Lone Echo was a groundbreaking VR title when it first launched back in 2017, and when developer Ready At Dawn announced they were working on a sequel it was a game that immediately shot to the top of VR gamers’ most wanted lists. It was delayed a few times – the last time as recent as this August – but the game is finally here and ready for our review.
What’s strange is that installing and booting up Lone Echo II feels like the end of era, namely that of the big PC-VR based exclusives to come from Oculus, who are migrating towards their more accessible Quest line of headsets. It’s a bittersweet move, because as much as we enjoy the Quest it would be naive to assume it will compare to the AAA-like experiences we’ve gotten on the Rift any time soon. And yes, you can pair the Quest with a PC through a cable or wireless connection, but we think the odds of developers making big budget games with that feature in mind are fairly slim for the moment.
Luckily, Lone Echo II is a terrific swan song, if we can call it that. It helps to have played the first game (which was on sale in the period prior to Lone Echo II’s launch), but if you haven’t then you’ll be caught up during the intro sequences anyway. This is a nice bit of service from the developers, though we still recommend playing through the first one before starting your new adventure – just so you feel at home with the characters and their interpersonal relationships again. Even if you have already played it, it’s a good refresher, and it’ll better allow you to appreciate what Ready At Dawn did for the sequel.
The game reintroduces us to android Jack and captain Olivia Rhodes who are traveling aboard a space station orbiting Saturn – a beautiful deep space vista indeed. The sequel ups the ante visually with even more detail to marvel at both inside and outside of the station, for what is one of the best looking VR games ever made. The increased visual fidelity does mean that your cutting edge video card from 2017 or 2018 won’t let you play Lone Echo II at its highest detail settings though, and we’re guessing that a few small visual/performance issues that persist were part of the reason for the delays. The minimum requirement here is a 1080 videocard, but we’d recommend playing with something slightly beefier to get the most out of it, as the game is more demanding than the “trailer experience” released earlier.
When it comes to gameplay mechanics, Lone Echo II stays true to the zero gravity gameplay of the original game – which is hardly a surprise. Expect pulling yourself forward along edges you can hold on to, or using mini thrusters to propel yourself or correct course. Movement is generally slow, so don’t expect anything like Yupitergrad‘s swinging antics here – if you were comfortable in Lone Echo, you’ll be instantly comfortable here as well.
Much of the gameplay and narrative revolves around the “bio mass” that threatens you and the space ship, and dealing with it and its various offspring means avoiding them at first, until you find and/or access the means to fight back. Some of these alien species will be especially aggressive towards Jack because of his android body, so you also need to keep into account how you work together with Jack and Olivia in cleverly designed puzzle sequences.
There are combat scenes as well, but it’s definitely not the emphasis of Lone Echo II, which clearly shows in how these scenes play out. When you get caught by surprise in a sudden attack, selecting and equipping a weapon of sorts is a slow process – slow enough to put Jack in real danger of falling in battle, even though death isn’t permanent for him as he gets reassembled at a nearby fabricator unit each time. Instead of rushing into combat, there’s almost always a better way to approach the enemy.
The heart of the gameplay, however, lies with the audiovisual storytelling that’s on display here. Combined with the stellar production values, the relationship between Jack and Olivia is a touching one, and can be explored in different ways through dialogue choices – showing you different possible sides of Jack’s personality and how Olivia will respond to them. The writing is consistently great, and the humanity that comes across as a result makes Lone Echo II the VR equivalent to games like The Last of Us Part 2 when it comes to storytelling and interpersonal relationships. It doesn’t do things too differently from the first game, but raises the bar on what AAA development in VR can deliver.