ECHO review (PS4)
We all have different styles of playing when we game – whether you are naturally an aggressive player compared to a tactician, a defensive thinker compared to a brawler; we can always play to our strengths. What would happen then if the game you were playing learnt from your actions and used them against you? Welcome Echo. . .
Echo starts by introducing us to En; a young female wearing a blood-soaked dress awakes from cryosleep in the middle of deep space on her way to “The Palace”. The only interaction is between En and her AI to start with and you get a glimpse of the reason that they are on their way to their destination. On first inspection the desired planet seems to be a pristine surface of white cubes, geometrically intricate that on closer inspection are crumbling underneath – with the lack of any other obvious signs of life it’s left up to En to explore.
After quite a length of time En enters The Palace, which is itself hugely impressive in the level of detail achieved; pristine gilded vases, ornate mirrors and polished marble plinths. It’s within these confines that the game stays – a myriad of levels and hallways and side rooms that you’re actively encouraged to explore. Unfortunately as the game progresses the surroundings generally do not so there was a huge sense of disappointment as the game went on – apart from a few colour changes later on the game it was extremely samey.
Echo in itself is a stealth game at heart – you have to evade Denziens, which are digital versions of yourself. At the beginning of the game these Denziens start with quite basic movement and actions, such as slowly walking or trying to grab you. The art and beauty of this game that as you play, the Denziens actively learn from you. As you start to crouch to avoid them by stealth, they do too; as you learn to shoot your gun, they start to learn how to shoot back. Often a section of the game can come down to whether they have learnt to run and can so out chase you to the next waypoint.
As you try and counter your own playing style you have to take huge inspiration from the tools that you have available. You have a risk sensor that surrounds you alerting you to various degrees of danger from the Denziens close by, an ability to pulse the surrounding areas and see where you foes lay in wait – and also a gun. Stealth is by far the preferred option as all actions are determined dependent on how much charge you’re carrying (and you can only get a maximum charge from certain points within the game); it’s for this reason that you start taking your time. It’s extremely rewarding knowing that you can only make one shot but lining up 5 Denziens and blasting them all would make anyone smile. Apart from your gun and stealth, your only other options are to shove your opponents or run.
The game bases itself into three distinct timing sections; the main part of the game sees you in full light actively trying to avoid the Denziens and not give too much of your own game play style away. The next is a lights out phase whereby you still have to avoid the hazards but nothing can be learnt and then there is a blackout phase which resets all learning and skills for the Denziens. Very early on I learnt that whatever you did in the lights out phase made no difference to their adapted learning so went round shooting them with glee.
As the game progresses you find yourself in trickier scenarios, however, as the physical environment doesn’t change that much, it’s very hard to keep switched on. Yes, it is a stealth game that makes you evaluate yourself as a player because you are effectively playing against something of your own creation and skill set but surely that’s the beauty of playing games that aren’t the same as you? I wouldn’t train for boxing by punching myself in the face…
This game had a great opportunity to be fantastic – it’s a brilliant concept of the opposition learning from you and the story had a half decent shot of being something bigger. I genuinely felt really let down on lots of aspects though – the repetitive surroundings, the basic storyline, the fact that in the lights out phase I could pretty much do what I wanted. For 5 hours worth of game play I kept hoping that something amazing would happen and make me sit up… But it didn’t.
It’s a smart concept by Ultra Ultra and this game will definitely divide gamers into a Marmite scenario where you’ll either love it or hate it. For that reason I’m sitting squarely on the fence with this one.