For the purposes of transparency, this review was created using a code provided by the company or their respective PR company. The use of a review code does not affect my judgement of the game.
Ultra Ultra a studio in Copenhagen bring us their debut game in ECHO. A game made by old members of the IO Interactive team, that looks at stealth in a whole new way – but, does ECHO do enough to sneak up and surprise you?
The game starts with the main character En waking up from over 100 years in stasis, and getting introduced the ships AI system. You will soon find the start of the game is very slow and can at times seem like a chore. But, this is to help and build the back story of what has happened and also give you some feel of the world the game is built around – so this is understandable. After following the guided paths as the back story is fleshed out, you find out En is looking for a mysterious palace that has the ability to bring an old friends back to life, and they are stored in the odd red cube En has on her back. You then arrive at the palace, which looks essentially like a big cube, once inside you find a beautiful white marble and gold interior.
As aforementioned the game starts off slow, but once in the palace the game starts to open up. You will start in the dark with only your shoulder light to guide you, and the way the light reflects off the settings marble and gold finish gives you a feeling of tension. You will soon restore the power, and the tension building doesn’t stop there, because the power goes on and off in loops, and as the lights come back on what started as black blob’s start to be detected as a life-form. After a number of reboots in the power, this black blob has started to resemble and ends up as a human life form – soon be realised it is a clone of En.
Once this is discovered the gameplay’s core mechanic comes into play. The game can be approached in number of ways; you can fight, use stealth or try to outrun these clones (echoes) of yourself. Now, this where the game brings in a great gameplay mechanic, and a very refreshing change to how a game can play out. The palace is still going through these power loops, when the lights are on it is recording your moves and how you play, once they go off and come on any of your previous movements are now given to the echoes. Meaning, they will learn how you play, so if you run, they will now have the ability to run, you vault over something, they will be able to vault over stuff now – I think you get the point. What I found this does, it takes all the power stealth game genre seems to en-power on players and takes it all away, and makes you consider your approach and actions.
You are set in thinking how you take on the area, and you will find yourself forward planning. Thinking what abilities do you not mind your echoes taking, and performing the ones you want to keep to yourself while the power is out and you are not be recorded by the palace. You are given multiple ways to deal with echoes, you can stealthily take them down, but that will make some noise and could alert near by echoes, you can shoot them with your gun or push them over. However, keep in mind when the power cycle is complete the echoes you have taken down stealthily or shot will be back up – now improved with what the palace has recorded.
Also all the actions you are taking be it shooting, vaulting over things, taking echoes down by stealth, are controlled by the power of your suit. The power to your suit is restored by collecting light balls from around the palace – but, these are generously placed about. You can also increase the power cells your suit holds by finding upgrades around the palace. With the usage of power in mind, there is a handy ability on your gun, if you have a line of echoes one bullet with take out multiple echoes – which is shown by the number of circles around the reticule. Again you might want to keep this is mind before taking a shot, because the noise is going to alert other echoes. Taking all this into account you can see where every element of the game is going to have you planning exactly what you are going to, which for me made it great game, and a unique idea on how to handle the AI in a game.
At first I was not sure what to expect visually from the game, as the opening section is a lot of snow-covered paths and buildings that left me a little underwhelmed. But once inside the palace, and you see the white marble and gold setting, you start to feel the visuals are strong, thanks to the reflections from the torch on the setting. Once you have the power on in the palace and you get a better look at the setting it is stunning. Then you still get beautifully done reflections on the white marble, and as the surges happen those reflections from the torch are still there throughout. My only issue with the visuals was the palace design is very samey, and it the repetitive nature means these winding corridors can sometimes make the setting a bit boring – but the beautiful design makes it easy to let this pass.
To go with the well presented visuals they have also implemented great use of audio. Where the game is not a horror game, the use of the sound in the game does build in some tension. With voice acting by Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) as En and Nick Boulton (most recently Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice) as London (the ships AI), it means the game is also very well performed. Add to this the soundtrack which is mix of an orchestra and glitchy sounds, it really makes the overall audio of the game great.
Looking at the time it takes to complete the game, my first play-through took me a few hours. However, where you might think is short, ECHO is made to played multiple times in order to get the full use from the impressive AI sand-box design. What the AI system does is helps the game have that replay-value, because you can play the same parts of the game with a complete different AI skill set. The game will set you back £18.99 on both the Playstation Store and Steam, and for the unique take on AI, plus reasons to go back and play it again it’s certainly worth it.