The only thing standing between me and the goal is a floating orange robot from the other team. Calling upon all my strategic cunning I devise a brilliant plan to get by him and score a point for my team. I punch him in the face.
As he lies stunned and sparking in my wake I hurl the Tron-esque frisbee in my hand toward the portal in front of me and watch it sail to victory with a satisfying explosion as it crosses the finish line. I raise my own mechanical hands in the air as the rest of my team rockets over in celebration.
Digitally, I’m a robot floating in a futuristic, zero-gravity sports chamber. Physically, I’m standing in the demo hall of Oculus Connect 3 with a Rift strapped to my face and two Touch controllers in my hands. The experience I’m sampling is a multiplayer version of the upcoming Lone Echo from Ready at Dawn (The Order: 1886.) As the game resets itself for the next match all I can think is, “This thing is going to consume my entire life.”
Lone Echo multiplayer is essentially zero-gravity Ultimate Frisbee with robots that can punch each other in the face to stun each other for a few precious seconds. This supplementary mode brilliantly embraces the core mechanics of Lone Echo‘s single player mission to create an adrenaline packed multiplayer experience.
Lone Echo’s most innovative feature is its movement system. The game takes place without gravity and so you need to use the Oculus Touch controllers to grab onto hand holds, stationary surfaces, and each other to propel yourself through the environments like an astronaut. You also have a pair of Iron Man-like hand thrusters that can be used to propel you around the environments.
If that sounds like a huge amount of fun that’s because it is. Now imagine that with multiple players per side all zipping, propelling, flying and fighting over a single tiny frisbee. Now it’s just insane.
The story mode of Lone Echo is dark, atmospheric, slow-paced and highly narratively driven. The multiplayer mode…isn’t at all.
There’s nothing slow-paced or dark about grabbing onto a teammates shoulder as you rocket out of the start tunnels, shoot through the air at what feels like light speed, punch an enemy straight in the head as you both meet at the frisbees starting location, and keep on blasting forward laughing at the disruption you’ve just caused. It feels like an almost completely different game, but that is not a bad thing.
Many of the greatest multiplayer games of today only came about as spin-offs or experiments. A Warcraft mod led to DOTA and the entire MOBA scene, which is now the most popular multiplayer gaming genre in the world; Team Fortress 2 was built by overlaying cartoony graphics and interesting characters on the realistic QUAKE engine; and no one will ever be able to convince me that Donkey Kong 64′s death matches weren’t superior to Golden Eye‘s.
The best multiplayer happens when a developer focuses on the good mechanics that they’ve built for the game and translate those into an interesting competitive experience. These may have nothing to do with the plot or aesthetic of the original game, and that often leads to wonderfully wacky new use cases for the interesting gameplay that’s already discovered. Lone Echo may be coming to a brand new type of gaming platform, but it is one of the purest representations of this tried and true multiplayer tradition.
After playing it, I’m thrilled for it to be fully released next year, but I’m also sad. Sad that I won’t be seeing my friends and family for long stretches of time once it’s available. I’m an addict now and I need my fix of frisbees and face punches. No seriously. I need it. Give it to me. GIVE IT TO ME NOW.
Editors Note: Joe Durbin has been taken to a nice patch of quiet grass under a beautiful Oak Tree until he stops trying to hit his coworkers in the face and throw their personal effects through windows he keeps calling goals. He appreciates your support in this difficult time.