VR stealth action takes a lot to get right. The stealth action genre has spent years in traditional video games correctly refining the choice of players carefully sneaking around guards or engaging them at the risk of overwhelming response. Espire 1: VR Operative has been kicking around on various VR platforms since late 2019, notably on the original Oculus Quest where it has sold quite well. Nearly a year after its original launch, Espire 1 has been updated fully for all platforms, and given support on the Oculus Quest 2. With that in mind, we dove in and snuck around in the cyber stealth action title.
For the uninitiated agent
Espire 1: VR Operative takes players inside of a cyber spy organization called Espire. These folks designed incredibly tactical android platforms before some rogue military organizations took over and made a mess of things. It’s up to the player to tap into the androids left behind in Espire facilities to investigate and engage hostile forces from the inside. With a wealth of mobility and spy gadgetry at your disposal, as well as the ability to use any weapon you come across, Espire 1: VR Operative allows you to play it slow and low or fast and aggressive as you work your through various missions and challenges, coming up against even more heavily armed enemies. And you do it while utilizing even more sophisticated Espire androids found along the way, with everything from wrist cameras and silenced tranquilizer guns to infrared vision of traps and enemies and time-slowing mechanics.
So what’s new with Oculus Quest 2?
As of November 13, Espire 1 got a substantial update to prepare the game for Oculus Quest 2, retexturing enemies and the environment to take advantage of what the Quest 2 can do in comparison to its predecessor. There are also updates to sounds when bullets hit walls (making a different sound based on the material hit), ricochet effects that allow bullets to bounce off surfaces for both players and enemies, and improved color-grading for the Oculus Quest 2’s LCD display.
Perhaps the most notable gameplay change is the rework of audio. Now, when you crouch down, the music quiets down and the volume of enemy activities increases. This was a great improvement as, when I wanted to go stealth, it allowed me to keep better track of where enemy combatants were and plot my way carefully around them. It made stealth all the more viable and fun.
So how does Espire 1 Update 1.7 play?
Quite simply, Espire 1: VR Operative is really fun to run around in on the Oculus Quest 2. As nearly always, the lack of wires on the headset, but the decency of quality in the game is the selling point here. The levels look decent enough, and the gadgets and weapons you pick up along your way to deal with ever more bristling enemy soldiers is superb. The infrared vision ability, wrist cameras, slow time mechanic, and more make for an ever-evolving list of fun gadgets. Also, as an Android, you can grab and climb nearly any metal surface, which made for versatility when sneaking around rooms. At one point, I had to cross a gap with construction going on around it, so I used the metal parts of the scaffolding to climb up to the underside of a support beam to sort of monkey bar my way across the gap. It was some delightful environmental puzzle solving made possible by the opportunities given.
The game is pretty forgiving when you want to get aggressive too. Most of the more unique guns are hidden throughout levels, but it’s not hard to get your hands on an enemy submachine gun or rifle and drop the auspices of quiet if you want. Dual-wielding two assault rifles and going hard to the paint on enemy combatants would be weird as a normal human soldier, but you’re a hacker operating a remote robot, so here it makes sense and ultimately just plain fun. You can go back through missions and try to do them in different ways, starting with any weapon you’ve already found, or just go wild by digging into an extensive cheat menu that allows you everything from invincibility to infinite ammo to infinite energy for gadgetry like time-slow and seeing enemies through walls.
I think one of the only complaints I have in this game is that enemies were sometimes too good at spotting me, but mostly just plain dumb in their reaction. Sometimes, in the middle of a firefight, a foe would run in an opposite direction of me for no discernable reason before turning around to fire when I went after them. Sometimes, the game would call off a search and lower the alert level while I was knees-deep in the middle of a killing spree. Enemy behavior left a lot to be desired, but if they do get the drop on you, it can be horribly cumbersome because of the checkpoint system.
The only checkpoints come in the form of Espire androids found further in a mission that you can use as a respawn point. The levels in the game are quite lengthy (which would otherwise be a good thing) and getting to a midway set of Espires is a long trek. If your android is destroyed before that point, you’re looking at a very long trek back through the level and whatever threats you left intact along the way.
A menagerie of cybernetic stealth & aggression
The two pain points above aside, Espire 1: VR Operative is still a pretty fun experience. The abilities, gadgets, and gunplay presented through the virtual control of an android robot are genuinely fun and make for a lot of good gameplay. Even despite dumb enemy decisions when they find you, stealthily working your way around them in the environment is a visceral and engaging real-time puzzle. And when you decide you’re done being quiet, the more aggressive tools at your disposal are also a blast. Put these things together and Espire 1: VR Operative is a worthwhile action stealth offering for the Oculus Quest 2 platform.