A GEARVR PUZZLE GAME REVIEW
Esper 2 is the second telekinesis-puzzle-interaction game in the series by the developers CoatSink, bringing with this version an improvement in graphics (which were already good the first time) and a slightly longer game over all (at about 3.5 hours for me personally) to complete. While not as long as fuller games like Dead Secret (at 12 hours to complete), I think strategically it’s a smart move here because the puzzles could get too repetitive and that’s something CoatSink apparently worked hard not have happen this time around. They did this by changing the setting often, and by taking you outside the retro 60’s facility you were stuck in (albeit, a fun way to be stuck, though!) for the entire first game in order to let you experience a larger world-vision for the series. It is still set in a retro 60’s embrace, with technology slightly more advanced than the 60’s, but it all meshes well together and creates its own welcomed style for this generation of VR games.
This time around, they threw in a dash of Indiana Jones, a splash of Bioshock 1, a bash of Mars Attacks, and stirred it up with even more comedy than ever before. And what a concoction! It’s entertainingly funny, yet not all of the jokes land perfectly for my tastes; but that’s the nature of comedy, right? Without risk, no reward, but I found the game quite amusing overall. They even play a joke on you in one part, which I won’t spoil here. (In fact, while we’re on that topic, I have decided to not include any images of the game’s later levels or scenery, as I found having never seen it myself a nice surprise when I got there. If at all possible, I want you to have the same chance I had to be surprised, so you’ll only see images from the first one-third of the game, with nothing beyond that in this review.)
GRAPHICS & AUDIO:
Esper 2 has not only better graphics, but way more locations to enjoy, making it necessary to develop entirely new graphic styles besides the same ole indoor mechanized office locales to play around in. There are Indiana Jones lost temples, underwater environments, space ships, and outer space with a space station and satellite stations. Some of the underwater areas remind me of Bioshock 1, and are really quite stunning. Take my word for it, don’t ruin the fun by looking at any images of these areas, just go there and see them for yourself. I was actually surprised that some of the graphics I was seeing were being rendered on a phone. Not all of the places are that level of stunning, but some were, and those rare few amazing sights are really worth having experienced.
The game runs smoothly in all locations and there is no motion sickness due to the Personality Type-B control scheme implemented in this game, where you teleport to the center of each location instead of moving through the intervening space (Type A) to get there as with PC games. Some of the locations had surprisingly detailed and moody atmospheres, such as one office where the main bad guy worked and also his own personal home office which had a view out of a large office-window facing an underwater city that was quite memorable, making the game worth its asking price a few times over.
The music was appropriate for all environments and the sound effects were fun and engaging. Not much more needs to be said there.
The game starts out fairly similar to the first game, only now you’re adept at the puzzles and challenges with no more mockery of how inept you were in the first game. I got tired of that, and the team at CoatSink were apparently in tune with their audience and knew we’d want something fresh in the story line this time around. They did not disappoint. In fact, you are so powerful, after the incident at game 1’s ending, that many of the agents are scared of you now, treating you like some raging demon ready to break your chains and crumple the entire facility into a postage stamp with your mind. It’s almost over the top with how scared one guy is of you, hahaha. But it’s nice to be powerful for a change. That is (ehem) until later, when your nemesis arrives to begin plaguing you with his far-more powerful abilities. He is so far beyond you, it’s like you return to being an inept bumbler again. It comes round full circle. Enjoy it while it lasts … hahaha.
This time, you are treated to more puzzles than before, but they are different, with even some “duck shooting” style events using your mind instead of a gun. The dev team really worked hard to think up ways to puzzle you without using the same tricks as last time. In fact, some of the puzzles are actually interactions with office equipment or tech gear (see image above) which is in need of being rescued after a terrifying incident shuts down the facility you are being tested in. It’s up to you to save the day … will you finally become an agent, working for the Esper program? Or are you doomed to remain a prisoner here, undergoing these infernal tests until the end of time?
You’re the only one who can save the building from being destroyed and you have to process a few different kinds of “tasks” in order to do that. During this time, you are stuck on an elevator, going from level to level without leaving the elevator to accomplish many missions from that perspective. Sound like another game that’s come out recently? Since Esper 2 came out long before “Floor Plan” did, I can only assume the “doing things in an elevator” idea came from Esper 2. They took one level of Esper 2 and made a whole game out of it. But in Esper 2, it’s well done and fun, while the opposite is true (in my opinion) for Floor Plan, which I felt was boring and poorly executed.
The main issue I had with this game, Esper 2, is that I don’t like control schemes that force you to move around by clicking and teleporting somewhere else as if you had moved there (but only in your imagination). I’m a Type A personality, I prefer to actually move there, since I rarely get motion sickness. I’m sure for the Type B’s out there, being forced to move around this way will be quite welcomed, as it’s the control scheme they already prefer. But for us thrill seekers, why not give us the option to move without the “safety” on? I prefer to experience being in all the intervening locations, not just the middle of each main space as if it’s a 360 image I can’t move around in.
As long as you’re real-time rendering all the graphics anyway, why not give us both types of options to choose in our default Settings? Everyone is sooo worried about motion sickness, they are afraid to give thrill seekers the chance to have a thrill that would be so easy to implement. Frankly, I’m getting fed up with being coddled in VR. I know WHY they do it, but I just don’t agree with this control scheme being the only one offered. It’s time to think about multiple points of view, which is what VR is good for.
While the gameplay remained intriguing and fun all the way to the end, I sadly also feel the plot for the game breaks down right at the end, when everything is going so good. I know this is a comedy-based game, but in some ways this particular plot turn ruins the whole purpose for having endured all the hardships to get there. The enemy’s justification (motivation) is so stupid that I felt thrown out of the game suddenly. I really disliked the main villain’s motivations. I know they wanted to keep things light-hearted, but there could have been any number of better ways to do that. I can think of some myself…
For example, what if the main bad guy really was evil alll the way, sinister, and his plans were quite terrifying … instead of the ones used here? Then, while up in the space station, I were to find all the parts to assemble a defunct, militarily rejected, cosmic-ray gun that makes people feel really happy and giggly? What if I was able to shoot him with it just in time and somehow change him into a guy that could be reasoned with in this new state? What if in his ultra-happy state, he says the most hilarious things that don’t jive with all the laughter he is exuding? “I — hahaha– hate you so much, you–hahahaha–you inept bumbling moronic piece of — hahahaha! I can’t! I-I–hahaha!”
What if this also caused us, the player, to fall under that same spell of laughter, and have a long-winded laugh session as we try our best to finish this game? And what if the microphone knows if you are laughing with the bad guy (in a clever Hideo Kojima way), so the bad guy suddenly asks “Hey you mentally-challenged hahahaha micro-brained midget of a hahaha — circus monkey, why you gett’n high … on your own supply?! Put down the funny ray gun and hahaha step away slowly … no sudden moves hahahaha!” or something like that.
And then instead of what we did to end this man’s reign of terror, this new ending was changed to somehow integrating the ray gun with, and using, the satellite to broadcast that ray gun at the entire world, causing everyone everywhere to laugh for 15 minutes? How great would that be, if everyone just stopped wailing and crying and mourning, and the whole world just laughed together as one? That would really foil the enemy’s evil plans, wouldn’t it? It would also be hilarious if we could hear the laughter all the way from outer space, as if the combined laughter of the world was that loud. What a show that would be!
This still-quite-funny ending would not invalidate all the evil he did before with a silly justification behind it as was done in the real game; moreover, this version would also keep our efforts intact and valued, while retaining the essence of the comedy spirit the devs were going for. Then I could still believe all my work chasing this man was worth it. But the way they told the story to the outcome, it feels seriously cheapened by a poor story-line execution and takes back all that you accomplished as if your whole adventure was for nothing. Not good!
The game runs buttery smooth and my device did not overheat for the entire 3.5 hours I played this game from start to completion. In fact, I have to ask myself if overheating isn’t the main reason I don’t start, and can’t finish, certain games in the first place? I hate reaching the state where my phone won’t run due to overheating, and I often won’t play a game anymore after that happens. Especially if it happens too much.
But here, there was no tearing at all, no jitter or judder, or any other anomalies of any kind to report in my play through. The rock-solid frame-rate shows expert programming skills. In fact, the coding efficiency for this game shows through in the fact that even with vTime or SmashHit-level visuals, there was no overheating whatsoever for the entire play through. These are seriously good coders, and that translates to a game that feels like a real place, one you are not constantly thrown out of with “overheating” warnings like in so many other GearVR titles (at least on my aging S6, anyway).
The stereoscopy is excellent, so good in fact, that I did not even have to think about stereoscopy at all until I was ready for this review. When something is unnatural, such as in Mortal Blitz or Finding VR (or Anshar Wars 2 before they created their awesome “Manual 3D Setting” feature a few patches back), I know there is something wrong right away. I may not be able to put it into words at the start, but I always know. And eventually, I will put my finger on it. But with Esper 2, there was no such realization of anything wrong. It felt wonderful. I started the game and literally forgot everything else but the fun I was having.
This is one amazing, well-executed game that is almost impossible to put down once you start. And thanks to the good coding, and thus a lack of overheating, you actually CAN complete it in one sitting as long as your phone is plugged in and charging. The graphics are great, and the gameplay is fun and engaging. There was a ton of variety in the puzzles, new graphics, interesting locations, and a fun story line over all. There is even a small, but deeply profound mystery at one point that is it’s own puzzle to be worked out.
If not for the bad plot point at the end, and if not for the lack of an option to let Type A thrill seekers like myself actually move around, this game would have earned a 10/10 and have become one of the rare games at GearVR News to have been so awarded. Those bad dings in the gameplay metric caused this game to drop to a close second place, just inches shy of our top score.
I’m sure it’s too much work to ask them to change the plot at the game’s ending, and maybe others will like it more than I; however if CoatSink wants to go back and add a “Manual Movement Control” feature in a new patch for us thrill seekers who want to actually pilot our hover-chair around the environments, then GearVR News is willing to change their score to 10/10 as we feel they would deserve in that case.
Either way, this is a game that would be good for young or old alike, doesn’t get repetitive at all, has a lot of changes in the 3+ hours of gameplay, and is funny throughout. Well worth the purchase price, and thus I will be definitely be standing in line (metaphorically of course) for their next Esper game, should the series be continued.
Nearly a perfect mobile VR game, save for a couple of flaws that really bummed me out. One of the flaws, the game’s main bad-guy’s ending story line, can’t be repaired … as that would take too much work to change. However, I DO think it should be possible to unlock the movement controls and let those who have no motion sickness experience the fun of moving our hover-chair around, navigating to whatever points of interest we want along the way. If it IS an easy fix, and it something they are willing to do, we will change our review to 10/10 stars.