Espire 1: VR Operative Review — Sneaky, Sneaky, Sir

Espire 1: VR Operative is a fun stealth game that suffers from bad AI and a dull story. It's saved by great movement and replayability.

Tripwire Interactive's Espire 1: VR Operative is as meta a game as I've ever seen. It's a virtual reality title for Oculus, Vive, WMR, and PSVR in which you control a character controlling another "character."

You do so via remotes that look like real-life VR inputs, and you do it all from the confines of the "Espire Control Theater," a facility inside a gigantic box. Kind of like a room inside a VR headset. It's like controlling a drone in virtual reality from thousands of miles away, except the drone is more like a murderous Terminator than a buzzy, floating recon droid. 

Your job is to use these Espire units to infiltrate an old company facility. While there, you’ll need to disable the security to give your colleagues access and take the facility back. Of course, there are baddies standing in your way. 

It’s a rather throwaway plot that could have done with a bit more exposition, but it does get you into the action quickly, and that’s definitely a plus in a game like this.

Espire 1: VR Operative Review — Sneaky, Sneaky, Sir

While most of the movement in Espire 1 is standard VR stuff, climbing allows for an almost innumerable number of approaches to any given situation. You can do so by finding metal walls or corrugated items in the world covered in "mesh," such as pipes. 

At one point in the story, I was stuck in a room swarming with enemy guards. I hid by climbing up the side of a wall into the corner of the room. I then spent five minutes patiently taking out guards at my leisure whenever they walked past me. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t get to see very often in VR, and it feels great, almost as good as sneaking, another big aspect of movement. 

You can crouch by merely pressing a button or by crouching in real life. This allows you to move through smaller spaces than you can't while standing, of course, but it also makes you harder to see and a whole lot quieter. But the rub is that you can even lie down to squeeze through even small spaces. 

Sneaking around in the rafters above a hostile area, I came to a section that I couldn’t pass through even while crouched. So, I lied down. I wasn’t expecting it to make a difference but felt it was worth a shot. I then in-game commando-crawled through the tiny space and out the other side.

It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it felt empowering and added a nice wrinkle to Espire's stealth gameplay.



Movement in VR is often limited to keep the experience feeling more immersive. Espire manages to give you a different kind of freedom, but you have to be willing to look stupid while playing it. It’s kind of great, although it did lead me to getting attacked a few times by my rather confused cats.

I can’t tell you how weird it is to reach out to open a vent in VR, only to find that the vent is fluffy and sharp. But then again, that's a nice bit of immersion in and of itself, especially in a world full of things wearing fatigues trying to kill you. 

Generally, Espire's missions are just a matter of going from point to point while taking out or avoiding enemies on the way. In typical stealth fashion, you can hide bodies as well, as not to alert other guards and enemies. Neatly, you can also tell enemies to "freeze" using your headset's mic, holding them up before knocking them out or tranquilizing them. 

As for abilities, you start off with very basic abilities that improve whenever you free a different Espire unit to control. It adds in new abilities at an OK rate, and the new skills are good fun to use too.

On top of this, the levels are meant to be replayed. If you can complete certain challenges in each one, you’ll unlock new weapons and even cheats to use next time you play them. These unlockables give the game a lot more longevity than it would have otherwise, which is good because it’s not a particularly long game.

Though I've been pretty positive so far, the game isn’t perfect.

The AI is almost infuriatingly stupid. Upon being spotted, time slows to a crawl, which gives you a chance to take out whoever has you in their sights. If you fail to do so, they’ll alert their friends.

The trouble is, none of them are particularly good at remembering things, and they’ll go back to assuming everything is fine in around half a minute. This leads to a strange disconnect, especially if you’ve managed to take a couple of them out.

There are a couple of strange technical issues too. You have a few weapon slots in which to holster your guns, but initially, they didn’t work at all for me. When they did eventually register, my weapon automatically went to the wrong side, and I couldn’t correct it until the next level.

Also, you can literally just reach through walls, which is easily abusable thanks to the cameras on your wrists. The cameras are a cool feature, but reaching through a wall shouldn’t be possible — and achieving new sightlines is borderline cheating. 

Espire 1: VR Operative Review — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • Excellent movement options
  • Good introduction of new abilities
  • Highly replayable

Cons:

  • Very dull story
  • AI is often comically bad
  • Some technical issues


Espire 1: VR Operative is a good stealth game, but it’s not quite great. While movement and the abilities are both excellent, the poor AI and occasional tech hiccup greatly detract from what could have been a great stealth game.

On top of this, the short story simply won’t be enough for some people, and while the challenge maps are good, they still have the same issues as the main campaign. Consider that narrative is rather boring, and all of this really hurts what is otherwise a solid stealth game with great movement options and worthwhile abilities. 

Espire 1: VR Operative is out now for the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, Oculus Rift-S, HTC Vive, Valve Index, and PlayStation VR. It is also available for Windows Mixed Reality. It costs $29.99. 

[Note: A copy of Espire 1: VR Operative was provided by Tripwire Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Our Rating
7
Espire 1: VR Operative is a fun stealth game that suffers from bad AI and a dull story. It's saved by great movement and replayability.

Contributor

Jason likes the gym, roguelikes, and FromSoftware. There is a pattern there for sure, but try not to read too much into it. He's also a freelance games journalist who is slowly trying to take over the world. Not in a menacing way though, he'd probably just make everyone get pets or something.

Published Nov. 26th 2019

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