Review – Espire 1: VR Operative
Espire 1: VR Operative has been on my anticipated list ever since I got to play a slice of it at E3 2020. My impressions of that demo still ring true today as I’m playing the full game and thankful that the final product is as good as I was hoping. Since VR’s big resurgence I have been hoping a studio would make a true espionage, 007 Goldeneye, Metal Gear Solid type game with stealth as a focus. Stealth is one of my favorite genre’s and Espire 1 does not disappoint in providing stealth options.
The story itself is fairly generic and won’t be something that you walk away remembering. It’s your standard terrorist group infiltrating a national security agency looking to steal their superhuman tech. As the player you will be playing as one of the high tech Espire 1 robots tasked with defending the tech and wiping out the terrorist threat. While there are clear Metal Gear Solid inspirations in here gameplay wise, the story does not bother with complexity. However, once you’re in the throw of the missions the gameplay is fun enough to where you won’t care why you’re killing these generic bad guys.
Gameplay and level design is where Espire 1 truly shines with the breadth of options it provides the player. This is also enhanced by the immersion VR brings to the table as well. Essentially anything metal is climbable by approaching and grabbing it. This allows so much freedom maneuvering around environments and getting the drop on enemies, as well as feeling awesome. Climbing up the metal piping in the corner to get up to the air ducts, swinging along the bottom of the air duct to then pull out a dart gun and shoot an enemy below feels bad ass.
There are also a few ways to observe your surroundings and plan an attack as well. You have Espire Vision which is much like Batman‘s Detective Vision where you can see enemies and traps through walls. Or if you want to go the more hardcore route, you can use the cameras in your hands. Each hand has a camera built into it allowing you to peek your hand out and check around corners. Or if you need to get a big point of view, you can grab your hand camera and throw it turning it into a remote camera wherever it lies. You can then tag enemies while viewing the camera helping you keep track of positions.
If you run out of your sleep dart gun ammo, you can stealth knock out enemies. This usually involves sneaking up from behind and yelling “FREEZE!” to get them to raise their hands in defeat. If you choose to not use the mic feature, which I kind of recommend, you can just equip a weapon and aim it at the back of their head. You can them strip their gun and donkey punch them unconscious, which just tickles my fancy every time I do it. Grabbing dead or knocked out bodies and hiding them is also important as you’ll likely be baiting enemies where you can get the drop on them.
Baiting enemies is pretty easy as you can yell into the mic, throw an extra magazine, really you can throw just about anything to get there attention. Just like any good stealth game, distractions are extremely important as well as taking your time. If things don’t go as planned, you can enable a short bullet time effect that allows you precision in a shot or a quick knock out maneuver if you’re out of ammo. This effect is super helpful especially when handling multiple enemies.
When your stealth goes sour, and it WILL go sour, you can easily go full assault and take on a room of enemies if you’re smart. You can find a hiding spot and let them cool down and get back to their normal patrols, or you can go full John Wick. The aiming is accurate in VR, but the recoil can kick your ass which I appreciate. Within levels there are some hidden special weapons that you can range from new weapons or current weapons, but with attachments. When picked up you can then equip them at mission start when you replay missions or challenges.
After each mission, of which there are six of all clocking in around an hour depending on how stealthy you want to be, you will be scored. How the game scores you is based on how much money in damages you create. So it encourages stealthy playthroughs with minimal combat. After you complete a mission you can replay it with harder objectives. As you progress you’ll also unlock additional challenges that task you with scenarios where you must adhere to specific gameplay styles. When you do better in a level and earn more, you will unlock cheats to increase replay value. Just some fun old fashioned styled cheats not barred by MT’s or anything. Fun things like a golden gun, big head mode, tiny espire, zero gravity, neutron bullets, army men, and many more.
Not everything is perfect gameplay wise, however. The AI can sometimes either be very dumb or have eyes like a freaking hawk. If you’re not crouched it seems like they have an auto lock to see you even if you’re just peeking a corner. I have had enemies spot my hand peeking around when they were twenty yards away. This is why I also suggest turning the mic feature off, because if you make any sound or have a loud house, you’ll alert everyone unintentionally. Then on the other hand I have been sneaking and a guard won’t see me at all from a fairly close distance. Also, the AI can be a bit dumb where you can bait them around the same corner and dispatch them one by one as they see the bodies pile up.
Visually Espire 1 isn’t a knockout, but it does have a nice clean look to it with well detailed items. All the weapons and items, character models, and main things you interact with are all well done. Some textures for walls and random items littered around can have a low quality look, but it doesn’t pull you out of the experience as it mostly looks great. Enemy and level variety are what was lacking for me. Not that the levels are laid out poorly, they are actually well done in that aspect, but there were no really cool visual elements that caught my eye.
Sound design is a bit hit or miss when it comes to how it was handled. The bits of voice acting featured here is decent, but repeated dialogue can get annoying. During shoot outs you’ll constantly be reminded that you have taken bullets and need to repair, and it got annoying after a bit. The various sound effects from guns, foot steps, and other general audio soundbites are all well done, but the soundtrack itself lacks a bit. There weren’t any tunes that really pulled me in, but there is a familiar sound to it that reminded me of Goldeneye.
Espire 1 has all the ingredients to be a fantastic game and for the most part it nails everything it strives for. It is the stealth espionage game I have always wanted and I’m thankful Digital LODE created this. It may needed a bit more polish with the AI and I would have liked to see more variety in the levels, but that’s what a sequel is for. If you’re looking for your next stealth fix that injects inspiration from MGS and Goldeneye then you need to pick Espire 1: VR Operative up.
Visuals show off some nice up close details, but some environments can look a bit too similar.
There is an immense set of gameplay options and tools at your disposal that make each mission and situation very intriguing and rewarding.
Sound design is serviceable with guns and various sound effects accurate and not out of place. Positional audio needs some work, and there is nothing really impressive with the soundtrack.
This is the stealth VR game I have always wanted with clear inspirations from Metal Gear Solid and Goldeneye. Some AI issues keep Espire 1 from being phenomenal.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Espire 1: VR Operative is available now on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index, and PSVR.
Reviewed on Oculus Rift.
A copy of Espire 1: VR Operative was provided by the publisher.