or knocking them out. Small touches and advances like this move the VR channel forward.

For me there is a nod to Tony Crowther’s Amiga masterpiece Captive. Essentially a sci-fi Dungeon Master, where you ran four droids from a briefcase in your prison cell. In 2019 we are VR worlds away from that but I hold the link to the concept dear.

Little Guys playing in the Big Leagues

Espire1 has been put together by a passionate and driven micro team of developers. The game ‘feels’ like a release from a much bigger studio and deserves some attention. I can only hope the install base on the PSVR gives it a strong showing. I for one will be leaping into an Espire unit this weekend. To stealth, shoot, scan, climb and hack my way out of trouble.

Espire1: VR Operative – it’s VR Splinter Cell, what could go wrong?