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July 2019

Espire 1: VR Operative

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Digital Lode
Release Date: August 2019

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


PC Preview - 'Espire 1: VR Operative'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on June 28, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

In Espire 1: VR Operative you become Espire Agents and use cutting edge Virtual Reality hardware to remote-operate the Espire model 1 drone from the safety of their Control Theatre.

Pre-order Espire 1: VR Operative

There's really no reason to bury the lede here: Espire 1: VR Operative is one of the coolest things I've played at an E3.

In it, you play as a robotic humanoid that you remotely control via VR that has been sent to basically sneak around and live out every Metal Gear Solid power fantasy you've ever had. I played the game for a total of 30 minutes at E3 2019, and since then, I've stopped just short of shaking the rest of the WorthPlaying team and yelling about how much they should go play it for themselves.

The presentation started off very simply with a rundown of the basics. Around your invisible waist is a utility belt, with each hip having a sort of magnetic slot for a sidearm. You can move and look around freely and use each hand interchangeably for several purposes. You can grab a sidearm from your hip or grab the repair tool from your chest to repair your own damage — you are a robot, after all — or use it as a stun baton to shock enemies. You also have a "chest slot" where you can holster a larger weapon.

At first you simply need to navigate forward, checking your corners and keeping an ear out for enemies. The first one that I encountered found me instead, and as the game world slowed down around me, I could just about hear the Metal Gear Solid "This enemy sees you!" noise in my head. This slowed time gave me enough opportunity to line up a shot with my tranquilizer gun and then down him with it. After each shot with that gun, you must use your other hand to grab onto the rear plunger of the weapon to reload it for another use. It's intuitive but requires high accuracy and few enemies to deal with.

I later found a silenced 9mm handgun and promptly started dual-wielding them because if you give me two hands and two handguns, I'm duty-bound to make John Woo proud. Aiming is a matter of finesse, as you do have to line up the sights quite well on a target if you hope to be at all accurate. It's easy enough to get the idea of it thanks to the weapon's red dot sights, but it's hard to master in the middle of a firefight.

Upon climbing a ladder by physically grabbing and pulling upward with alternating hands, I found myself on a raised balcony and learned that if you hold a hand up to your temple and "grab" your head, you can activate a vision mode where you can see enemies through walls. Simultaneously, one of the enemies below started looking for me, and the game was on. I descended and dealt with him by physically crouching and walking under a large machine to get behind him and tranquilize him as well. Upon sneaking up behind enemies, you can also yell, "Freeze!" in real life, and the enemy will drop their weapon and raise their hands.

I did not take that approach. The downed enemy dropped an SMG, and I promptly found another SMG on a nearby tabletop. Finding an assault rifle briefly gave me a crisis of what to choose before I figured that I'd just strap the rifle to my chest and keep rolling with the dual SMGs. It's up to you as the player as to what weapons you want to hold and when; another player I watched used akimbo silenced 9mm handguns for most of his run.

You can reload a weapon by using a free hand to grab a magazine from your belt and slide it into the weapon. My approach was more akin to running the magazine dry and then chucking the weapon aside in favor of either grabbing a new one or using a sidearm. You haven't lived until you're in VR, blindly firing at two different enemies in two different directions with an SMG in each hand. It's up to you to figure out when you want to be Solid Snake and when you want to be John Wick, and Espire 1 is more than happy to oblige either route.

With the SMGs dry and the alarms blaring, it was time to check out the assault rifle. You can use it one-handed, but it's much more stable and easier to handle if you also use your other hand to grab the forward grip. You then must use both hands to orient the weapon, so that you can properly look down the sights and line up shots. After laying waste to a few guards, I found that my previous tactic of "chuck the empties" with weapons had a downside; the number of my guns versus my enemies was not in my favor. I literally bent over to grab the SMG from a downed enemy and proceeded to rake the room with lead practically as I was picking it up from the ground.

The Espire 1: VR Operative demo ended very soon after that, but man, did it ever leave a mark. I'm something of a sucker for a good VR experience, as it seems that many VR games are little more than parlor tricks in game form or have a good idea but limited depth. Espire 1 has so many layers of how you can approach any given situation, and it's nearly mind-boggling that they're all equally viable and fun. It's fun to try and be stealthy, but when it all hits the fan, the game is perfectly designed to let you be a robotic Chow Yun Fat and star in your own action movie.

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