Echo is a third-person science fiction adventure game with stealth and horror elements. It was developed and published by Ultra Ultra and was released on 9/19/17, available on Steam, GOG, and PS4. At the date of this entry, this game has a very positive rating overall on Steam.
When I first started playing Echo, I knew nothing about it aside from the summary on the Steam page. I bought it as a part of a Humble Bundle full of stealth games, so I thought stealth was the number one gameplay mechanic in it.
I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case once I started playing.
|The main menu is eye-popping.|
Echo starts with a heavy narrative and no real gameplay other than some minor exploring to get the controls down, which are not very complicated. I enjoy science fiction and games with lots of exposition. It tells the story of the main character, En, and her ship AI called London. They have been traveling in space for 100 years, looking for a "palace" that is rumored to be able to revive the dead. En is looking to revive her uncle Foster at this palace, though she doesn't know where it is or how it works. At the start of the game, she wakes up from cryosleep and banters with the entirely-too-humanly-sarcastic AI as they approach a planet. Over the course of the beginning and throughout occasional places in the game, En and London talk to reveal more of the characters' histories and backstories. As expected, you find out quickly that this planet is where the "palace" is, though it's not what anyone expected.
A little way into the first chapter, you power up this palace, and Echo begins to become less narrative and more stealthy escape room. Tension picks up as you go from area to area, trying to avoid enemies who get smarter as you play. And here's the thing: the enemies are YOU.
The palace creates batches of clones of En called Echos, and the whole place goes through a cycle of power and black-outs repetitively. During each black-out, the palace reboots, and the Echos learn from anything you do during the last powered-on cycle. The atmosphere of this game is tremendous as the ambient music lets you know when the next black-out is happening. When the power comes back on, any Echos you eliminate during the last cycle revive and learn the things you did, like sneaking, vaulting, shooting, or sprinting, among other things. You have to continuously adapt the way you play to make the Echos and levels manageable. If one of them catches you, you can fight them off by mashing one of the buttons, but there's a recovery period afterward where another Echo can kill you if they catch you during it.
The gameplay is simple: duck, vault, sneak, shoot, and throw things. Keep the enemy adapting and guessing. Make it through the puzzles of each level to get to the next instance. Get caught? Try again. And again.
Echo has a few low points, but not all of them are game-ruining. Halfway through the game, you realize that this game was made with one character model, two excellent voice actors, and a ton of repeating resources for the levels. Ultra Ultra did a great job taking limited models and using them effectively. This game sometimes feels like a random layout full of baddies as a sandbox stealth game rather than a fully fleshed-out game, but I feel it works well enough if you're hoping for something simple. The game definitely has its moments where it feels tiresome and repetitive, but I still found myself wanting to come back and try it again despite that fact.
|Levels are pretty, but resources are heavily reused.|
There was a point in the beginning during one of the first levels filled with Echos that I was a little stressed and didn't think I'd be able to make it through. I took an overnight break, came back the next day, and proceeded through a few of the chapters. I felt very accomplished when I was able to make it through all the various areas, changing up sneaking and avoiding with running and gunning to keep the Echos from learning too much. I avoided running during the on cycles because I think I'd freak out a bit if the Echos started sprinting at me. I did get over that after a while, but I still kept running to a minimum, usually only doing so to escape an over-populated area or sprint to the exit.
I enjoyed my time playing Echo. This game is about 7-9 hours long, and despite many times of needing to shut this game off, I found myself coming back for one more attempt at a level. Even though I don't see myself playing this again when it's done, this could be my gateway drug into finally playing other stealthy types of games I've been neglecting, like Metal Gear Solid V or the newer Hitman games. I did see that this game concept was being considered for a movie, but I can't tell if it hit a wall or not. Since the last I heard about it was from a post in 2019, I'm assuming the worst, especially since Ultra Ultra doesn't exist anymore.
In the end, I'd rate Echo a 7 out of 10. It haunted my thoughts enough to keep coming back to it while I was mid-adventure, but now that I'm done, it's not coming back to the library again for a while. There are more fully fleshed games I can play with the same mechanics, but this game does what it does very well. Tense and stressful at times, can be repetitive and boring at others. Give it a try if you're in the mood for a slow-moving, tense, stealthy adventure game.