Last weekend I exploited the Echo Combat open beta weekend and I played Echo Combat for free together with my buddy Max. It has been an interesting experience, so I want to tell you about this new upcoming game.
Echo Combat is a game funded by Oculus and developed by Ready At Dawn, the same game studio that developed Lone Echo and the popular multiplayer e-sports game Echo Arena. As you can see, it is creating a strong “Echo” brand in the VR gaming community. All those games are very high-quality ones: Lone Echo has been received as a very well-made game and Echo Arena has become something like the best e-sport game for VR, it has created a new genre of gaming. I haven’t played Lone Echo, but I’ve played Echo Arena one year ago and I have been pleasantly impressed by it. It is a game where you play 3 vs 3, playing a sort of zero-g handball with a frisbee: the team that scores more goals in 3 minutes wins the match. The zero-g locomotion is very innovative (more on this later on) and trying to score with a frisbee is fun.
Echo Combat is the latest product of the Echo brand: it is set in the same environment of Echo Arena, it is like an expansion of its, that you play by entering the Echo Arena game. To make things easier to understand, the RAD team has changed the name of the Echo Arena game, that now is Echo VR. When you start the free Echo VR game, you enter the common lobby of the two games and you can choose if playing the free Echo Arena or playing the paid DLC Echo Combat. The past weekend the paid DLC was added for free to all of us, so when I entered the lobby, I was able to access both the Echo Arena and Echo Combat environments.
Actually, before entering the lobby, I thought it was a wise choice to play the tutorial of the games: since both the Echo games have a particular locomotion system and I haven’t played any of them in the latest times, I thought it was better to re-train myself. If you play the tutorial, you immediately notice that it is still Echo-Arena oriented: one of the first things that you have to do is launching a frisbee, that it is not useful at all for Echo Combat. But we are still in a beta stage, so I guess that this will be easily fixed in the following times. Apart from these little problems, the tutorial is very well made and guides you in learning step by step how to move within the game.
The game is all set in zero-g conditions, so moving is just a pleasure, makes you feel like in space… I love it. VR is made to make us try things that we can’t experience every day and zero-g is one of them for sure (unless you’re reading this blog from a space station of course :D). You can move in the game in two ways: one is using thrusters that give you some acceleration in the direction you’re looking at. The other, the one that made this game famous, is grabbing whatever object you have around you (handles, bars, walls, etc…) with your hand and apply a force towards it with your hand so that to push all your body forward. This second method is not only original, but it is also very cool to be used. And it is implemented very well: the virtual hands adapt to every surface in a very realistic way, this is a detail that makes my jaw drop every time I play this game. This locomotion method is quite realistic for zero-g, so it increments the presence. I love it.
Anyway, I think that there are two problems with it:
- It fosters motion sickness. I don’t get why it is full of people that say that this is a no-motion-sickness locomotion scheme… I really can feel it whatever I play this game. It creates 3D accelerations, so of course there is sickness;
- It is hard to master. I always make confusion about what button on my Touch controllers is the one for the throttle, which one is of break, etc… Plus, grabbing objects and moving forward not always makes you move in the exact direction that you want… and there are not always objects around you that you can use to push forward.
So, I like it, but it needs some practice to be used properly. And until you’re not good at moving, you can’t enjoy completely Echo Arena nor Echo Combat. You really feel impotent: while the other people play and score, you can’t even go where you want.
For this reason, after the tutorial, I went to the lobby and I moved to the Echo Combat training area, where I could train myself in shooting and moving. I expected a lot of people in this lobby: Echo Arena has been a very popular game and so I thought that the Echo Combat open beta could attract the interest of lots of VR enthusiasts. For sure it has happened, but at the time I played, there were not that many people. I started training in moving in zero-g and I made some progress in the use of thrusters and in the “locomotion by pushing”.
I noticed that all around the training area there were scattered some posters on the wall describing the rules of the Echo Combat game. I found this a very smart way of providing a guide for this game without breaking the presence. While moving, I could stop sometimes and read the posters to read the rules of the game. So I learned that Echo Combat is again a 3 vs 3 game, but this time the purpose is not scoring with a frisbee, but it is the one of pushing a big pink flamingo inside the playing area.
One of the team, the red one, are the attackers, and have to push this big flamingo from the starting point (the red base) to the end point (the blue base). The blue team is the defending one: they have to prevent the flamingo from moving and arriving at their base. Notice that the blue team doesn’t win by pushing the flamingo to the red base, just by preventing the flamingo from arriving to the blue base. The flamingo gets pushed by the red team players by grabbing it: if more players grab the flamingo, it moves faster. (All this talking about flamingos makes me hear Lana Del Rey singing inside my head…)
All the players have a little weapon embedded inside their right hand: there are three weapons available: a simple laser gun, a more powerful gun that spreads bullets around it and a super laser gun with very slow reload time, but that can kill an enemy player with a single shot. Every weapon has its pros and cons: the gun is very handy but it isn’t powerful; the spread-bullets gun is great to shoot more players at the same time, but it is not good to shoot distant players; the super gun is lethal, but it requires ages to reload. There are not only weapons, you are also equipped with a medical device that can heal you and your teammates when activated and has its recharge time, too. Every time you respawn, you can choose your weapon and medical device. After you have chosen them, you can’t modify them until you die. This means that during a match you can’t change your weapon. This forces you to make a choice every time to respawn. The ammo is infinite, if you were thinking about this question.
The game has a time: if the red team manages to push the flamingo to the red base before the time runs out, it wins. Otherwise the blue team wins.
So, the game is all about killing other people because of a pink flamingo. Seems a right reason for a homicide to me :D.
I was telling you about my experience in the training area: I had problems because I was able to move and to read the posters to learn about the rules of the game, but I had no idea on how I could practice on shooting. I hadn’t guns in my hands. I found the PCs to select the weapons, but I had no weapons equipped.
At that point, a very kind guy helped me: he took me and said “follow me”. He didn’t want to start a very romantic journey with me, he just kindly guided me towards a single red pc station where on the screen there was a big “switch” button. Pressing the button, I switched from being an Echo Arena player to being an Echo Combat one and so I got my weapons and medical toys on my suit! Thank you fellow player! If you find yourself stuck as me, look for a single red PC station in the training area and use the switch button on the screen.
I started practicing with the various weapons while moving. There were floating mannequins that I could shoot to practice my killer instinct and I got used to them very easily (shooting with the Oculus Touch controllers is a pure pleasure). When I felt ready, I went to the matchmaking lobby of Echo VR and I selected that I wanted to take part in a Echo Combat match. The system took some time to find other players, but luckily I could exploit that time to keep on training. When the matchmaking succeeded, I was teleported immediately into the game.
I found myself with a red suit on and I understood I was one of the attackers: hell, yeah. I didn’t found myself into the action, but inside my team’s lobby. There were some computers that I could use to select my equipment and I immediately selected the spread gun. Then I practiced moving and shooting with my team players. Below us there was the reconstruction of the play area, like a 3d map, and we could see the current position of the flamingo and the enemy players. It could be a cool thing to organize some tactics with my fellow team players, but actually I never used it because my tactic has always been “let’s go in the play area and kill some people without thinking” (Unreal-tournament-style).
I couldn’t immediately enter the game, because the defending team has some time in the beginning to move into position before the match begins. This is a smart choice by the game designers, otherwise the attackers would immediately start pushing the flamingo before the defenders could even reach them. This way the game is more balanced.
When this advantage time finished, I had to grab a little spherical handle to enter into the game. This is one of the things that I liked the less of the game: all newbies like me aren’t good at moving in zero-g and having to grab this little floating spherical area to enter the game every time was a real nuisance, because a lot of times I missed it.
When I entered into the action, I found myself inside the actual playing area. I soon reached the big pink flamingo and I noticed that it was on a big rail. I always imagined the flamingo as a big balloon we had to push, while actually it moves on a rail that goes from red base to blue base. After this great discovery, someone shot me and I died. Damn, my first life has been short but full of discoveries :D.
Playing the game, I discovered that all around the railway there were some square pink stations that are the “checkpoints” of the flamingo. Once a checkpoint is reached, the defending team can’t push it backwards any further. I also discovered that there is a voice giving you updates about the flamingo that is called “the payload”. The voice tells when the “payload is moving”, “is returning” or “has been delivered”, so you always know what it is happening inside the game.
Shooting the other players wasn’t easy in zero-g, but I did my best. Shooting is fun, but I think that without mastery in the movements and without a team coordination (my teammates and I were not speaking at all), it is difficult to play in an effective way. A lot of times more skilled players killed me easily because they knew how to move to dodge my bullets. Other times I have been unlucky because the enemy player hid inside a wall (wtf… a bug!) and so I couldn’t shoot him. Other times they organized well and so killed me easily. This is not a game that you can win just by entering the arena and shooting: you need practice and you must speak with other players. Playing like me is a highway to failure.
Most of the other players were German and one was surely a little kid. Anyway most of the people were better than me. My team lost the first attacking match, but we won the second one. It was awesome seeing the pink flamingo arriving at the end and throwing flames out of its mouth as soon as it arrived to the destination. We won, yesss!! The third match I found myself in the defending team and so I could appreciate how it is playing on the other side of the game. We lost really bad, so I guess I’m better at attacking :D.
After each game, all we players found ourselves in a lobby with a scoreboard of all players. Unluckily, at this beta stage of the game, this scoreboard only shows all zeros, so it is basically useless :D. But the idea is that it shows all the statistics of the game for each player and also automatically selects an MVP.
In the end I found playing with Echo Arena enjoyable. The game is well balanced and all the choices they’ve made (like the fact that you can’t change a weapon when you play, the checkpoints, the fact that there is one attacking and one defending team, etc…), make it very interesting. I felt every choice had been studied to make the game more entertaining and challenging. It makes it more tactical. I had fun while playing with it and pushing a flamingo can become the new “Capture the flag” for VR. Most of the times I had hard times playing with it, since as I’ve said, it is a game that is not easy for newbies. But running in zero-g and shooting to win a match inside VR is a lot of fun.
So, this game is super-approved by me. Later this year it will be sold as a paid in-app purchase inside Echo VR for $9.99. If there are enough players to play against and if you train enough to master the control movements, I think that this can be money very well spent. Think about it 😉
(Header image by Ready At Dawn)
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