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Review: Echo

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No dolphins in sight...

Echo is one of the most unique games I’ve played in a long time. Its sci-fi setting and twist on the conventional stealth genre make it stand out in an industry where regurgitated formulas are the norm. 

The story is fairly bare-bones. You play as a woman named En as she journeys to a mysterious location, hidden in the depths of space, in a bid to revive a dead man. She’s accompanied by an artificial intelligence named London who helps her on her quest. The first hour is mostly a mixture of walking and exposition, but I found it extremely effective in setting the scene. They are in the middle of nowhere. There is no backup coming. They are on their own. 

Echo (PS4 [reviewed], PC)
Developer: ULTRA ULTRA
Publisher: ULTRA ULTRA
Released: October 10, 2017
MSRP: $24.99

Once they land at their destination, they’ll eventually find themselves at the entrance to a planet-sized building referred to as The Palace. The interior is a mixture of monochrome extravagance and dread. Vast, empty hallways full of columns and staircases that reach on as far as the eye can see. The only inhabitants are En and London. That is, until a series of events lead to the entire Palace being populated by creatures known as Echoes. 

These “Echoes” are exact replicas of En. Physically identical in every way. Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly there to hold hands and be BFFs. No, they spend the entirety of the game trying to murder En every chance that provides itself, and they are relentless. 

This is where the combat comes into play, and, holy fuck, is it ever exhilarating. The Echoes don’t just look like En. They mimic her actions, and then use them against her. There are two cycles that are constantly shifting: light and dark. During the light cycles, every action that you perform is recorded by The Palace. This can range from the more mundane like eating fruit, playing pianos, opening doors, jumping over cover, and crouching to more sinister things like stealth takedowns, ignoring environmental boundaries, and even using firearms. If you call an elevator during the light cycle, they’ll be able to call an elevator when the next cycle hits. 

During the dark cycles, all rules are off. You can kill at your leisure and don’t have to fear the Echoes copying your abilities. This usually lasts about 15-20 seconds. In a weird twist on conventions, the dark actually serves as a reprieve from the tension. It’s still tense due to lower visibility, but the added freedom is somewhat empowering. When the next light cycle hits, the Echoes will be utilizing any abilities that were used in the previous one against you. Luckily, these reset every time, so you aren’t left fighting against an unstoppable army of pistol-wielding clones. However, this does lead to some really fucking intense combat segments where you must constantly change up your tactics at any given moment based on the level design and dangers you find yourself up against.

The adaptive AI is an absolute game-changer, and I would not be surprised to see these mechanics rehashed by other franchises in the future. Seriously, it’s just that damn good. There’s a lot of ways that combat could be improved, but what’s there is an insanely solid proof of concept.

It forces you to think about your every action in new ways because you are effectively arming your enemies and giving them more options to murder you. Most stealth games eventually see you falling into specific habits and patterns that you can fall back on, but that just isn’t an option here. It’s absolutely essential to mix up your tactics, and it left me with a sense of accomplishment I don’t often get from games. I didn’t just defeat them. I defeated myself.

Now, it’s not all sunshine and roses here. Death is met with some lengthy loading screens, and the PlayStation 4 version suffers from some frame-rate instability and freezing at times. It’s never for more than a few seconds, and it never occurred during actual combat for me. Oddly, these issues only seemed to pop up when moving from a large, enemy-infested area to, relatively, safe zones. As a result, its impact was minimal. Still, it’s one of the biggest tarnishes on an otherwise stellar experience. I haven’t had a chance to play the game on PC, so this may be a console-exclusive feature. 

If you’re a fan of both science fiction and stealth games, this is your goddamn wheelhouse. No joke, as long as you can see past a few minor faults, you are going to love this. For everyone else, it’s at least worth looking into. 

I have never played another game quite like Echo before. Folks are always rallying for innovation in the industry, and I can’t think of too many better examples of that in recent years. It’s not all perfect, but what’s there is extremely refreshing. This is not an easy game. You will die a lot. You will get angry. However, when you finally defeat your opponents, it’s like sex. A huge release where, for a few small minutes, you genuinely feel like you just accomplished something. It’s glorious.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]


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Echo reviewed by Kevin Mersereau

8.5

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
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Kevin Mersereau
Kevin MersereauContributor   gamer profile

I'll always be DeadMoon in my heart of hearts, but you can call me Kevin now. I like comics, corgis, video games, and music a lot. Almost everything I do in my free time revolves around these fou... more + disclosures


 



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