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Espire 2

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Digital Lode
Release Date: Nov. 17, 2022

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Quest 2 VR Review - 'Espire 2'

by Andreas Salmen on Jan. 2, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Espire 2 combines the tactical precision of modern stealth titles with the unprecedented immersion of VR, further expanding upon the experience of its predecessor.

VR is a great fit for a range of genres, but good stealth games are a rarity. Hitman VR ended up being a simple VR mod, and the first Espire game, while solid, didn't capture my interest. It was convoluted to control, and it never reached the heights of a non-VR stealth title. Implementing proper stealth gameplay in VR is challenging, and I can only think of a few titles that succeeded in making stealth feel right in VR. Phantom: Covert Ops and Jurassic World Aftermath come to mind as excellent examples. Espire 2 wants to claim this crown, and it has quite a few things going for it, such as voice commands and intuitive, gesture-based controls. There are some truly fun moments and stages, but the execution could use some improvements.

Espire 2 starts out strong by throwing us into an infiltration mission on an enemy missile base. The setup is a great fit for VR, since we aren't penetrating the walls of enemy war facilities; we control a robot remotely via headset. The game continues the story of the first title and jumps into a tale of high military stakes. Told mostly through our comms device, the story is a largely forgettable culmination of clichés, but it triggers great Metal Gear Solid memories, which is a lofty goal for a VR game. Alas, it doesn't get close to that high benchmark in terms of story — and only partially in terms of gameplay. Espire 2 has a few neat tricks up its sleeve and, at the best of times, it feels like a competent stealth VR game that's noticeably held back by running on the Quest 2.

Espire 2's gameplay follows the tried-and-true stealth format. Enemy bases are filled to the brim with guards, and ideally, you get in and out without killing anybody. Dodge security systems like turrets or cameras, and pit guards against each other to take them out one by one. Each mission is its own stage and scores you based on performance, such as whether you get detected and how many guards were eliminated (if any). This is where most of the challenge comes from, since missions are often easy, unless you want a perfect rating, which is also not too challenging. Brute force can usually solve any problem — at the cost of a nice rating.

This was essentially the same issue with the first game, but Espire 2 changes the approach slightly by providing two different robot frames to control. Sinder is a rather large mechanical contraption that can handle assault rifles, carry guards out of sight, or knock them out. It also comes with some handy tranquilizer darts. Sooty, on the other hand, is a much smaller frame with stealth in mind. Able to access smaller vents, Sooty is much tougher to detect and comes with a lure that we can control via voice commands to distract enemies from afar.

Once you get through the intro mission, it's up to you to choose which operative to use, and each of the seven stages can be completed with either. If you choose Sinder, it's more akin to the previous game with the same pitfalls of being able to shoot yourself out of a bad situation. Using Sooty, it's much closer to a true stealth experience. I enjoyed both and took advantage of the freedom that the levels in Espire 2 provided.

We've certainly had some great-looking releases on the Quest 2, like the thoroughly beautiful Red Matter 2, but Espire 2 looks very rough at times. There are sharp edges everywhere, and there are low levels of detail on enemies and the environment. There are some moments that are clearly designed to be massive set pieces, but the low-poly representation frequently works against the epic views it wants to portray. It's the most disruptive part for me, and I'm not usually thrown off by visuals.

The most frustrating part of the experience is the AI that often, for lack of a better term, acts brain-dead. Alerted search teams run aimlessly across the map, sight cones are very forgiving, and even when spotted, there's usually enough time to pull back and regroup. That's not bad, but it can feel too forgiving at times.

The design and controls are quite excellent. Espire 2 on the Quest 2 might not look overly impressive, but it has a few fun ideas about how a VR stealth game should play. Some levels are open and allow for multiple different approaches, based on the two different operatives and the player's preference. There's always something to climb, a vent to find, or a camera to deactivate to move forward. This is where the game shines the brightest. It's not necessarily a long journey to complete the seven available chapters; some may run through them in the span of a couple of hours. I appreciate the replayability and freedom to feel like an actual operative making choices in the moment.

Most importantly, though, Espire 2 tries out a fresh approach in terms of interaction with enemies and the environment. Activating a terminal is done via indiscriminately hacking your hands on an imaginary keyboard, and raising your hand to your temple provides X-ray vision to tag and track enemies through walls. Flipping either of Sinder's wrists exposes a taser that doubles as a repair tool to recover health and to hack enemy weapons. Add to that the tranquilizer darts that shoot out of Sinder's arms or Sooty's lure, and you're well equipped even when no gun is taped to your chest.

The gestures alone make some moments in Espire 2 feel infinitely cooler than they have any right to be, and that's even before you figure out the voice command system. Raising a hand to your mouth enables voice recognition, which means you can sneak up to enemies and command them to drop their weapons, get on the ground, and incapacitate them. While obviously limited to a handful of commands, it worked surprisingly well throughout. The lure uses a similar voice command system for distractions, so either way, you'll find yourself yelling for imaginary enemies. Don't fret; the game has a text-based system to replace voice commands if you choose. Of course, it also sports the usual VR comfort options, based on how well you deal with motion sickness.

As a sum of its parts, Espire 2 is a very solid VR stealth game that is only held back by a few issues, but those issues usually interfere with the player's enjoyment. The rough visuals and AI never got me to buy into this otherwise well-executed stealth fantasy. It has good ideas, which are all done well, but they quickly wear thin with repeated playthroughs. If you have a friend to play with, Espire 2 also offers the ability to play missions cooperatively, so that may be a reason to rank Espire 2 a bit higher, but the overall gameplay remains the same. Ultimately, Espire 2 does some impressive things with VR controls and offers some great open-level design, but it isn't an overly long game experience, and it feels rough around the edges.

Score: 7.3/10

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