Review – Espire 2
If there’s one genre that has always had the potential to really shine in VR, it’s the stealth genre. Whilst some of them are generally really good, like Budget Cuts or the (rather basic) Hitman 3 VR port, none of them have really stood out and become the Splinter Cell or Metal Gear of the VR systems. Espire was one of the earlier attempts at this, and whilst a solid enough game in its own right, it was lacking in a few areas. Finally, we have Espire 2, but does it finally manage to reach that potential?
Set in the near future you play as POE, an operator part of the ESPIRE program that deploys remotely controlled drones to dangerous zones to complete a variety of missions. You type the game’s story directly in with its VR gameplay. As POE, you must infiltrate a terrorist organisation known as OPHIS and stop their plans before it’s too late.
Espire 2‘s story feels like an afterthought. Something thrown in there to give you an excuse to go to different locations. There’s nothing particularly interesting here, and if you were hoping for a compelling espionage mystery, then you will be disappointed. That’s fine though- most of the dialogue is skippable, and outside a few scripted sections, the story doesn’t bog down the gameplay much at all.
Imagine Splinter Cell in VR, and you are about 90% of the way towards what Espire is. The core mechanics of the game are mostly excellent as you infiltrate enemy bases and avoid detection. Sticking to the shadows and leaning around corners to make sure it’s safe to move feel natural. You can either physically crouch or press the right stick to crouch, as you sneak around carefully constructed levels with multiple access points, vents, and hidey-holes to drop unconscious guards into. Weapons are at your hip or chest, and a multi-tool is attached to each of your arms. For the most part it does control brilliantly, but on the odd occasion, I found myself grabbing a weapon instead of the multi-tool. So just be a little bit more mindful when grabbing items.
Weapon handling itself is passable, if not exactly memorable. Weapons, like pistols and shotguns, feel the way you’d expect, with well-placed headshots taking out most guards. However, SMGs and shotguns feel a little too floaty, and have a fair amount of jank. This isn’t the biggest deal-breaker, though. As a stealth player, I try to avoid these weapons as much as possible. Combat in Espire 2 is functional, but not where it shines.
The biggest change in Espire 2‘s gameplay is with its frames. You might be familiar with Sinder if you played the first game. He is a basic frame that is suited towards combat and knocking guards out with his wrist-mounted tranquilizer darts. Then you have the new frame, known as Sooty. This small frame will be able to go into smaller vents, use noise detectors, and is generally targeted to those going for ghosts. However, even though Sooty is more designed for the stealth purest, I found myself playing as Sinder more often.
There’s also some platforming, with the Espire drones being able to grip onto most metal platforms. This enables you to move around the environment in unique ways and find your own paths. You are also able to use weapons whilst climbing, so taking out a nearby guard or dropping down behind him for a quick stun will work. For the most part, the climbing mechanics work well, with haptic feedback when you manage to grip onto something. You’re even able to mantle up objects by grabbing and pushing your hands towards your hip. However, it’s not perfect, and there’s been a couple of moments when grabbing just didn’t seem to work. There’s also a slight inconsistency in what you are able to grab. Regardless, Espire 2 provides a level of freedom in its movement that creates fantastic stealth sandbox moments.
The coolest trick is surprisingly with voice recognition. Putting your hand up near your mouth will activate voice recognition in the game. You can say a fair number of commands, like “over here”. Or if you are behind a guard: “Where are you friends” or “get down”. It’s a neat immersive addition that surprisingly adds a fair bit to the experience. Don’t worry about knowing the exact commands. Saying something similar typically gets the commands going, regardless. With no additional equipment and using the Quest 2’s default microphone, it worked like a charm. I’m normally not a fan of voice commands, but here in VR, it’s a great touch. It really did make me feel like I was playing a Splinter Cell, which is my ideal VR game.
Whilst the game’s core mechanics are generally fantastic, unfortunately there’s some stuff in Espire 2 that feels rushed. Namely, the AI in this game is completely subpar. It’s a touch too dumb for a solid AI game. Sometimes they won’t spot you whilst in the open, and other times they will spot you from far away. The problem is they seem to always forget what they were doing. In one instance I tried to attract a guard over to me, and he kind of forgot halfway there. It’s even worse if combat kicks off. Enemies will group up and attack you one at a time with no real strategy, and if you lose sight of them they won’t really do much to find you. Simply hiding in a corner will do the trick.
Whilst we have seen games push the graphical limits of Quest 2 to the max, Espire 2 certainly doesn’t, and we have a game that looks incredibly uneven and sometimes incredibly ugly. It has some low-resolution textures that are just awful to look at, especially since you will be getting fairly up close to them. Thankfully, at the very least performance is solid, with no drops. It’s a smooth experience throughout.
In terms of comfort, I played with all the comfort settings turned off and found it to be a really pleasant experience. Espire 2 doesn’t do anything crazy with its design to make it an intensive VR experience. If you are reasonably comfortable with VR shooters, then Espire 2 will provide no problems at all. Especially if you play it slow and methodically; observing guards’ paths and staying out of the line of sight. You can play the game either standing or sitting with a vignette, if you demand some comfort settings.
Espire 2 is exactly what I want in a VR game. A stealth infiltration game that makes you feel like a badass. It has some fun sandbox-like environments that showcase some of the best VR gameplay I’ve had the pleasure of playing. However, it’s not perfect thanks to a lacklustre story, terrible AI, and muddy visuals. Despite those issues, it’s still very much worth your time.
A lot of locations are just boring to look at with brutally low-resolution texture work that just looks muddy and unfinished. Thankfully, it does run great as a result though.
If you play Espire 2 like Sam Fisher. Stalking enemies in the dark and trying to ghost it’s an absolute blast However, if combat kicks off it sticks way behind the competition
Nothing about Espire 2‘s sound design sticks out with mediocre voice acting and lacking environmental sounds.
Espire 2 is so close to being a great game. However, rough AI, a bad story, and muddy visuals do bring the experience down a couple of notches.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Espire 2 is available now on Quest 2.
Reviewed on Quest 2.
A copy of Espire 2 was provided by the publisher.