Echo has potential but never quite reaches them. The FingerGuns Review;
When I first saw Echo, and heard it was from ex IO staff, I was interested to see what they could do once they had the opportunity to move away from the Hitman series.
What they came up with is something I never expected, something that’s hard to get my head around, something that’s going to be a struggle to review. Not because of the actual game, but because I need to try and put into words how the game works and that’s the hard bit.
Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. You play as En, a transhuman that believes she can bring the dead back to life. And sets out on a mission to try to resurrect a loved one that happens to be trapped in a red cube that is strapped to the back of her space suit. To do this En must travel to a planet-sized machine known as The Palace where she will face her deadliest foe – herself, or to be more accurate, you.
Upon landing, En has to navigate her way into the vast complex. Now, I need to say this, the first 40 or so minutes are awful. When you arrive you have no waypoint, you don’t know where to go. Literally, no indication on which of the many paths you should take so you are just left wandering. You can’t run, you can’t jump, all you can do is vault down to a lower level, and even this costs you precious energy (more on that later).
I don’t know if it’s by design or by accident (if design then kudos to the developers) but I eventually found my way into The Palace. A pristine, regal looking palace that is devoid of life and light. Your first port of call is to power up this dormant machine, so off you wander again still with no waypoint or any indication of where you’re supposed to go. This whole section took me around 40 minutes and it’s boring. Really boring. All you have for company is the faceless voice (Nick Boulton) on the radio who you talk to as you progress deeper into the Palace. This of course allows the game to lay out the story and to put context to everything. This doesn’t really help break up the monotony though because En’s voice is too muffled by her space suit.
Not the most enticing start to a game I have to say, but Echo does manage to do just enough to stop you reaching for that power button. Eventually again, either by design or by sheer chance I managed to power up this behemoth and then that’s when you discover things are going to get interesting, very interesting indeed.
Upon powering up the palace you have inadvertently awoken or activated something else in the process. At first, all seems well then you start to notice blobs on the floor, the lights go out, the lights come and the blobs get bigger and start to take human shape, this happens a number of times until the blobs become exact replicas of En, which is kind of freaky at first. These ‘clones’ are called Echos who guard the halls and corridors of the palace moving to attack En when they see her, and are the basis for the games most original and captivating feature.
As you go off exploring, (thankfully now you have a waypoint), the palace continues to have light and dark phases. When the lights are on, the palace learns, monitoring everything En does. Every movement and action is recorded and then passed on to the Echoes. And when the lights go out, the palace is rebooting, and not recording, but the Echoes are still active and hostile. Following?
When the light phase returns, the echoes will have learned all your actions from the previous light phase. For example, if you had opened a door, jumped from a balcony, used your gun in the previous light phase, the Echos will be able to do the same in this current light phase. Conversely, they have forgotten the moves they had learned previously. Astonishingly, by default, the Echoes are afraid of water. But if you go for a paddle, the next phase, their fear is gone. It’s quite a wonderful game mechanic.
So to progress in this game you really have to use your brain, as you have to think about your every move as you creep around the palace. to make things even harder, En herself is next to useless limited by her suits various abilities. Pretty much all the moves at your disposal use suit energy. Anything, like sprinting, firing your gun or simply dropping down a level requires various levels of energy. Once depleted you’re kind of stuck, and have no way to protect yourself. If you become surrounded by Echoes you’re as good as dead. Thankfully dotted around the palace and in plentiful supply are glowing masts which will recharge your suit energy.
To help further, En’s suit has a holographic sphere that’s ever present and is a godsend for stealth games and possibly a game-changing mechanic, similar to what Rocksteady bought to third person combat. The sphere changes color depending on various factors. Blue if you’re safe, orange if an Echo can see you and Red means you are in imminent danger of attack. It’s a great mechanic, and one which solves the problem I personally have in stealth games of looking at a map, then at an enemies vision cone and then changing view just to get a sense of where the danger is. This sphere stops all that.
So what you have essentially is a great concept, which is part action game, part stealth game, and part all-encompassing puzzle game. All these elements gel together nicely and never feel out of place. As you can probably tell by the way the game learns your actions, to get the most out of this game you have to stick with it. It’s just a shame that these original features are in encased in a game that is a long arduous slog through identical environments fighting identical foes. The story is interesting, well, the parts that you can make out are. En’s voice is either too muffled or too quiet and it’s easy to miss what’s going on, which is a real shame as she is voiced by Game of Thrones star Rose Leslie.
Echo can also be tough and death will be common place as you face room upon room of Echoes who are learning all the time. It’s not a particularly long game either and can be completed in a few hours. However, there is some replay value to be had by way of searching out lavish tuning forks that when hit create a note where the frequency of that note will then unlock some of the background stories.
Whether you want to explore to find them though is another matter. Although the vast scale of the Palace is quite something, and graphically it looks gorgeous, it’s the same throughout. No amount of pattern changes or color changes can stop you feeling a little bored of the environment or claustrophobic. En’s limited move set and the power meter can also become frustrating. A power meter is a good idea for certain moves but for basic traversing, it felt like it was holding you back for no real reason. It felt like a cheap trick.
Ultra Ultra has done a fantastic job of bringing something original to the stealth game genre, It’s super smart and innovative in places, and I look forward to what’s next on their radar. But for Echo, despite all the innovation and good looks, the core gameplay is too restrictive and dull and you feel that Ultra Ultra had run out of ideas and made certain sections just too long just to pad the game out. There is potential here, it’s just been poorly executed, but I do look forward to what Ultra Ultra do next.
Echo is available now on PS4 (reviewed) and PC
Developer: Ultra Ultra
Publisher: Ultra Ultra
Disclaimer – In order to complete this review, we received a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.