When Echo was first showed off at E3 last year, I was quite impressed by the game’s enemy AI and it’s constantly evolving nature. This gorgeous yet flawed game is the work of Danish developer Ultra Ultra and leverages the Unreal engine 4 to bring it’s fascinating mechanics to fruition.
Echo Review: Plot
The game starts off as a girl named En wakes up on a spaceship in deep space. After being on the run from her grandpa for years, she finally decides to accomplish what he long hoped she would. The reason being the death of a close friend, and hopes of reviving him lead En to her long forgotten destiny.
She is not alone though, and the ship’s AI, London keeps track of her while discussing the past and the events leading up to their current predicament. He questions her motives, constantly judging her decisions, beliefs and even her unwavering resolve. This banter fills in for the most part of the story and gives the player something to chew on as the game drags on.
Echo plays out in an underground palace, best described as an endless labyrinth that seems to go on endlessly in all directions. This was originally supposed to be one of the game’s strong points, navigating the maize while evading your clones. However, being stuck in a single environment for the entirety of the game gets seriously boring to the point of making it feel like an arcade game.
The main attraction are the echos, or to be more specific En’s clones who continuously evolve and learn from her. There are power outages after regular intervals, during which the Echos’ are updated. If you use your firearm to take down one of them, after the next outage, they’ll also start shooting at you, sneak up on one, they’ll do the same, and if you crouch around, they’ll copy even that.
The caveat here is that as the Echos learn more and more from you, they don’t retain everything from before. If you avoid water between two consecutive reboots, they’ll also stay away from it, even if they had learned to cross puddles from you earlier. Furthermore, during outages, you’re free to use whatever means to take down the echos you see fit, because that’s when the system is blind and doesn’t record your movements.
The enemy AI may be advanced, but it’s still not comparable to human players. The echos will copy you and follow your example, but they still do it with crude precision. For example, if they shoot at you, it doesn’t always connect and afterwards they don’t duck behind cover to evade the counter-fire, either.
Echo may be an indie title, but it has a rather stellar cast. En is voiced by Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, and London by Nick Boulton. Both the voice actors do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life. En is a stubborn, independent person who refuses to give up despite the odds, while London is what you’d expect an AI to be- cold, calculating and logical to a fault.
At first, the game seems promising with it’s pretty visuals and a proficient cast, but as the novelty wears off, it turns into a linear, repetitive experience, thanks to a poor quest design that mostly involves going from point a to point b, collecting orbs and avoiding the echos. Unlike Firewatch, where the two-character cast works to the game’s advantage, in Echo, En and London mostly bicker and argue, and the chemistry between them is all but lacking.
Echo Review: Conclusion
It is a shame that Echo turned out to be another indie with a poor quest design, or perhaps the lack of one. When you first start the game, it comes off as really unique and is perhaps the first of it’s kind. But the mechanics fail to build on the basics, and for the most part, the gameplay remains the same. The story is also too abstract and there is only so much a good caste can do to keep you immersed when everything else is flawed.