Echo Arena and Lone Echo fans were elated last fall when an announcement was made at OC4 that Oculus and Ready at Dawn were working together to create a first-person shooter style game with their popular zero-gravity movement model. After 9 months of waiting, Echo Combat has arrived on the scene in the fashion of a screaming newborn with powerful lungs who you just know is going to make an impact on the world. Before we reveal more details about that, let’s take a look at the Echo universe siblings first.
Games in the Echo Universe
Lone Echo can be best described as a single-player, story-driven game set in deep space. Even before its July 2017 release, the game was winning awards such as Game Critics Award for best VR Game at E3 2017. Not only is the narrative unique and intriguing, but the artwork is stunning. The game, along with Echo Arena, recently won two coveted DICE awards and continues to make users want to know when Ready at Dawn will give them a sequel to the story of Jack and Olivia.
Echo Arena is like the conjoined twin that brings a completely different personality to the Echo universe. Developed alongside the single-player title, Echo Arena is the multiplayer component with team-based sports action. The games were released together, but the multiplayer game was also made available as a standalone title available to anyone when it was sponsored first by Intel and then Oculus to be free forever.
In a wise decision, since many people play Echo games simply to fly around in zero-gravity, the development team for Echo Combat once again used the incredibly polished locomotion mechanic that allows you to fly without feeling nauseous, even though it truly feels like you’re floating in space. You can grab objects – as well as other players, push off walls, and use your wrist thrusters or jetpack to propel yourself through space.
Echo Combat Closed Beta
Recently I had the pleasure of participating in a closed beta for Echo Combat. The game didn’t disappoint. It’s basically the dream game fans told RAD developers they wanted – the ability to shoot each other while flying around in a multiplayer zero-gravity environment.
Echo Arena regulars who float in the lobby and look longingly toward the Echo Combat area will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say we desperately want that window to open! During the closed beta, I think participants were just as thrilled to be in the “secret place” as anything else we experienced.
In the Echo Combat lobby areas, you could switch the arena’s athletic gear for sturdy armor that is more appropriate when bullets are coming at you rather than fists or discs. There were also terminals where you could select an ability, an ordinance, and a gun. There are currently two abilities: health repair and threat scanner. It looks like there will be two ordinances, but we only had one for the beta – an exploding grenade that was incredibly effective when thrown with precision.
In regards to guns, there are currently three: the pulsar (short, quick bursts of laser beams), the nova (basically a shotgun), and the comet (kind of like a sniper gun). Most people started out with the pulsar because the combination of laser sounds and quick little bursts of fire really made you feel like a formidable futuristic gunslinger. Eventually, some of us began switching guns in favor of something that might fit our personal fighting styles a little better. A couple of my friends switched to the comet and found hiding spots throughout the map where they could just hang out until the opponent came flying around a corner. A few well-placed sniper shots took care of those enemies pretty quickly. In my case, I enjoy punching a lot in Echo Arena so I soon discovered that the nova aligned best with my desire for more close-up combat. When I could get near an opponent, a couple of well-placed shotgun blasts to their heads took them out efficiently.
My favorite part of the lobby was the practice area. Although there were moving mannequins on which you could practice your target shooting, I found much greater pleasure in shooting any players who tried to come into the room. I felt like “king of the hill” for a good part of the day as I kept the room clear of anyone wanting to practice their target shooting. There was another area on the other side of the Echo Combat compound that will hopefully end up being a player versus player zone. If that ends up being the case, I’ll most likely just stay in there all day – ambushing anyone who dares to enter.
Alas, eventually those in the lobby grew tired of being killed so they joined a match. While that might sound like a good idea, if your goal is to avoid being killed, it’s really not.
Echo Combat has combined the best of VR locomotion, creative artistic interpretation of a zero-gravity arena and first-person shooter dynamics. The game might sound simple, but in fact, nothing is simple when you throw six players together in an Echo game and give them guns. Although some strategies were becoming preferred by the end of the beta, each team of three uses different guns and abilities to come up with their own unique game plan. Sometimes you’ll have a player who does something completely unexpected, and that can change the outcome of the match.
The objective of the game is clear and seems like an easy enough goal, but when your team is in charge of transporting the payload (a giant nuclear flamingo) through the map to the core of a fission reactor so it can explode, you’re certain that you’ve been given the most difficult task. That feeling lasts only until you’re put on the blue team, and it’s your job to help prevent the delivery of the payload. Both teams have a challenging job, but like with most multiplayer shooter games, the team that carefully chose their weapons, communicated well and devised a team strategy did much better than those that did not.
While more guns, modes, etc. might be added at a later date, the game currently offers one map. This might sound disappointing to people who have played traditional video games with seemingly endless map choices, but virtual reality provides a unique experience each time simply by the nature of the gameplay and interaction with others. You might think you’ve explored every inch of a map until someone hides behind a geometrical object you’ve never paid attention to and they shoot you. I played over 20 hours during the closed beta, and I felt like I literally had only become remotely acquainted with the map.
Since the map is huge, the developers did give users a couple of nice tools to help them become better acquainted with the layout. There is a drawing of the map on the wall in the combat lobby so you can study without the pressure of a match getting ready to begin. Then, when you spawn into a combat match, there is a positively wonderful 3-D map located on the strategy table where you can see who your opponents are, where the payload is located and where your teammates are. This is especially useful if you die because you can take a quick peak at everyone’s locations before you respawn into the match.
In terms of fitness potential for this game, it is incredibly high. Echo Arena gives a great workout, but it seemed like I never stopped moving during the Echo Combat closed beta. I think this is because I was required to move more to shoot other players or move out of the way so I wouldn’t be a target. I had my fitness watch on for a portion of the beta, and I burned over 3,000 calories on Saturday alone. A lot of the time I hung out in the lobby, but when I was playing in matches for nearly three hours, I burned 981 calories. This game is going to be awesome for fitness lovers who play VR.
During the closed beta, there were a couple of glitches when the grenades and comms refused to cooperate consistently, but the developers were acutely aware of these issues. I anticipate that they’ll have all this resolved before the game is released later this year for $9.99.
Meanwhile, for those who will be attending E3 in Los Angeles this week, be sure to visit the Alienware booth (South Hall #647) for a demo of Echo Combat. If you miss that opportunity, don’t fret. On June 21, you can join the Echo Combat open beta and – like many of us plan to do – play to your heart’s content!