Coatsink’s Esper has received a considerable amount of attention since its release as part of the Gear VR Innovator Edition’s line-up, with an Oculus Rift edition and sequel having subsequently been announced. Now, as part of the catalogue of videogame titles available alongside the consumer edition of the Gear VR, Esper stands as one of the most unique and inventive puzzle titles available for mobile virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts, offering a palatable first look at the strengths of the new medium.
Esper casts the player as part of a human experiment. Equipped with psychic powers, the player must endure a series of tests of the telekinetic abilities. Using only the head-look and built-in touchpad of the Gear VR the player will go through a series of challenges designed to test their forethought and judgement within a single room, all the while being observed and cajoled by a disembodied voice.
As would be expected the tests begin very simply. The player must move a Rubik’s Cube around the environment, tapping the touchpad to pick it up and release it, turning their head to move it along the 2D plane and swiping the touchpad for depth. Soon the player is tasked with moving balls through glass tubes to reach an exit, pushing glass blocks out of the weigh and tackling impenetrable walls. Esper makes a good job of signposting which elements the player can and can’t use to solve each of its many puzzles and then relying on the player to analyse the challenge from start-to-finish.
The difficulty of Esper is pitched near-perfectly. The difficulty appears to ramp up with alarming regularity throughout its short duration, but it’s only ever a short amount of trial-and-error until the solution becomes obvious and, like the best puzzle videogame experiences, once discovered you’ll wonder why you didn’t see the path to success sooner.
Esper is a hugely appealing presentation aurally and aesthetically. The well designed interior environment in which the whole experience takes place is clean and given just enough character to be believable without being distracting, while the objects with which you interact feel solid. The narrator of the experience delivers his many one-liners and subtle digs with the convincingly disheartening humour of Norm MacDonald (My Name is Earl, Mike Tyson Mysteries, Family Guy). The Esper sequel has already had a number of high-profile voice actors confirmed, but this first outing has set a very high bar for the delivery of the punchy, humorous script.
A wonderful example of not only what makes a good first taste of VR for modern audiences, but also how to best use the input options available on the Gear VR hardware, Esper is one of the most welcoming titles including in the launch line-up for the consumer edition. Let down only by its relatively short duration, Esper remains an attractive proposition with its accessible gameplay and low price tag. UK studio Coatsink are investing significantly in VR, and with this first instance they have already set themselves a high barrier to surpass with subsequent releases.