‘Echo Combat’ Review – Going Out Guns Ablazing in Zero-G

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Echo VR just welcomed its newest addition to the zero-g family, the VR team shooter Echo Combat. If you haven’t been around for the multiple open betas, then Echo Combat is going to present you ample opportunity to curse at children, and go out  guns ablazing in a blind fury as you shoot and take cover, possibly smacking your walls in the process.

Echo Combat Review Details:

Official Site

Developer: Ready at Dawn
Publisher: Oculus Studios
Available On: Oculus Store (Rift)
Reviewed On: Rift
Release Date: November 15th, 2018

Gameplay

Like Ready at Dawn’s free sport game Echo Arena (now under the Echo VR umbrella), Echo Combat focuses on fast gameplay, which thanks to its ingenuous locomotion scheme, provides some pretty great opportunities to experience a gameplay speed that approaches its flatscreen shooter counterparts.

If you already know how to move around in Echo VR, skip the next paragraph for more meaty bits. In case you haven’t had a go with Echo Arena or the studio’s adventure game Lone Echo (2017) though, here’s a quick rundown of how you move about:

As a combat android, you’ve got a few tools at your disposal— a thruster on each wrist that lets you maneuver around the map, air brakes and a boost function with a short cool-down period. Finer locomotion though is accomplished by physically grabbing on to, and pushing off of the walls and obstacles that litter the arena-style maps. I’ll get more into this in Comfort section, but it’s safe to say after tens of hours in both Echo VR games that it’s an extremely comfortable and immersive way to move around the game’s appropriately crenelated maps.

 

Divided into two four-player teams (orange and blue), the game currently boasts four classic primary weapons, all of which are single-handed pistols; a fully automatic pulse gun, a shotgun, a powerful single shot pistol with laser sight, and a slow but very powerful rocket launcher. Another option was greyed out, hinting at a fifth weapon yet to come.

These weapons are pretty standard fare for shooters in general, but instead of needing to constantly reload and manage ammunition spent, you’re given a pretty lengthy cool-down period for each gun, making it so every shot counts and making every interaction important to survival. Friendly fire is off, so trigger discipline is key. More than once I’ve been caught in a cross-fire, sending me shooting wildly to only overheat my gun and be forced to scramble behind cover. It’s a nice circumvention of the standard trope, i.e. hunting for valuable pickups and camping armor spawns. As it’s grown slowly through the preceding betas, it feels like Ready at Dawn has put the word ‘balance’ above all others.

Image courtesy Ready at Dawn

Secondary weapons and support tools also offer a similar balance to players, with nearly each having a practical counter; e.g. you can arc heal, but also do arc damage via a stun weapon, you can scan for enemies and also go into a no-weapons stealth mode and sneak behind enemy lines, etc.

Controls are dead simple. Guns are attached to your dominant hand for the entire time, meaning you can grab onto anything you please without having to holster. I thought I would miss out on the realism factor here, but in the end it just removed unnecessary complexity to the task of getting around and ganking enemy fools. Secondary weapons are also simply deployed by reaching behind your shoulder and physically tossing them in the general direction of the enemy. Boost and air brakes activated by depressing the directional sticks, both of which are easily activated in the middle of a gunfight.

Image courtesy Ready at Dawn

A handy spectator mode is available now too, letting you pop into a game and maneuver around the map normally, albeit as an invisible, mute ghost that can see all players outlined in their team’s respective colors. This could be valuable for both eSports competitions, and also getting an up-close, consequence-free look at what tactics the best players are using.

Overall it’s an absolute blast, but gameplay-wise I have a few minor gripes at this point. Echo Combat only offers three maps and only two gameplay modes, Payload and Control Point. For a $10 game that’s not the worse thing ever, although I can see myself needing more of everything in the immediate future. Minor gripes continue:

Since I’ve played each beta leading up to launch, I was excited to get into the newest map ‘Dyson’, but the only public match option available currently is Quick Match, requiring me to play whatever map was randomly chosen by the game. It took me nearly an hour of playing on the previous two maps until I finally got in by chance alone. The beauty of Echo VR is you can hop in for just a few minutes of fun and hop back out again, but there’s a distinct lack of user control here that makes this difficult. A voting mechanic would ultimately solve this, but with no such one in place you’re left at the mercy of Echo Combat’s mysterious match-making system.

Image courtesy Ready at Dawn

Finally, and this is something that all multiplayer games suffer from, the trolls. You know the type—they grope, blare loud music, and generally act like children in adult bodies. The studio has my sympathies, because it just seems like there’s no clear path to dealing with annoying people when you need to rely on them to get an all important boost, heal, etc.

If the match-making system allowed you to play multiple games in a row with the same players though, you might be able to kick a troll and fill their spot with another user from the lobby, but alas, after every complete match you’re foisted back to the lobby to again face whatever turd landed in your virtual punch bowl moments before.

Immersion

This isn’t really fit for any section in particular, but I found it deeply telling of what’s to come in VR.

Ready at Dawn has made the game’s purchasing process stupid simple, as you can even buy it from an in-game terminal just by pushing a button, automatically returning to a secure Oculus screen and inputting your PIN, and then returning back to see access was effortlessly granted—zero waiting for downloads if Echo VR is already up to date.

Image captured by Road to VR

I can’t help but imagine that other games will follow suit because of just how compelling of an idea it truly is. And on launch day, practically everyone was playing Echo Combat and chatting about tactics, taunting each other for losses, etc. While I was already there with the intent to play, it’s easy to see just how alluring the idea is of sticking you in a lobby of excited, like-minded people all wanting to push the big ‘purchase’ button.

This creates an interesting dynamic, as I leaned over and asked someone at the terminal in the main lobby area whether I should buy it or not. He gave a resounding ‘yes’ before being spirited away to his own Echo Combat match.

Image courtesy Ready at Dawn

As for the game itself, danger always gives and edge to VR games in general, but that goes doubly so thanks to the effortless locomotion scheme, shooting mechanic, and secondary weapon deployment.

Probably my only serious break in immersion was hitting the walls of my home office. Make sure you have plenty of room, or at least develop some serious guardian discipline, because it’s really (really) easy to lose yourself.

Comfort

Like its older siblings, Echo Combat excels in user comfort thanks to its unique ‘grab the world to move’ scheme the series has become famous for. It also features snap-turning for standard sensor layout and 360 support for users with more than two sensors.

This is also primarily best experienced standing, although with enough room in front of you, you can also play seated without issue.



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