+Elegantly crafted floor designs, puzzles, and overall theme
+Offers a unique challenge through adaptive gameplay for players to enjoy
+Easily stands out among other titles out there by combining action, adventure, and stealth gameplay
+Offers uniquely adaptive gameplay for fans to play against
-Can grow rather frustrating when save gates are unavailable for players to utilize
If you’ve ever seen an indie movie or played an indie game, you’re already know that games do not need a huge budget to be solid titles. Games such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Guacamelee, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds serve as testaments to this fact. These games show the fact that even small teams with great vision, ingenuity, and passion for what they do can lead them to achieve great things.
Ultra Ultra, a small studio Copenhagen studio that developed Echo, isn’t small in vision, nor are they small at heart. This is a game that doesn’t just work around the struggles as an indie tame, they are ones that have shown that they know their way around games, and even a tight budget. That’s where Echo comes into place, it’s a game that shows the teams impressive as well as raw talent, skill, and craftsmanship.
Echo is a mastercrafted sci-fi title that could easily fit in beside the works of Orson Scott Card, Iain Banks, or even the recent works by GameInformer editor Andrew Reiner. The story presented to us seems simple at first when players are first introduced to the character En. She’s a lone woman traveling among the stars in a distant future, where she travels with her A.I. companion London, whom has accompanied her on her travel to a place called “The Palace”. A place that where she hopes to revive her dead lover London.
Upon arriving at The Palace, En finds herself in an ordinary place, one that isn’t normal, nor is it a place known to many. However, it’s name describes what it is quite well – a labyrinthine complex of luxuriously-filled halls, stairways, mezzanines, and chambers that seem all-to-familiar, but distinctly alien all at once. To En’s surprise? The Palace is anything other than normal. It’s a sentient machine that’s not just watching En, it’s learning from her, and making sure that every step she takes, is registered in some form.
The Palace is interesting in its own. As a living, breathing entity, it’s story isn’t told through the voices of London or En, but through its actions and intricate layouts that serve as your mazes to explore. Much like En and the restrictions put in place by the energy stored inside of her suit, the tower comes with its own limitations, one put in place due to her time in cryosleep inside of her ship.
En’s limitations are all fed by the energy her suit stores. Sprinting, running, shooting, or even dropping from floor to floor. Each require her to recharge her suit using strange glowing entities, which charge up her limited pool, which can be expanded by finding hidden items throughout each map.
With each of these mechanics working side-by-side, Echo develops into something unique. A game that has somehow crosses over between puzzle, stealth, and action. Its clever use in mechanics is something entirely new. During En’s early hours in The Palace, she takes notes that somethings off. Entities that resemble her, but do not do just as she does, have manifested within its confines. All of them seemingly slow, non-lethal, without rhyme or reason.
She notices that these clones, these echos rather, aren’t quite En. They aren’t as clever, smart, nor are they near as dangerous as her. This is most notable when it’s discovered that these echoes are unable to open doors, shoot a gun, cross through water, or even sprint while in pursuit of En.
However, much of this changes as the tower begins to learn, to adapt, and even mock that of what En does. The Palace itself does this in a rather unique way. A way that many wouldn’t consider as something quite normal. The Palace does this during its powered on state. A state where it’s able to copy the actions of the players. As the game adapts to you, it’s important to consider every action you take. Since the Palace will begin to mock your habits, it’s a good idea to carefully maneuver across each of the games puzzle-like corridors. Improvising a strategy for each level is highly recommended as it will allow fr a unique approach to each of the rooms.
This unique take on stealth-action is brilliant; tense, thought provoking, intelligent, and honestly, a little frightening when encountering these Echoes as they pursue players little by little. But these Echoes don’t always remember what you do. So it’s smart to use different tactics based upon the puzzle placed before you. During the powered-up phases, I was taking not of every action I made, every path the Echoes took, and what they knew from me based on my previous actions during the powered-on phases.
What’s even better about this? Ultra Ultra has forced me to think outside of the “guns blazing, enemy killing” approach that I had taken over the course of three playthroughs of the game. I even took note of the games astonishingly masterfully crafted layouts, whether it was from the carefully placed chairs, chandeliers, or even the reflections that help bring the game to life. What’s amazing is the fact that Ultra Ultra isn’t shy about using the games texture files time, time, and time again.
The best part is? Absolutely not. The time players will spend in the Palace refrains from ever growing dull, boring, or overly used. They helped instill that heart-racing elements that the game has carefully crafted within its very elements. It’s rather hard to even find a complaint about their unique designs. They managed to keep the place fresh with unique colors, architectural themes, and even by altering the mood for each of the games zones, if you can call them that. It brings the games entire Echo idea to life and doesn’t look away from doing so. What does this mean for the overall game? You’ll spend most of your time staring at an unaltered character model for En, one that never changes, nor does the faces of the creepy clones that lie in wait to help En face her ultimate demise.
Even the clones, the dark rooms during the blackouts, and even the ever-learning approach that the clones have seem to help bring this nightmarish experience to life. At that point, En even seems more like a horror survival title rather than an action-oriented stealth puzzle game. The only complaint to be had? Particular levels later in will grow frustrating, especially when having to collect a large number of glowing blue charges from masts that are scattered across multi-level areas. These orbs help power a massive set of gates, which allow En to continue on through her exploration of the Palace, and her search to help bring Foster back from the dead.
Luckily through each of these difficult zones, Ultra Ultra helps alleviate some of the games frustrations with save gates, which are placed carefully through each of these zones, and require players to locate them during their time through these uniquely crafted mazes. But all of this changes later within the game as a new insta-kill threat is introduced in the means of newly formed echos. While this upping the ante mechanic seems cheap, it does show that the Palace has learned, evolved, and created its own final version of En for itself.
The most interesting parts to wonder though, are simple mechanics that seem overlooked, and completely ignored. Why can En run, shoot, parkour, and even leap down massive areas, but she can’t jump vertically or even leap across a considerably large gap using the suit? While it’s evident that the restrictions are thematic to her having just woke up from cryosleep, it still comes at the cost of her mobility.
What’s more-so interesting is the fact that Ultra Ultra doesn’t waste any time when the game feels as if it’s beginning to bring everything full circle towards the end. While you may get a feeling that the team has begun to run out of new ideas, they do what is the best for the game, and begin to bring everything to an end with a rather ell and thought-out ending. While Echo is certainly a relatively short game, it’s one that took between 3-4 nights to bring to an end.
If you want to find replay value within the game, there’s quite a bit of it. Whether it’s finding the last of En’s suit energy upgrades, or various harmonic devices scattered throughout the game, Ultra Ultra ensures that players have a lot to look forward to post game. These hidden items help better explain the games overall story, providing players with a chance to discover what is truly going on through its hidden phrases and story elements, which come out to be quite rewarding once found.
While Echo is certainly a tough game, it’s one that isn’t unfair in how its executed. It’s a game that provokes thought, intellectual decision making, and pushes you to exploit your own behavioral decisions by using your own choices against you. Luckily, this also means that the game never punishes players too harshly. It’s not scared to and it wants you to take the time to ensure that every decision you make is done right.
While the game does explore players in its own unique ways, it unfolds with our protagonist whom appears as a bit of a cold fish from cryosleep, her story isn’t one that’s told to her talking to herself, but her bitter-sounding companion, a disembodied voice, only known as London. The best part about all of this? The game works quite well with how uniquely crafted it is; through its stunning visuals, oddly charming music, and even its uniquely told sci-fi storyline.
It’s one that doesn’t quit capture fans as it should through emotional attachment; a feature that games such as Firewatch, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Observer all took advantage of. What this game does do right is the fact it makes players become attached to it, it makes players want to love it, and it brings in hope for Ultra Ultra’s future endeavors.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.