As once a member of the vast conglomerate that are the VR skeptics, there would need to be not one, not two, but a sufficient array of IPs and titles that could prove Virtual Reality has a place in this industry to shift my view. If not a complete changing of the guard, a nice supplement and addition to stand alongside the conventions of PC and console gaming. Developers would thus have to prove they can deliver a wide [enough] variety of ideas to flesh the technology out, and signal also to the wider community, this is not simply some brief spike in the ‘hot trending’ carousel of ever-advancing hardware.
Coatsink Software’s Esper 2 — a follow-up to last year’s title of a similar name (minus the ‘2’ obviously) — puts you in the role of the latest agent recruit in the enigmatic ESPR organisation, an agency tasked with dealing with the outbreak of telekinetic abilities among certain pockets of the populous. While the developers talk about venturing to numerous and vastly-arrayed locations, it’s important to note that the preview build I played centred around my character’s very first days as a telekinetic agent. As such, the environments shown off, were of a slick if possibly obtuse attire that never quite revealed the true intent or nature to what was currently taking place plot-wise. Imagine the deceivingly clean and slick aesthetic to a game like Portal and you’ll have a closer idea as to where Esper 2 kicks proceedings off.
But the power of VR helps unify all those dangling, niggling feelings of uncertainty and with a first-person perspective on show, there’s something allthemore palpable about how these advanced, work-safe environments come off. While it may not be the first title to incur a significant feeling of cranial disconnect, angling my head down; for a split-second believing that I couldn’t feel my legs because my in-game self wasn’t seen to have any; to find the rotating office chair I was sat in — but in fact, wasn’t — complete with occasional swivel here and there to the cue of my rotating glance, Esper 2 cleverly and successfully pulls you into its World. A glaringly obvious objective for virtual reality you’ll likely say, but there are few titles [so far] out there that really do feel like they’re breaking down the barrier between realities. Between myself holding a controller with an Oculus Rift attached to my face…and the virtual me curiously looking around my perfectly-circular, three-sixty-degree environment wondering where the hell that last sphere has rolled and wandered off to not off-screen, but out of view.
But in a purely gameplay perspective, Esper 2 manages to be mechanically simple but compelling enough to warrant a degree of thought. As one inherent in the art of telekinesis, players are able to move and manipulate specified objects simply by tapping a face button and moving their gaze around the room. The distance of the object is, again, determined by the analog stick as is the power of one’s ‘throw’ — the closer the object, the further it will fly. The challenge then is to carry a series of objects to their desired platforms and while early challenges require the player to simply rotate their glance, as noted, later sections have you determining elements such as depth/distance and angle of trajectory to hit specific targets. Barriers and moveable walls will also stand in the way of your telekinetic skills, hence the need to determine speed and power of one’s throw is never too far away. As is the interaction and manipulation of certain barriers to carry objects through tunnels and from the other side of glass walls.
All of this sounds basic on paper, but it’s how the game structures puzzles and how it specifically takes to depth and positioning of certain obstacles that allows VR to feel even more like an intriguing alternative to, say, simply pushing buttons on a gamepad. Yes, the game still requires a controller and the ‘virtual’ interactions do indeed rely exclusively on visual and spatial changes, but there’s one even more critical pointer to take away from this…and the very reason why I’m here claiming Esper 2 as but one more note-worthy title that proves VR’s relevance. And it’s simply the fact I want to play more of it. Esper 2 may not have much variety or indeed complexity to its gameplay, but the immersion and indeed simple act of looking/feeling as if you are part of the tale being told, is enough to warrant further looks into the game’s later environments and indeed how such first-person puzzle design can possibly evolve. Esper 2 is out now for Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear.