I suck so bad at this stealth VR game I owe the Australian government $200 million

Failing at stealth comes with its own special type of humiliation. A quiet room suddenly blares with alarms. A darkened corridor flashes with strobe lights. Enemies yell out that they've spotted you to make sure you know that while you had one job— to go undetected—you utterly and completely blew it. Maybe you don't always die as a result, but when you fail at stealth you die inside.

VR stealth shooter Espire1, from Australian developer Lode and publisher Tripwire, takes that humiliation an extra step. I stumbled my way through my mission, alerting every single one of the guards and having to shoot most of them rather than evade or quietly incapacitate them. I dropped my gun on several occasions, I fell through a hole in the ceiling more than once, I took a zipline ride where the zipline thingie—I don't know what it's called, the handle you hold onto—simply left without me and slid down the line by itself while I stood there watching. And I finished up by being shot to death after three guards all spotted me at once.

Then, the game tallied up just how much money my failure cost my employer, the Australian government. You're remotely controlling a stealth cyborg in Espire 1, and an expensive one at that, so it getting shot to pieces by a bunch of guards you failed to bamboozle, plus the cost of all your weapons and gadgets, are all helpfully totaled up for you. In my case, the bill was north of $200 million.

Above: how the zipline works when you're not an idiot like me

While I wasn't particularly stealthy, I did get to see how stealth would work in the hands of someone less clumsy. There are some fun skills: the ability to climb walls and pipes to avoid detection, and thermal vision activated by raising a hand to your head and pulling the trigger (while you're not holding a gun) that lets you see the body heat of patrolling guards. You can throw items to distract guards and even get them to surrender with your voice, which was the one actual thing I got right.

By sneaking up behind a guard and saying 'freeze,' they'll actually raise their hands and surrender. And it worked! I said 'freeze' with my real mouth and in the virtual world the guy raised his hands, and I knocked him unconscious. I didn't deliberately knock him unconscious: I was moving closer to him so I could raise my weapon and club him over the head, but I moved too close and the weapon I was in the process of raising hit him while I was raising it. I mean, it was a successful takedown, but still a clumsy one.

Above: that's not me doing a cool stealth thing

So, my stealth mission turned into a blood bath, but we've all had that happen. One of my issues was reaching down to my hip to take the gun off my belt and coming up with nothing, or reaching for the gun on my chest and coming up with my repair tool, which isn't what you want in your hands when facing a bunch of alerted guards.

When I did manage to get a gun out, they're fun to reload by slapping in a virtual mag you grab from your belt, and you can even throw spent mags as a distraction, which I didn't think of doing but actually works, as you can see in yet another gif of someone other than me:

Even though I suck at virtual stealth, Espire 1 is good fun, and one of the few stealth-based games on the best VR headsets I've seen. I think with more practice I'd get a little bit better and owe my employers a little bit less.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.