Espire: VR Operative was the first stealth-focused virtual reality title that I played, and whilst it didn’t always nail the tension found in the genre thanks to some iffy enemy AI, the added immersion offered within VR ensured that it still brought with it plenty of thrills. Espire 2 looks to build on the foundation set in its processor by offering a more refined and fleshed-out experience, with more cool tricks for players to pull off and more variety in the missions. It’s very successful too, even if some previous issues might not be fully fixed.
Check out some screenshots down below:
Taking place in the year 2036, Espire 2 once again puts players in the role of Espire Agent POE as they take control of one of two different droids (known as Frames) in order to fight against the terrorist organisation OPHIS. It might feel like I’m putting the tale into a nutshell there, but it doesn’t really get too much deeper than that. That’s not a complaint though – titles like this don’t necessarily need a deep narrative full of detailed cinematic moments, with the whole ‘save the world from the baddies’ plot doing more than enough to keep me invested in the adventure without having to think too much about everything that’s going on in the background.
The main action of Espire 2 takes place across the single player campaign, which sees players having to complete seven missions spanning a variety of locales and comprised of varied objectives. Whilst the focus is generally on utilising stealth to get around the environment, there’s still plenty of room for more specialist objectives and even action-focused boss encounters. In fact, it’s worth noting immediately that you can treat the game as an action-experience if you prefer; whilst the key mechanics are built around being sneaky, there’s nothing stopping you from going all-guns blazing (even if it isn’t quite as satisfying as evading enemy attention).
This actually ties into the aforementioned Frames that you can use. The Sinder Frame (which will be familiar to those who played the original game) can utilise heavy weaponry but also has access to the likes of tranquilizer darts to neutralise enemies and can easily throw itself around the environment, whilst Sooty is a more nimble Frame that can get around more stealthily and fit in tighter spaces but is less competent when the going gets tough and you find yourself fighting off foes. Sooty does have one really cool trick with its Noisemaker Device allowing it to interrogate guards from a safe distance, but only Sinder is able to carry and hide knocked out enemies.
“It’s short and easily cleared in less than two hours, but the co-op campaign is definitely one of the highlights of the entire experience.”
Both Frames are a lot of fun to use, with their varied capabilities genuinely feeling significant and giving players totally different ways to approach levels. Not afraid to get your hands dirty and want a bit more action in your approach? Sinder is perfect for you. Or do you want to embrace your inner Solid Snake and get through a level without being seen, heard, or leaving a mark on those around you? Sooty it is. Add to that the varied loadouts that you can set up before each mission and you’ll quickly find that Espire 2 offers plenty of flexibility and freedom in allowing players to approach the gameplay however they like.
It gives the game a lot more replayability, which is good because it’ll only take around four hours to beat the main campaign. Besides there being multiple approaches to take with the varied playstyles, players are also ranked when completing a level. Perfectionists will have to spend plenty of time learning the ins-and-outs of each one if they want to get full marks, so there’s definitely some replay value there for those who want to dive back in. Those who only intend to play through once might wish the game was a little bit longer though, with the credits rolling a little sooner than I would have preferred.
Whilst you’ll find more variety in the level design, refinements to the controls, and cool new gadgets to play around with in Espire 2, a lot of the experience will feel the same to returning players. You’ll still find yourself carefully climbing around the environment to get around, monitoring enemy patrol patterns, using voice commands to get the drop on enemies (these can be disabled if you prefer not to speak whilst playing), and blasting away with your weaponry when caught. These were some of the most enjoyable aspects of the first game so it’s nice to see them return, especially since there have been improvements made across the board to make everything more fun.
Check out some screenshots down below:
Want to know what hasn’t been improved that much? The enemy AI. This was the biggest sticking point in the original game, with enemies easy to outsmart and following predictable patterns that were simple to exploit. Whilst there have been some improvements and enemies were a lot more wary of my presence this time around, I still managed to get past them with minor difficulty (and even during moments when they SHOULD have probably seen me). On the flip-side, there were a few occasions where they’d see me when I was convinced I was perfectly hidden, with a bit of a lack of consistency found with their efficiency. It’s not game-breaking and it doesn’t make Espire 2 any less fun to play, but the game still needs a bit of work in order to make the experience more believable and challenging.
Other than that, I’ve had a great time playing. I haven’t even mentioned the online co-op, which allows two players to work together to complete a handful of missions based around levels from the first game. There’s a satisfying emphasis placed on teamwork and utilising the abilities of both Sinder and Sooty, whilst the core gameplay loop itself really complements co-operative play anyway. It’s short and easily cleared in less than two hours, but the co-op campaign is definitely one of the highlights of the entire experience.
Espire 2 Review
Espire 2 is a really cool virtual reality stealth-adventure that offers players plenty of creativity and freedom in how they approach their mission. Whilst the lacking enemy AI carries over from the original game, the fresh refinements and new additions across every other aspect of it ensure that its trumps its predecessor in every way. With online co-op the cherry on top, it’s easy to recommend Espire 2 to virtual reality fans who are itching for that Metal Gear Solid-style fix.
Developer: Digital Lode
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Platform(s): Meta Quest 2 (Reviewed)