‘Echo’ Review: Not Alone
Echo is unlike anything I have ever played. From the opening title screen, a close up of an unblinking eye, I knew this game would be different. It quite literally took me a good 10 seconds to even realize it was a menu. Once I moved my joystick and the eye moved, it dawned on me. The eyeball moves to the menu options when moved far enough in any direction. Creepy and beautiful best describes it; in fact those two words are the epitome of Echo.
Echo is a new indie game developed and published by Ultra Ultra, a group comprised of some ex-IO Interactive members, the folks behind the Hitman series. This makes sense when you play Echo, as it contains many of the aspects that made that series great. There is a strong dependence on stealth and observing NPC patterns in Echo. Beyond that, the setting, story, and environments are truly unique.
Echo opens with a beautiful view of space and an odd looking craft with a lovely british female voice giving a brief and cryptic dialog intro. She then wakes up on a brightly lit slab, what looks to be a medical table. She has a discussion with a disembodied voice, a male. He is not very happy with her and explains that she has been in deep stasis for 100 years. A conversation ensues and it becomes apparent that the voice is in fact the ship AI, named London. They have traveled all this time to specific coordinates in hopes of finding an ancient and mythical palace and, in turn, hope to resurrect a mutual friend. One whose death London blames on the girl, En.
The vague plot slowly unfolds as players take control of En, moving slowly due to an injury and the stasis. En is a beautiful and very creepy looking woman, with bleached white skin and hair. Players will learn more and more about her and the current situation as Echo progresses; the storytelling is very avant garde, reminding me of a combination of science fiction and noir, such as the Blade Runner films. Echo is very smart storytelling, so pay attention or you will miss some great dialog and intrigue.
Graphically Echo is gorgeous. Players will find graphics on par with many of the big studio releases. Lighting and shadows are very important, not just visually, but as a major aspect of the gameplay actually. Once En enters the planet sized palace, she finds it in immaculate condition, adorned with regal architectural beauty fit for a king. But nobody’s home. Or so she thinks. Then the lights go out, your controller vibrates, and when they return, odd humanoid shapes start spawning everywhere. As you progress, this continues over and over, thrown into darkness, then blinded by lights, until these shapes start to look like something, or someone, they in fact look exactly like En.
This is the very unique aspect of Echo. The gameplay uses a system where these blackouts will reset and revive all of the En clones. Each time they “reset” they will gain whatever abilities En used in the last light cycle. If En dashed, they can, if she shot her weapon, they can shoot now, and so on. This creates an amazing system where players must be aware of all of their actions. As they improve and power up En, the enemies will also grow more powerful.
En has very limited “health” and can only take a couple attacks from clones, be it shots or grappled down. The nice thing is that they also die easily. Shots can be fired through multiple targets if lined up, and En will find glowing balls that can be used as distractions or to bean a clone over the head. Sneaking is suggested whenever possible, as the clones become aware of you and get faster, En can easily be swarmed. Use your scan ability to get a view behind walls and tag all clones, planning your approach based on their paths. Just like Hitman, you can also sneak up behind an enemy and kill them, silently making your way to the goal.
The music and voice work in Echo is top notch. The ambient sounds and music fit perfectly with the creepy and cavernous areas and the grandiose high ceiling rooms of the palace. The silence adds to the spooky factor when the lights go out as well. The biggest complaint I had with Echo was how the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly. If the player cannot learn to command the actions of the clones by limiting their own actions, it can be over fairly quickly as you are swarmed by fast and deadly powered enemies. Speed and force can be used at times, but Echo seems to favor the sneaky.
Ultra Ultra has managed to create a unique, strange, and beautiful game with Echo. I was shocked at the production value for a game with an MSRP of $39.99 USD. I have seen many AAA titles from major studios that are not as well made as Echo is. If you enjoy stealth third person games, Echo is a game you do not want to let pass you by. Fan of sci-fi either as the story and setting are on par of with some of the greats. I hope we see a sequel to Echo in the near future.
Echo is available now on PlayStation 4 and Steam. This review is based on a PS4 copy provided by the publisher.
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