Review: Lone Echo II
2017’s Lone Echo was a good videogame. Actually, it was an excellent videogame because it came at a time when virtual reality (VR) needed big, impressive experiences that really showcased the potential of this technology. 2021 is a very different era. Titles like Half-Life: Alyx, Song in the Smoke, Stormland, and more provide players with epic adventures with engrossing storylines and inventive gameplay. After several delays to ensure Lone Echo II can be as good as it can, has Ready At Dawn achieved the sequel fans have been hoping for? Let’s just say, it’s nice to be back Jack.
Normally when it comes to a sequel if you’ve not played the previous title in the series then no bother, there’s a handy catch up at the beginning and you’re away. It’s the same here with Lone Echo II’s loading sequence providing snippets of the original to fill in those blanks. However, on this occasion, it’s advisable not to, purely due to the narrative at play here. The story directly continues over and because of the interactions at play between the two main characters and the grandiose setting, it’s worth experiencing the saga in its entirety.
Awakening as Jack, the android assigned to protect Captain Olivia “Liv” Rhodes, you’re once again making sure she survives the perils of deep space and a deadly organism simply known as the “Bio Mass”. The entire adventure takes place (mostly) on a deserted space station made out of various asteroids joined together. This entire installation orbits Saturn which makes for a particularly impressive backdrop once you get outside. Lone Echo was known for its gorgeous visuals with Lone Echo II somehow managing to outdo its sibling. Whether you’re casually floating through the void of space or on a pressing mission, there are visually striking moments everywhere so try not to let all that eye candy distract you too much.
So Lone Echo II still looks pretty but how does it handle? Not much has changed here actually. The entire experience is still in zero-g – no artificial gravity in this sci-fi universe – so getting about is a mixture of grabbing the environment or using little wrist-mounted jets to propel yourself. Whilst there is a larger boost to navigate some of the larger expanses, most of the time you’ll be using a mixture of the first two. In conjunction with the storyline, this tends to make Lone Echo II a slow and methodical type of videogame. Certain sequences do add a sprinkling of action but for the most part, Lone Echo II isn’t about rushing, a general playthrough should last around ten hours without doing all the extra side missions.
With no change in the core movement options, fans will instantly be at home here, flinging themselves from pillar to post in no time. If you are jumping right in it’s worth noting zero gravity can be a bit much for some, even with the accessibility options available. One nice mechanic Lone Echo II does employ is keeping you on the same visual plane, you can’t suddenly spin yourself upside down for example – one of the best ways to induce nausea. The only braking of that rule comes with a little device called the “Extreme Drifter”. Find it and you’ll blast across the space station. A word of warning, you can twist and if you don’t let go, it’s the only way to reorient yourself.
So you might now be wondering what is exactly new. Well, most of this involves dealing with the Bio Mass threat and its various evolutions like the really annoying, power-hungry ticks that’ll latch onto any sort of power source – not great when you’re an android. Lone Echo II’s puzzles begin by trying to avoid or manoeuvre these creatures, with plenty of physical interaction cutting access panels, pulling power levers, and more, nothing too taxing. As you get deeper you’ll unlock offensive capabilities (not just tools) offering light combat segments.
All of these are located on Jack’s wrist, activated with a blue button. You get five gadgets in total, some that’ll get far more use than others. Unlike actual shooters where weapons or tools are usually quickly accessible, that’s not really the case here. You have to grab a blue orb representing each tool, not the greatest mechanic if you’re being attacked. This again highlights the composed approach you have to take in Lone Echo II, carefully planning how you handle every danger. Death is no worry for an android as you’ll be rebuilt at the nearest Fabricator but that doesn’t mean you should rely on it. Some aren’t always close by.
Lone Echo II’s gameplay might be finely tuned, however, it would be nothing without the relationship it fosters between Jack and Liv. The epic storyline is enthralling – as good as any binged TV show – nonetheless the bond you build with Liv is what gives both Jack and Lone Echo II their humanity. Dialogue options allow you to play a more logical android character or add a little bit of jokey banter into the mix, eliciting different responses from Liv. Without spoiling too much there’s a particular scene where you have to hold her hand, it’s a very touching moment between two friends.
Ready At Dawn may have originally planned to release Lone Echo II in 2020 before having to push it back several times and that’s completely understandable considering the quality of videogame that’s been produced. There’s a lot to love and get engrossed in as it’s so immersive, the real criticism comes from the fact that Lone Echo II plays everything a little too safe. The experience doesn’t break any new ground and it really could’ve done with some greater challenges thrown in. On the other hand, it was engrossing until the very end, easily the standout AAA VR experience of 2021.
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