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    Game » consists of 2 releases. Released Sep 19, 2017

    Echo is a sci-fi tactical stealth game from Ultra Ultra.

    yyninja's ECHO (PC) review

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    Becoming your worst enemy

    Stealth is a niche genre in video games because it is hard to get right. There are numerous variables to be balanced to make the experience exciting. Being aware of enemies is important, but it must be limited or else it makes avoiding them too easy. Getting caught should be punishing but not too punishing where it feels impossible to escape. Lastly, having the ability to “go loud” in a stealth game should be possible, however it shouldn’t make the player so powerful that it becomes an action game. Echo is one of the few stealth games that nails these elements and adds its own twist where the difficulty is determined by the player’s actions. It is unfortunate to report that the game is clearly restrained by a modest budget. The lack of character and map variety does not justify the game’s duration. The story is confusing and locks important story bits behind hidden collectibles. And the characters come off as unlikable due to their constant bickering. Echo is a fantastic prototype but does not do enough to be entertaining to the very end.

    Echo takes place in the far future. You play as En (voiced by Rose Lesie of Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones fame) a Resourceful who has rebelled against her masters. She escapes with a cube that contains the transcribed remnants of Foster. Foster has provided En coordinates to a location known as The Palace. According to Foster, The Palace can revive a transcribed human. With the help of an AI companion named London, En makes a 100 year cryosleep journey to The Palace. When she arrives at The Palace, The Palace reacts to the cube and suddenly goes through a power on and off cycle. As En makes her way deeper, she notices that with each cycle, blobs of matter evolve to become more human-like. Eventually these blobs grow to look and behave exactly like En. She calls them Echoes and for unknown reasons they want to stop her.

    For a stealth game, En is incredibly powerful. She can run, vault railings, knock out enemies by flanking them and fire an energy pistol. The whole conceit is that by doing so, En inadvertently teaches the Echoes to do the same. So firing the energy gun example will teach the Echoes how to fire their guns on the next power cycle. Likewise, if En does nothing but walk, the Echoes will only walk on the next cycle. The game would be horrendously boring if all you did was walk around, so fortunately when The Palace powers down, the Echoes won’t learn from En’s actions. After every power cycle, all the Echoes respawn, preventing you from methodically eliminating every Echo in the level. The gameplay most resembles the children’s game Red Light/Green Light because it forces you to think of what actions to use and when.

    The game’s take on stealth creates interesting scenarios. One of the earlier levels involves Echoes who don’t know how to walk over water. You can teach them to cross water by doing it yourself, but it would make the level exponentially more difficult. The trick to that level is to cross the water only when the power is off. There are other levels that feature interactions to “dumb down” the Echoes, such as having them mimick you eat grapes or play instruments. There are other times where you want to intentionally teach the Echoes so that you can manipulate them into opening doors and activating catwalks for you. The ability to train and trick the AI never gets old and remains engaging throughout the game.

    Unfortunately Echo does nothing else very well. The banter between En and London is not enjoyable to listen to. They bicker for the entire game and constantly repeat their arguments due to no third party present to mediate. En argues that The Palace can bring Foster back while London tries to convince her that this is all a waste of time. We don’t know which character is telling the truth since they contradict each other. The longer the game goes on the more heated their arguments get, to a point where they resort to childish name calling. The pair resolves things in the end but it feels hammed in and unrewarding.

    The game looks beautiful, but notice how the same assets are repeated
    The game looks beautiful, but notice how the same assets are repeated

    Another aspect that really bothered me were the level designs. The map designer in Echo must love the mirror and the copy and paste tools because all the maps are symmetrical and padded out. There are too many hallways and rooms that are repeated ad nauseum that it is boring and confusing to navigate. The same recycled assets are used everywhere. It evokes the feeling of traveling through an infinite staircase. There are times where En is forced to slow walk making the experience that much more monotonous. It doesn’t help that the first 30 minutes in the game is all about walking through these bland identical looking maps. Even if these designs were due to a plot related reason, it is not enjoyable to play through a game that consists of different permutations of the same map assets for hours.

    There are collectibles in the form of Tuning forks and Energy orbs, where collecting all of the former in a level reveals a hidden story message at the end of the level and the latter improves En’s Energy Capacity. I don’t necessarily have a problem with collecting things, but I do have a problem when it involves actively avoiding foes at the same time. There were several occasions where I collected an Energy orb, got caught and had to repeat the entire sequence over again. To make things worse, imagine collecting things in non-distinct maps where following a walkthrough may not help much due to how similar every room is.

    Somewhat related to the repeated map assets are the lack of any character variety. En, is the only modeled animated character in the entire game. The story of having the Echoes look exactly like En is a clever plot device to explain why her model is so heavily recycled. I just wish the game did a tad more to differentiate one level full of Echoes from another level full of Echoes. Granted, the game does introduce a new character type in the final act, but it’s the same En model only with a different color palette and size.

    I am thoroughly disappointed by Echo. The game’s stealth mechanics and the ability to train the AI is novel and engaging, but everything else about the game failed to pique my interest. The unlikable characters, confusing story and overall lack of variety of content made for an awful experience even accounting for the game’s short length. There is only so much a developer can do with one character model and one set of environmental assets. While getting Rose Leslie to voice En is a great get, it doesn’t suddenly turn this into a must buy game. It’s a shame really because Echo is Ultra Ultra’s first and last game. The foundation of a great game is present, but they failed to build anything of interest on top of it.

    Other reviews for ECHO (PC)

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