Originally revealed at Oculus VR’s own Oculus Connect 3, San Jose, in October last year, Ready at Dawn’s second virtual reality (VR) title, Lone Echo, has already built a significant amount of anticipation. The studio has been keen to showcase the title at events across the globe, at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Los Angeles, will be no different.
Ahead of the opening of the show floor, VRFocus has been hands-on with Lone Echo’s multiplayer gameplay mode, now separated into a unique title, Echo Arena, which will be free for all Oculus Rift owners to download when it launches next month, courtesy of Intel. That in itself was somewhat of a surprise, but the ways in which the experience has changed since its initial unveiling even more so.
Echo Arena allows for up to 10 players to enter a match, divided into two teams of five. In VRFocus’ experience six players, comprising of two teams of three, took to the arena in a points-based challenge. Similar to CCP Games’ forthcoming Sparc, Echo Arena plays in first-person as each team attempts to push a flying disc into the score zone. The difference however, is that this score zone is a goal, and all players are free to move around it – and the whole map – however they wish.
Lone Echo’s unique momentum system is implemented in full in Echo Arena and, despite its floaty acceleration mechanic, is actually reasonably easy to adjust to. Using your propulsion system you can maneuver your body in a similar fashion to a jet ski on the waters of Wave Race 64 or your space ship in the Gear VR’s Anshar Wars. A significant difference between that first single-player hands-on VRFocus experienced and this multiplayer gameplay is, of course, the addition of other people.
Maintaining control of your own body is actually less fun when there’s the pressure of rival players coming towards you. It may just be another level of adjustment, but the fact that you can directly attack another player – stunning them momentarily with a blow to the head – is currently more irritating than a Mario Kart blue shell on the home straight of a final lap.
Conversely however, managing to navigate the playing field and deliver the disc into the goal is incredibly satisfying. As with any team-based sport the key is ensuring that all bases are covered: opposing players are marked; you have a forward in open space; your goal is defended against counterattacks. Finding an opening and passing the disc across the arena, only to see your teammate drive it into the goal is as rewarding as leading the strike yourself.
Echo Arena has significant ambition. As with the aforementioned Sparc, bringing VR into eSports this early in the life of the new medium is going to be no easy task. However, of all the many videogame titles that have assured they’ll be the one to break the mould, it’s Ready at Dawn and CCP Games that are most likely to attract that highly competitive audience. With a beta test launching later this month, it won’t be long until Oculus Rift owners get the chance to experience Echo Arena for themselves.