Gamescom 2022: Espire 2 Hands-on Preview

Cumbersome combat doesn’t mar this co-op, Metal Gear Solid-styled VR experience.

Espire 2 isn’t afraid to wear its inspirations on its sleeve. In fact, when I met developer Digital Lode at Gamescom to try out the upcoming stealth VR title, they admitted as much. But to say the stealth shooter is simply a Metal Gear Solid clone – but in VR – would be doing the game a disservice. While still a little rough around the edges, especially regarding the controls, Espire 2 is a great and immersive experience.

I’ll be honest with you, though – I haven’t gotten around to playing the first game. I know; I can hear your disgust. My editor thinks the same, he’s always saying I should grab some time with it. But with co-op a thing in Espire 2, why should I bother?

Yes, that’s right, Espire 2 has a co-op campaign. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to play through it. However, it’s not hard to imagine what it’s going to be like after I spent 15-minutes sneaking my way around futuristic, baddie-infested warehouses.

 

You get to play as two robots in this game. The first is a tall robot called POE, who’s pretty much the same as the operator from the first one. Where things get interesting is the addition of the smaller character. They’re a teeny-weeny robot that sneaks through little cracks and smaller spaces.

You can see where I’m going with this, right? You’ll load into a level, come across impassable areas, and use the little bot to sneak through vents and unlock progression, to silently take down foes. You’ll also be able to take alternate infiltration routes with the smaller character, diversifying your gameplay.

Speaking about combat, I think this is the bit I felt most divided about during my playthrough. Yes, the guns I picked up and used felt crispy and lethal. But I had a few problems with the stealth dart.

I’m reasonably experienced with VR games, but I found shooting the sleeper dart complex and cumbersome. Effectively, you need to aim with one hand, prime the shot with your other, and shoot with your second hand and then pull a lever on your aiming hand to reload. I’m uncertain why you can’t just aim and shoot with one hand. I totally get the reloading part, but involving an extra hand added to the complexity.

Espire vision – essentially wall hacks – makes its return. And it’s a wonderful tool to plan an attack. It’s activated by simply tapping your head. You’ll then be able to easily see enemies in the surrounding area, study their walking patterns and plan the best way to take them down. For just one opponent, it feels like cheating. But more often than not, Espire 2 throws multiple enemies at you simultaneously.

Flicking through my research on the original, I saw that AI was the most criticized aspect of the game. In some more egregious examples, it was possible to murder an enemy in front of another without the latter actually doing anything. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth in Espire 2. Enemies are vigilant, hunt you in packs, and conduct patrols the minute they have a sniff of you. I foolishly was being quite heavy-footed in one area in my playthrough, and this tipped off an entire combat unit, who immediately boxed me into a vent, while I waited for them to give up.

Some nice additions to the game include holding up enemies. Similar to Metal Gear Solid 2, you sneak up behind a baddie and initiate an interrogation. I tried things like “where are your friends” and “empty your pockets,” to reveal enemy locations and supplies, respectively. It’s a nice addition to the game, making your experience a bit more immersive.

One final thing that surprised me was the comfort settings in Espire 2. I’m a semi-regular VR player, but it takes me a while to get my VR legs back after not using my Quest 2 for a while. 

Espire 2 is full locomotion, but it offers three tiers of comfort settings. I chose the intermediate option, and I had no issues at all moving around in the game. The game sort of blurs things as you move around, giving you the illusion of moving, but without things actually moving on-screen. It’s an effective solution.

I enjoyed my time with Espire 2. I think it’s a solid, enjoyable stealth shooter. It does have a few hiccups that I think need to be resolved before launch – namely around the implementation of combat mechanics. 

I think adding coop gameplay to the franchise is going to really make for some interesting tactical situations. I can see players deep into a run becoming frustrated when cover is blown and having to shoot their way out of trouble, but I think this is a minor issue considering how fun it is to shoot, confuse and hold up baddies.

Espire is available in November 2022 on the Oculus Quest.

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Since my Dad bought me a Master System after a stint in hospital I've been utterly obsessed with video games. Sonic The Hedgehog was my first love, but since then, I've not been fussy with genres - RPGs, FPSs, MMORPGs, beat 'em ups and sports simulators - I play them all.

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