By Tyler Trosper / December 7th, 2017
|Release Date||September 19th, 2017|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, PC
ECHO has an interesting approach to game design. After being in cryosleep for over a hundred years, En has arrived at a mysterious place known as the Palace. Her mission: to resurrect a man close to her. However, something else is created in this mysterious place to keep her from her goal: clones of En herself. Echoes, if you will. ECHO is a mysterious and clever game, though it never truly lives up to its full potential.
As En, you travel lower and lower into the palace, traveling through fancy halls reminiscent of the elegant and eerie living quarters at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. You will run into many clones of En in the process, but they can only be as clever as you make them. Each area is split into two phases: a learning phase and a black out phase. During the learning phase, every action you take is recorded, indicated by a shade of yourself left behind temporarily. After a minute or so, all of the lights will go out, a time in which the Palace is uploading the information it learned and ignores any action you are taking in the meantime. Once the lights come back on, the learning phases begins again, but this time, the enemies now know whatever you did last time. Did you shoot at some enemies? Well, now they are going to shoot at you too. Perform a stealth kill? Better watch your back because they can now do the same thing. Even something as simple as opening doors and walking through water needs to be learned.
But wait a minute, what if the enemies learn every single action in the game? Are you screwed for the rest of the game? Thankfully, no, and this is where the name ECHO really comes into play. The clones only know as much as you taught them the previous learning cycle. Meaning, if you don’t do a specific action, they learn not to do it too. Regret teaching them how to shoot? Don’t shoot during the next learning phase. Their learning is in itself an echo, which only lasts a short while. Learning to balance your actions during the learning phases and the blackout phases added some interesting strategy to a stealth shooter such as this.
I was honestly impressed by the learning mechanic, though I wish more was done with it. Several times I ran up behind one of the echoes and performed a lethal takedown, the sound of my running never alerting them. A few times the learning phase is used in clever ways to solve puzzles, but this is rarely done. The game is usually split into three different scenarios: hunting for a certain amount of orbs to unlock an elevator, hunting for keys to open a door, or traveling through an airlock to move around outside of the Palace’s interior. The formula is shaken up here and there, but it did feel a bit repetitive after awhile. Fighting the same enemies over and over again didn’t help, though a new enemy does get introduced near the end of the game.
Playing the game on PlayStation 4, I’ve run into a fair share of glitches and freezes. Most of the time, ECHO would freeze for maybe 10 seconds or so when transitioning into a new area. Once, I fell into the floor and had no choice but to reload the game. In that case, progress was lost, which can be a lot if you rely on autosaves, but thankfully the game adds a manual save system an hour or two in that also helps with tracking down any orbs you need to find for locked elevators. En’s movement feels stiff at times, especially if she is moving at an angle, but thankfully the addition of sprinting lets her move a bit more fluidly.
Visually, the game is stunning, if lacking variety. The majority of the game is filled with dazzling halls that pretty much look the same. On one hand, it feels repetitive, but the way the halls are decorated, with a plethora of chairs and barely anything else, gives off a feeling that an entity other than humans designed the Palace. Meaning, it felt like an interpretation of a human dining hall by an entity that knows barely anything about them, which was a nice touch. Character-wise, En has an interesting design that doesn’t try to sexualize her just for being a female protagonist. The echoes of her are interesting in the fact that, from afar, they look just like her, but if you get close, you can see subtle, unnerving differences in their faces to help distinguish them from her.
Speaking of En, her voice was provided by Rose Leslie, best known for Ygritte from Game of Thrones. As En, she was able to breathe life into the character and provided a pretty good performance. However, there are times where she can make some awkward sounds, mostly when vaulting over surfaces, but these moments aren’t frequent. Her counterpart, London, is the AI to En’s ship, though you wouldn’t guess it from how passionate he comes across during cutscenes. Their bickering and conversations are the bulk of the game, which help flesh out the world of ECHO. Otherwise, they are the only two characters in the game with speaking roles, but both perform their roles well. The sound overall is superb, with many of the game’s tracks sounding like they would be perfectly placed in a science fiction film.
ECHO is a good first step for indie developer Ultra Ultra. The story, though mysterious and told through conversations between En and her ship’s AI, was intriguing enough to keep me pushing through the game. The enemies’ ability to learn and unlearn based on your actions led to some interesting strategies, but I feel like the game could have pushed this system farther and with less glitches. Since the game doesn’t keep track of how many hours you play on PlayStation 4, I wager it took me less than 10 hours to beat, but there are several unlockables throughout the game to keep you busy for a few more hours. ECHO is available on PlayStation 4 and Steam for $24.99.
A copy of the game was provided by the developer.
ECHOPCPlayStation 4SteamUltra Ultra