Esper: Moving things with the power of your mind

Ever pretended that you were Magneto from the X-Men movies, using your powers of telekenisis to pick up objects and/or people and fling them around the place as if they were nothing?

Oh, you haven’t – me neither – but while Esper, a game built for the Samsung GearVR from British developer Coatsink, doesn’t put you in the spandex suit of Magneto or any other super hero, it does let you pretend you have the ability to move objects around – with the power of your mind!

Esper1BSet in 1975 (so there’s a lot of brown and beige), Esper places you in the shoes of a test subject at a secret government testing facility where you have to prove your not a threat to society by completing a variety of puzzles.

Controls are simple, which is what you want in a game that involves mind powers: Look at an object and tap on the GearVR’s touchpad to pick it up (the object will glow with a blue outline), look around to place it somewhere then tap on the touch pad to drop it. Simple. If you want to move the object forwards or backwards in 3D, you simply slide a finger backwards or forwards on the touch pad. If you don’t want to play with your right hand on your head the whole time, you can also use a compatible Bluetooth controller (if you have one, obviously).

At their most simple, the puzzles involve things like simply lifting beach balls and Rubik’s Cubes and getting them to their respective destination. Most times, though, you’ll have to negotiate obstacles like glass pipes or other impediments to get to the end goal.

Puzzles start easy enough, but soon enough, the difficulty ramps up when the game throws in things like thickened glass that blocks your telekinesis. The puzzles aren’t difficult enough to have you ripping off your GearVR headset and throwing it across the room in frustration but you’ll have to think outside the square to solve some of them.

Esper2BEsper reminds me a lot like Valve’s game Portal, another game where you have to solve puzzles using the environment around you, except this one is for a VR headset, is a heck of a lot cheaper and, in true British humour, you spend the entirety of the game sitting in a leather office chair, behind a desk, while a plethora of puzzles appear in front of you, thanks to moving walls and opening hatches.

I actually played Esper 2, the sequel to Esper, before I played Esper so I had a pretty good understanding about what to do coming into Esper but some of the latter puzzles still stumped me at first. I never threw my headset across the room, though. Esper, and Esper 2, are great games when you have a few minutes spare and you want to, you know, throw beach balls around an office for a bit.

Esper is a great example of how to do an accessible, fun VR game that won’t break the bank and really shows how immersive VR games can be. Plus it lets you have mind powers. It’s win, win, really, isn’t it?

Recommended if you own a Samsung GearVR (it’s also available for the Oculus).

<Thanks to Coatsink for providing a code for the game. Cheers>

Things you discover once you’ve finished a game

<Warning, this post contains some spoilers in the third paragraph>

I finished Portal 2 up last week. It was fun. A lot of fun, in fact,  voice work that is second to none and put a lot of other so-called AAA games to shame.

Now, in my review of Portal 2, which is going in The Press’ Box tabloid next week, I said the game wasn’t a masterpiece,  despite the wonderful tones of Stephen Merchant as nice-but-dim AI Wheatley and the star turn by American actor J.K . Simmons as the voice of Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson – but after replaying through some of the levels via the developers commentary option, I’m starting to reconsider that I might be wrong about the game, at least in some respects.

Not that I’m an achievement whore or anything (I played Portal 2 on Xbox 360 BTW) but there were a few achievements in the single player campaign that I didn’t manage to get on my first play through: the one with the vitrified doors, the Borealis one, the Lady in the Portrait one – and another one  <SPOILER ALERT> that features a whole lot of singing turrets <SPOILER ENDS> so I started working on some of those today. And you know what? Portal 2 is actually a much deeper game than I first thought: there’s some great little easter eggs hidden around the halls of the Aperture Science Enrichment Centre.

There’s been a lot of debate online over the value for money argument with Portal 2: the boxed PC version is about $100, the console versions about $120 and on Steam it’s around $US65 (what’s that? $NZ90?), and many gamers are complaining that they’ve finished the game in six hours. I can’t tell someone whether $120 is worth it for Portal 2 – you’ll have to make that decision for yourself – but the single player game took me somewhere between eight to nine hours. I haven’t finished the single player campaign but I hear that’s another six to seven hours, making it 14 to 15 hours all up. Is that value for money?

I always use the argument when it comes to value for money that I’d rather play a nine hour game that gave me enjoyment from start to finish than a 30 hours game that lagged in the middle and was padded out with repetitive content and fluff. Just my opinion, though.

Portal 2 is a great game with some flaws – the main one being that its  replay value is limited given that once you’ve completed the story campaign you know how to solve all the test chambers – but the game is fun from start to finish, mainly thanks to the excellent voice acting and the wonderful dialogue.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what gaming is all about, though? Having fun? I think it is.

Save game … what I’m playing right now

I loved the original Portal, the game that came out of nowhere and was the star of Valve’s Orange Box compilation.

Here was this game that was almost like “Here’s this little game as a thank you for buying Orange Box” and, personally, it turned out to be the star of the whole package. Almost better than Half Life 2 and Episodes One and Two and certainly better than Team Fortress 2.

So, I’ve been playing Portal 2 for most of this week. I finished it last night (Wednesday about midnight)  and it’s hard to describe how it compares to such a powerful game like Portal. It’s a brilliant, brilliant game. Perhaps not a masterpiece but one of the best games I’ve played for a long, long time and could well be a serious contender for Game of the Year when that time rolls around later in the year.

Portal 2’s concept is the same as Porta’s – solve a series of increasingly difficult tests by firing entry and exit portals from a special gun – but the story is much, much more interesting this time around and does a much better job of creating empathy for the game’s characters, except for mute Chell who isn’t developed much at all. The sections of the game that featured the voice of Cave Johnson, the founder of Aperture Science), are especially wonderful, too. Portal 2 is a brilliant, brilliant game that you all must play if you get the chance.

“It’s less of a death trap, more of a death option” – Wheatley, Portal 2

One of the highlights of Portal 2 for me was the voice acting, especially that of Stephen Merchant, the British comedian who voices new character Wheatley, and Ellen McLain, who reprises her role as the psychotic computer GLaDOS. The dialogue is just wonderful, and Merchant displays the typical trademark British humour delivery that makes such comedies as The Office, which he co-wrote with Ricky Gervais, so great.  I’ve heard some reviews complain that Merchant’s delivery grates at times (mostly American complaining, by the way) but not for me.  Not once. I thought he was delightful and the dialogue some of the best I’ve heard in a very long time.

While for me the game seemed to sag a little near the end, almost as if Valve was trying to pad things out with more puzzles, and the final boss battle was incredibly easy (despite the fact that I died a couple of times through my own stupidity), I enjoyed everything about Portal 2: the story, the voice acting, the concept and the feel, although once you’ve played through it I can’t see much replay value, unless Valve add speed runs via DLC or updates.

There are some nice achievements/trophies, too, especially one that harks back to the events of the Half Life series.

That’s all I’ve got to say about Portal 2  at the moment as I’m planning to give the co-op mode a crack over the weekend. Anyone else played Portal 2? What do you think?

Portal 2: it pays to work together

Probably because I don’t have Portal 2 yet, I’m replaying Portal on my PC. I loved the original Portal when it came out in Valve’s Orange Box collection a few years ago. Until I buy a copy of Portal 2, I’m going to have to make do with the the original.

When you think about it, Portal was almost a “Thanks for buying our game collection so here’s this neat little extra to play around with” from Value but Portal has turned into one of Valve’s most loved games.

Here’s a trailer showing the co-operative mode in action – it’s funny and you’ll probably smile to yourself like I did.

I hope to get a review copy of the game soon but if I don’t will probably eventually buy the PlayStation 3 copy, as it not only comes with the PS3 version, naturally, but also a PC version that you can download off Valve’s Steam distribution service. Now that’s what I call value for money.

Oh, the trailers got a little bit of German in it: it’s the only decent one I could find on YouTube that was the full version and didn’t have lengthy advertising at the beginning. Enjoy.