I’m a service robot drifting through an abandoned space station. My superior is chattering in my ear trying to set up the stakes of the story, but I’m too busy to listen because I’m playing with a toothbrush. After batting it around in zero-gravity like an impatient cat, I use my finger to prod the button in the centre and – to my delight – my palm starts buzzing like a fridge. Moments like this speak to the strengths and weaknesses of Lone Echo 2: Ready at Dawn’s latest is a stunning virtual reality game with an incredible level of detail, but there’s very little substance to either the gameplay or the story.
This is the sequel to 2017’s Lone Echo, a VR adventure about the relationship between Captain Olivia Rhodes and her charming robot butler, Jack. Its stunning space station vistas and level design made it an easy hit around the dawn of the Oculus Rift, but its most enduring feature is its zero-G movement, which is retained carefully in the sequel. As Jack, you must use your controllers to physically grab things around you and push yourself around, using momentum in a satisfying way to arc your body past hazards and slip through gaps to solve puzzles.
With nearly every object in Lone Echo 2 available for you to grab onto, it quickly summons a strong sense of immersion. Wrist-mounted thrusters let you make deft touches to get your balance, slip around corners, and hover in place to listen to monologues. And once Lone Echo 2 opens up and you get your space legs (VR tolerance permitting), you’ll very likely soon find yourself drifting around the stratosphere with grace. The rings of Saturn shall act as a gorgeous backdrop to your awesome acrobatics.
Lone Echo 2 feels fantastic to control and is very comfortable to play both standing and seated, but up to this point, I’ve described one mechanic in an eight-hour story-driven VR experience. Unfortunately, pretty much everything that surrounds that basic sensation of weightless movement is a letdown. The story is particularly bleak, concerning an evolving infection and a space station lost in time. While I was convinced for a good while that it was setting one up, it turns out there is no real antagonist beyond the dreaded Biomass that infects most of Lone Echo 2’s explorable spaces; if you get caught up in it, it’s a gloopy death sentence. The Biomass’s offspring, the dreaded Ticks, are Lone Echo 2’s only enemies — annoying, squishy balls that stick to Jack and sap his robo-life force if he gets too close.
Most of the puzzles involve redirecting said Ticks towards non-organic power sources (and eventually blasting them to smithereens) to clear out infected areas and access new information to help find a cure. The solutions are creative… until they become repetitive. My favourite involved controlling a crane’s limbs with my fingers and using momentum to push it across gaps and mop the little dudes up. Eventually, you’ll have to freeze sensors and coat items to get through sticky Biomass webs that gate important areas.
Later, you’ll blast through irradiated wind and depart from the format to quickly pad your way around rogue ships to disable them before they take off, which is as exhilarating as Lone Echo 2 gets. It’s more exciting than even its ending, which starts strong but descends into a sluggish crawl towards a giant Tick spawner.
Most areas in Lone Echo 2 feature a sequence where you’ll scan multiple data points to unlock a new mandatory tool. You’ll eventually have to combine these devices (such as your laser cutter and your object-yanking beam) to complete more complex tasks. This can be a lot of fun when leveraging the excellent movement, like when you’re asked to dash between objects in a belt of debris and activate pockets of safety with your data laser. My only issue with the control scheme is that when you have more than two tools, swapping between them via the confusing symbols on your wrist feels inaccurate and can get you killed when the Ticks are swarming.
Having a tool mounted on your wrist also gets in the way of Jack’s fingers, so it’s sometimes hard to see what dialogue options or interface elements you’re picking. I was playing on PC and Oculus Quest 2 via Air Link, and its peripherals handled the rest of Lone Echo 2’s quirks in style, but I was begging for the advanced finger tracking of Valve’s Index controllers in these few instances. Alas, Lone Echo 2 is locked to the Oculus platform (and not currently available natively on Quest 2). Maybe it will come to other headsets later down the line, but considering that Oculus is already phasing out the PC-based Rift platform in favor of the standalone Quest 2, sticking to platform exclusivity for this game seems particularly exclusionary.
Perhaps Lone Echo 2’s greatest sin in the VR puzzle department is how it can strip you of any intuition and force you to pick all the wrong answers until you get the right one. Chase that with a load of matter-of-fact dialogue from a robot companion, and it’s hard not to feel like your time is being disrespected. Interacting with ship systems often feels like following an instruction manual, and the formula can start to grate.
Well-delivered back and forths between Olivia (Alice Coulthard) and Jack (Troy Baker) help to soften the blow of an adventure without an interesting story, but even their established relationship isn’t convincing enough to save Lone Echo 2’s story from feeling dull. It’s clear they care deeply for each other, but it sorely lacks tension and development beyond one or two perilous scenes. Jack’s agreeable nature just slots in too nicely with Liv’s bone-dry wit. The major emotional moments feel unearned as a result, and I was left wondering if they really do need each other, in the end.
Lone Echo 2’s story is at its best when you’re in front of an impassioned Olivia or Dr. Harlan, a new character played by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, especially when they’re in an action sequence. However, most of the time you’ll be studying their meticulous emotions while waiting for a conversation to finish, or listening to them from afar over comms.
Yes, there’s an agonising amount of sitting and waiting around for things to happen in Lone Echo 2, which feels like a waste when the characters are so lifelike. At one point you’re literally strapped into a harness for centuries – and trust me, it feels like it.
The good news is that if you didn’t play the original, Lone Echo 2 plays catchup with a neat recap and plenty of callbacks to the main events of Lone Echo, should you need them. There’s more than enough exposition here to ensure you understand what’s going on in the sequel, too. It all makes sense, but the story is delivered at a snail’s pace, without any meaningful twists to shock you out of your boredom. You’ll go from place to place, pulling plenty of levers while getting a crash course in space station jargon, from conduits to overwrite slots and counter-pulse blast waves.
Lone Echo 2’s major redeeming factor is how good it looks. I first played Lone Echo 2 with an Oculus Link cable tied to my RTX 3080 / Ryzen 5 3600 rig, and it ran comfortably with all settings at max. Eventually, I swapped to Air Link, which lets you play PC VR games wirelessly on your Oculus Quest 2 by connecting to the host PC, as long as you have a good WiFi connection. Even when I was streaming it untethered, Lone Echo 2 felt fluid and looked incredible up close, and this was my preferred way to play.
From the scratch marks on steel doors to the remarkable skin detailing on a character’s face, Lone Echo 2 is a gawp-worthy experience. Suppose this is your first dance with VR, and you’re looking for a spectacle? In that case, Lone Echo 2 may delight you with its detail, animations, and effects, even if the environmental variety is lacking. But as a seasoned VR user, I appreciated the graphics but was yearning for something with more mechanical and storytelling nuance.