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Real Time Strategy

Review: There Came an Echo

Feb 24 // Darren Nakamura
There Came an Echo (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Iridium StudiosPublisher: Iridium StudiosReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The main selling point of There Came an Echo is its real-time strategy gameplay facilitated by voice control. Taking on the role of the mysterious (and androgynously named) Sam, the player oversees the battlefield from an isometric perspective, issuing commands to the units fighting on the ground. At first, the tactical considerations are light: friendly units should stay behind cover and flank enemies for maximum success. Each of the four characters carries a standard pistol, but eventually new weapons become available for the team to spread around. These add another layer to the combat tactics. The Charge gun deals area-of-effect damage, the Screw gun lays down suppressing fire, the Sniper rifle deals high damage at long range, and the Rail gun deals high damage with a high energy cost. Each of the special weapons takes some amount of energy to fire, and that energy functions not only as ammunition, but also as shields. Once a shield drops to zero that unit is incapacitated until revived by a nearby teammate. This sets up a series of risk/reward decisions to make during each battle. Using special weapons recklessly can drain energy to the point where a few shots can take that unit down, but not using special weapons in the right situations can allow enemies to deal more damage than they otherwise would. The different scenarios across the campaign keep combat fresh. Some are frantic, putting the heroes in the middle of a frenzied battle, and others are methodical, allowing time for Sam to survey the battlefield, set plans, and execute. Stealth comes into play during a few moments, and players get to set up the always satisfying "coordinate two units to shoot two unaware enemies simultaneously in order to avoid detection" maneuver. [embed]288057:57480:0[/embed] Though There Came an Echo is most often described by its gameplay hook, it turns out the story is given almost as much attention. Over the course of the four-hour campaign, it felt like 40 percent of the time was spent listening to dialogue through in-engine cutscenes. For the most part, this isn't bad. A lot of the writing is sharp and funny, though a few lines intended for laughs fall flat. The plot shares some similarities with The Matrix, complete with the opening scene of an unknown caller guiding the reluctant hero out of an office building while men in suits try to kidnap him. Like The Matrix, There Came an Echo walks a line between providing thought-provoking questions about humans' increasing technological prowess and ham-handed science fiction mumbo jumbo. Like The Matrix Revolutions, it crosses that line a few times. The narrative is also perhaps a bit too self-indulgent for its own good. About halfway through there is a big reveal presented as a shocking twist, but only a select few will really feel the gravity of it. It's difficult to discuss without treading too far into spoiler territory, but I can say even as a member of the target audience for the reveal, it took me a while to grasp the significance. To be fair, it is a pretty cool secret to keep throughout development, but that coolness will be lost on a lot of players. The technology underlying There Came an Echo has always been impressive. The voice recognition is superb; the only issues I had with it came during heated battles when I was trying to get too many commands out too quickly. Not only does it recognize the preset words and phrases well, but it also allows players to input their own. No recording is necessary, just a typed word. I changed my phonetic alphabet to be names of famous scientists, and it worked with no trouble. One of the hidden benefits of the voice control scheme is it helps to suspend disbelief. The fourth wall is more easily penetrated when the player is asked only to pretend to be a person sitting at a computer, giving battlefield commands from a remote location. It adds a more human element to a type of media best known for mouse clicks and button presses. Though the things happening on screen are not real, the voice connection between player and character helps to convince the brain it just could be. Some special care was taken with the player's dialogue to make the characters feel human. If an unwise or redundant order is given, the fighters will let Sam know. Near the beginning, the character Val asks the player to "say 'hi,' Sam." Like any predictable cheeseball, I said "Hi, Sam," to which Val responded with a sarcastic, "Very funny." Voice control is optional, but I couldn't image wanting to play without it. My favorite battle moments stemmed from its use. There is the inherent nerdy fun of using a phonetic alphabet. There is the fluster that comes with taking on a more realistic commander role in a tense combat situation. The most enjoyment I got out of There Came an Echo's battles were with a series of rooms to clear with time to breathe in between. The system allows players to set up a long queue of commands set to different marks. After careful thought, planning, and instruction, executing it all with a few numbered "mark" commands is quite satisfying. One drawback of the voice control is that the pared-down design can instill a sense of powerlessness. Ordering units to specific named locations works well, but not every location is designated. A few times near the beginning, I wanted to unit to be in a particular spot to flank an enemy, but there was no command to get him there. Other technical issues showed up over the course of the game. The team at Iridium has been working up through release to clear out bugs, but I still found a few, including one that is locking me out from being able to use the Screw gun in the War Room -- There Came an Echo's story-independent skirmish mode. The War Room itself is a welcome addition, but it doesn't feel like it goes as far as it should. It lets players defend against waves of enemies in a simple, symmetrical arena. At that, it functions fine, but I can't help but wish for a greater variety of maps, more interesting objectives, or perhaps even some player-vs.-player action. Aesthetically, There Came an Echo has its ups and downs. The environments are visually interesting: detailed, vibrant, and clear. The character models and animations don't hold up quite so well, with robotic movement betraying the otherwise convincing human characters. The sound design is fantastic. Jimmy Hinson and Ronald Jenkees provide a great soundtrack to the sci-fi adventure. The voice cast does a good job bringing the characters to life, though there are a handful of cringe-worthy hammed up lines scattered throughout. Overall, There Came an Echo is a worthy experience, but it's lacking in too many minor areas to achieve greatness. While the voice-controlled strategy gameplay is engaging, it does lead to some design hiccups. While the narrative is entertaining and even intellectually demanding at times, it just as easily falls into navel-gazing jargon. While the technology is impressive, it feels like it belongs in a much bigger game. The proof of concept is here, and I would certainly look forward to a hypothetical There Came an Echo 2 if it were announced. The groundwork has been laid, and with more content and finer polish it could be great. But knowing Iridium, the studio's next project will be something completely different, taking its science fiction stories into another unusual genre mashup. [This review is based on an advance backer copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
There Came an Echo review photo
Say it again, Sam
[Disclosure: I backed There Came an Echo on Kickstarter.] Iridium Studios started out as a tiny developer with a humble Kickstarter for its rhythm role-playing game Sequence. It saw enough success that lead designer Jason Wis...

Homeworld trailer photo
Homeworld trailer

Homeworld Remastered Collection trailer shows off sexy-voiced cultist or something


'If you will not join, then die'
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All right, I'll admit it: I know almost nothing about Homeworld. After reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia (yeah journalism!), I got the gist of how things go, but with all of the alien races involved I can't really place...
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Offworld Trading Company

Civ IV lead designer's Offworld Trading Company hits Early Access


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These pointy Warcraft III models sure bring me back


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Breach & Clear: Deadline raids Steam Early Access


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We Can Go Homeworld Again: Gearbox sets date for Homeworld Remastered


Engine trails ahoy!
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I said 'Whose house?' 'Goo's house!'
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Battlefleet Gothic

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This sure is pretty
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There Came an Echo photo
There Came an Echo

There Came an Echo set to release on Steam February 24


February 21 for Kickstarter backers
Jan 12
// Darren Nakamura
There Came an Echo is Iridium Studios' second Kickstarter success, but as a more ambitious project it took a bit longer than Sequence to release after its crowdfunding campaign. Originally projected for a June 2014 rele...
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Blazing Griffin's Scott Boyd gives us some pointers on how to die less often!
Jan 09
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PS4

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That looks like a zoning nightmare
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There Came an Echo photo
There Came an Echo

There Came an Echo story trailer shows off its voice talent


Wil Wheaton, Ashly Burch, and more
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Originally slated for a June 2014 release, then pushed back to October 2014, voice-controlled strategy game There Came an Echo is now projected to release by early February 2015. That's only a few months away! According...
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Dungeons II takes a humorous approach to being the bad guy

Nov 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Dungeons II (PC [Previewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: RealmForgePublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease Date: Q1 2015 Set in a Medieval-fantasy world full of humans and orcs on the brink of war, you play as the Dungeon Lord. Due to a magical spell, you are bound to your throne in a cave, and must rely on your minions to do your bidding. With the humans drawing closer to your realm, you must break the spell by expanding your resources and your army in order to fortify your dungeon, while retaking territory from the humans on the surface. While this may sound as generic as it gets, and it certainly does at first glance, Dungeons II takes great pride in defying expectations and subverting them. During my first hour, I found that Dungeons II felt very much like a parody of generic fantasy/adventure games. Many of the tropes and cliches are mocked and made light of, despite adhering to them in humorous fashion. Moreover, Kevan Brighting, the Narrator from The Stanley Parable, offers his talents here by breaking the fourth-wall to mock player's slow progress, and even going after the video games ratings system. I was always entertained throughout, and a lot of that had to do with the game's comedic tone.[embed]283823:56328:0[/embed]As the sequel to the original Dungeons, you're tasked with expanding the scope and scale of your dungeon, while keeping your minions happy. As you send your lesser underlings to create rooms for resources, and digging for gold, you have to monitor their happiness levels or else they'll revolt. By building breweries, you can keep them drunk and content, while paying for their services as well. As you build your base of operations, you'll eventually be visited by humans from the surface, looking to see what all the commotion is about. From here, you'll have to set traps and send out stronger minions to confront them and protect the Dungeon Lord.But here is where things get a little different. Once you've built the necessary resources and have a sizable force, you can send your minions up to the surface to retake territory. Switching over from Dungeon Keeper gameplay to RTS style mechanics similar to WarCraft or Dawn of War, the pacing changes up considerably. From here, you can battle your foes and sack their villages, turning the whimsical and lush environment, to barren and scorched wastelands.I was very impressed with how seamlessly Dungeons II transitions between the two different styles of gameplay. You can switch between the two on the fly with no loading whatsoever, which makes alternating between battles on the surface and making sure your minions in the dungeon are collecting resources very simple. Though be sure not to divide your forces so readily. If your send all your offensive minions outside, you can potentially leave yourself open to attack, as the lesser minions in the dungeon cannot defend themselves or the Dungeon Lord.Eventually, the Dungeon Lord and his forces will grow in power and come into conflict with other foes of the fantasy world, such as Dwarves and Elves, and they'll utilizes skills and tactics that will put abilities as the lord of evil to the test. During my session, I came into contact with a tribe of goblins hiding out from the Humans. Realizing that their resources would be put to better use elsewhere, the  Lord recruited them and used their tinkering skills to build devices to defend the dungeon.Even though my time with the game wasn't as long as I would've hoped, I came away pretty pleased with what I experienced. Though I'm generally not a fan of RTS titles, I did enjoy my time with Dungeons II. I was very much impressed with the sense of humor on display. It's always great to play a medieval-fantasy game that doesn't take itself seriously, and even makes some light-hearted jabs at the genre.With much more of the game in store, and including four-player online mode, Dungeons II looks to be a very solid and unique take on the classic Dungeon Keeper gameplay. If you're eager for a game where you play as the bad guy, then you'll want to keep this one on your radar.
Dungeons II photo
Make way for the villain
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RTS

Bring about the apocalypse in Uber's next real-time strategy game


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Dawn of War II is no longer tied to Games for Windows Live


Multiplayer now handled by Relic servers
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Closed beta kicks off July 23
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'90s real-time strategy game Z comes to Steam tomorrow


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Fable Legends combines Left 4 Dead with Dungeons and Dragons

Jun 10 // Darren Nakamura
On display was the adversarial multiplayer mode, in which four players control the heroes and one player controls the villain. Playing as a hero is most familiar to Fable fans; each hero has a normal attack, as well as a handful of special abilities. Inga is the tank of the group, lugging around an enormous shield. With her special abilities, she can pull enemies close to her, taunt them so they attack her instead of her allies, and put up a shield wall to block ranged attacks. Sterling is more of a glass cannon, with the ability to quickly slice and stab monsters, but limited defense. With his special abilities, he can slap monsters to stun them, close a lot of distance quickly, or attack at range with throwing daggers. Rook is the ranged attacker, equipped with a crossbow. With his special abilities, he can punch enemies who get too close, fire explosive bolts from his bow, or save himself from being knocked out. Winter acts as a support spellcaster, with freezing magic to slow monsters. With her special abilities, she can summon a large area-of-effect storm attack, shatter frozen enemies, or protect allies by covering them with a coat of ice. I played as Sterling, and his abilities have their own unique economy to them. By landing normal melee attacks or thrown dagger hits, he builds up Sterling Tokens. Sterling can then perform a heavy attack that gets stronger the more tokens he has. His special abilities are also tied to Sterling Tokens, which keeps him from being able to spam them. As with Left 4 Dead, the heroes must stick together and cooperate in order to stand a chance. If heroes are separated, their outlines are visible through walls in order to facilitate regrouping Downed heroes can be revived, but the process takes long enough that it only works if the villain has no monsters or traps nearby or if he is not paying attention. What separates Fable Legends from more standard cooperative games is that another player can take on the role of the villain. In contrast to the heroes, the villain player gets a bird's-eye view of the battlefield. He has at his disposal several groups of monsters and a few traps to spring. Before an encounter, he chooses placement for his units, so they will not necessarily show up in the same spots from game to game. For the villain player, it looks more like a real-time strategy game than a role-playing game. From the zoomed out perspective, he commands units and sets off traps. Among his traps are explosive mines, smoke bombs, and spike walls. The spike walls are particularly interesting, because they can be used to separate heroes who venture too far ahead or fall too far behind the group, letting monsters gang up. At the demonstration, most groups of heroes were getting beaten pretty badly. After fighting through waves of monsters, an ogre appeared as the boss for the encounter. Though our group had done fairly well up until that point, we were ambushed from behind by a group of goblins, and were all quickly knocked out. Balance can be tough in asymmetric multiplayer games, and it is not clear if the consistent hero failure was a matter of balance or if it was simply a lack of teamwork as we worked through the mission. If it ends up feeling fair for either side, Fable Legends looks like it could provide some interesting multiplayer gaming.
Fable Legends photo
Chicken chasers unconfirmed
For better or worse, Fable is one of the staple series for Xbox consoles. Since its beginning as a relatively simple action-RPG, it has seen some entries go off in various directions. Fable Legends is another game that takes ...

Company of Heroes 2 photo
Company of Heroes 2

Watch the US Forces in action in Company of Heroes 2 DLC


The Western Front Armies pack will contain US and German forces
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// Alasdair Duncan
It's been almost a year since the release of Company of Heroes 2 and now we've got a trailer for the first DLC content for Relic's WWII RTS title. There are two new factions included, the US Forces (which you can see in the ...
Steam photo
Steam

Rise of Nations: Extended Edition pops up on Steam


Better visuals, Steamworks support, and Twitch streaming
May 30
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38 Studios sold a bunch of assets at auction back in November, including the rights to Big Huge Games' real-time strategy title Rise of Nations. It's back! An extended edition, including the Thrones and Patriots expansion, ha...

Gateway drug: Company of Heroes 2: The Western Front Armies

May 29 // Dale North
[embed]275437:54080:0[/embed] I played as American forces, jumping into an already established battle where I only had to take a few bases to finish it off. But that never came together for me. I'll blame the ultra-realistic setting and sound for my failures -- they're intense!  I struggled with advancing through dense woodlands. Even with taking care to use COH2's cover system and slowly pushing back the fog of war, I kept walking into trouble, finding myself surrounded by squads in hiding. Worse were the tanks, taking my groups out before they knew what was happening to them.  Long story short, I regrouped many times and did my best to try to rally, but I eventually exhausted my resources and was utterly defeated. My situation was so desperate that even Relic staff were watching on and offering advice to try to help me out of a string of bad situations.  I love that there's a game feature that lets you continue on after you've lost in a sort of just-for-fun second chance. But even getting back in through this feature didn't help -- I died again, this time for good.  I'll get them next time, Gadget. For $20, why not? The two new collections of content include their own eight maps, new weapons, vehicles, and options, and all of the maps of the original game are also fully available. Again, this is a very easy way to get into the popular RTS. Even if you don't have friends that play COH2, you can be insta-paired with other players to make new ones. 
 photo
Coming June 24
Standalone multiplayer release for Company of Heroes 2, The Western Front Armies, can serve as a gateway, bringing players over to the full Company of Heroes 2 experience. Its pricing is low enough ($12.99 for one army, or $1...

Early Access photo
Early Access

Play Planetary Annihilation alone in new Galactic War mode


Seems like a good time to get in on the action
May 24
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Grey Goo photo
Grey Goo

Make like the Goo and absorb these Grey Goo screens


Seriously, they'll eat anything
May 21
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Company of Heroes photo
Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer goes standalone with The Western Front Armies


Two factions and eight maps for $19.99
May 08
// Jordan Devore
If I were going to get into Company of Heroes 2 at this point, I'd likely just wait for a Steam sale, but options are appreciated. On June 24, Relic Entertainment will launch a standalone multiplayer release for its World Wa...

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