It may not instantly ring any bells for players, but among early VR titles Espire 1 was one of the most ambitious takes on the stealth genre. It launched back in 2019 and Tripwire has just released its sequel, Espire 2. We tested it on a Meta Quest 2 headset.
When developer Digital Lode launched Espire 1, we commented on how it had a few rough edges in our review. What most of the reviews from that time don’t tell you is that the game received a ton of post-launch updates, and it’s actually a bit of a must-play if you’re on PSVR or the original Quest headset now. For that reason, we were excited to meet with Tripwire and Digital Lode a few months ago for a demo of Espire 2, when they traveled all the way across the world from Australia to showcase the game at Gamescom.
Espire 2 wastes little time in showing that it looks to follow the template laid out by its predecessor, with futuristic stealth mechanics that see you take control of a robot body. The opening sequence introduces us to the plot, which is about the OPHIS criminal syndicate that you’re looking to stop. As a special agent, you’ll use these robots (“frames”) to do so, and obviously this premise allow you to do a few things that wouldn’t be humanly possible otherwise. Your mechanical body is a bit of a Swiss army knife, letting you disable enemy defenses and perform repairs.
There are offensive abilities too, the tranq darts that you can shoot at enemies, or a special vision mode that lets you scan the environment, even through walls. There’s a ton of cool stuff to play around with, and our only gripe was that some of your gadgets are so close together that we sometimes grabbed the wrong thing, which can be a bit immersion-breaking. Over time you develop more of a feel for the subtle nuances between how to operate everything though, so the issues fades away as you play.
If you look at the game’s level design, you can tell this isn’t the developer’s first rodeo. Building on their experience with Espire 1, you can discover tons of alternate routes, hiding spots and avenues of approach. Your Espire Visions helps you find these more easily, but it’s nice knowing you can replay levels and try out different things and/or head back to the shadows after a successful attack. This can leave enemies confused, but they’re also not afraid to call in reinforcements, so you have to be careful to keep bodies out of sight as well. You can also opt to go in guns blazing, but unless you take everyone out very quickly this’ll result in an overwhelming number of enemies. In other words – stealth is the way to go whenever you can, even though combat can’t always be avoided.
One very cool mechanic in Espire 2 is the ability to use a limited form of voice control, as the game is able to understand a few phrases. The way this plays out is that you get behind an unsuspecting enemy and force him to drop his weapon and put his hands up, which is of course wonderfully immersive. It’s a shame that this isn’t used more in VR (we also liked it in The Inpatient), but suppose that accents and non-native speaking make it complex to implement. Here, however, it works well and really adds to the experience.
Espire 2 has the polish that that first game missed upon release, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its own faults. If you don’t like replaying a game then you’ll find the campaign relatively short, clocking in at just under four hours. It also feels like, visually, the Quest 2 holds the game back from being a leap forward in terms of visual fidelity – something that’s especially apparent in a few rather bland looking environments, and possibly a trade-off for the relatively large levels you get to play in. These are relatively minor issues though, as Espire 2 is a must-play if you enjoyed the first game – one of the best stealth experiences in VR you can get.