Echo is a sci-fi inspired indie adventure game, not to be confused with Amazon’s smart speakers. In Echo, players control En, a young woman from a time far in the future. Prior to the events of the game, a friend of En’s named Foster gave his life so that she could live. Guided by the brusque AI London, En delves into the depths of the Palace to find some way to return Foster back to life. So is Echo a reflection of great game design, or is it a pale imitation?
En, the protagonist of Echo, is abruptly awakened at the start of the game by an AI named London after sleeping in stasis for a century. London is none too happy to only have En as his company after his previous partner, Foster, was killed during a rescue attempt to save her, something which London still blames on her.
En, to expunge herself of the guilt of causing Foster to die, comes up with a plan based off of the indoctrination she was subjected to while training to be a, “Resourceful”: A Palace, somewhere in the universe, could grant immortality or potentially even bring the dead back to life. Due to the fact that this is a video game, however, this plan can’t go off without a hitch, and En winds up trapped deep within the confines of a malfunctioning planet-sized structure, operated by a rogue artificial intelligence.
The most important thing a prospective player knows about Echo is how the game plays: For the first two hours or so of the game, it functions more like a walking simulator adventure game than anything else. You wander from location to location, unraveling bits of story without much combat breaking up a lot of that. The Palace is controlled by a corrupted, malfunctioning AI that slowly and creepily shows you how it generates what will eventually encompass the enemy force for the remainder of the game, doing so about 1.5 hours into a playthrough.
En is voiced by Rose Leslie, from Game of Thrones fame, and like her amazing character as one of the prettiest wildlings, she does a great job adding emotion and depth to the character here. The other voice in the game, London, is done by videogame voice actor Nick Boulton, who is making waves in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and the Mass Effect series. Both add to the games very unique atmosphere.
The Palace AI, corrupted for an unknown reason, creates Echoes- replicas of En that not only appear, but also behave like En. Soon after, the AI begins recording En’s movements and applying them to its copies, or titular Echoes, of En. If En runs, the Echoes move faster, too. If En fires her gun, suddenly this game becomes a third person shooter with a very squishy protagonist. The game is ruled by light phases and blackouts: During the light phases, the Palace AI records En’s actions, while during the blackout phase the Palace is blind and you can freely use your gun, perform stealth takedowns, etc., without the enemy AI learning your actions and applying them during the next light phase (being on the receiving end of a stealth takedown is unsettling and aggravating, in equal portions).
Actions as simple as opening doors can be enough to cause a nonchalant player to be swarmed by Echoes as they will be able to open doors to give chase during the next light/dark cycle, while savvy, strategic players will save some actions, such as jumping down ledges, until after the blackout so that they can make a quick getaway. This can create a strong initial tension where players, during the light phase, play as a stealth game and save all of their aggressive tactics for post-blackout, due to the AI not learning from players during that phase. Players can also do a variety of actions that don’t directly benefit the Echoes, such as eating fruit or activating contraptions for a puzzle, so that you can get some breathing room while they do those actions (or potentially save you a trip down a hallway if you had something you needed to activate).
Issues in the game’s AI management stems from the fact that, as long as you don’t get cornered, you may not have anything to worry about. Echoes that detect you won’t stray too far from their spawning point so you can easily sprint away from them around a corner for them to lose interest. To add to this, your energy meter, which is used for sprinting or firing your gun, builds while doing your normal jog so you can save your sprint for just those specific moments when you’re detected. Since if you don’t use your gun, enemies won’t use theirs either, this creates a weird dichotomy where, if you use your gun you may get frustrated, but if you jog from waypoint to waypoint and shove all the enemies down as you go, you may get bored.
Another small downside for the game is that, outside of enemy placement, there’s not a lot of variety in Echo. The story is fairly captivating, and does a pretty great job of developing the universe, En, and London’s characters even though you’re stuck inside of a gigantic, planet-sized Palace structure for much of the game. Players who are looking for a game with an entertaining and reasonably well-spun storyline may very much enjoy Echo, while those who seek enemy variety or climactic boss battles may not enjoy the title as much.
The graphics of Echo are pretty phenomenal. The insides of the space ship and the Palace all have a very sci-fi, overly clean feeling with lots of reflections and intricate designs on pillars and tiles, with fancy gilding all throughout. The sound design is pretty decent as well, as the voice acting has a decent range and many of the sound effects have a satisfying touch, especially the foreboding the loud clunking sounds of the impending blackout may have on the player. The atmospheric music actually works quite well with the theme, given that you’re breaking into a long-abandoned high-tech facility with no other human being inside.
Overall, Echo is a pretty great game so long as you know what you’re getting into before buying. Players can spend time seeing just how much they can break the enemy AI, or become engrossed in the story exposition and enjoy the ride. Those who enjoy stealth or adventure games and need something to play after Dishonored may find that this is a pretty enjoyable title. Those who are iffy on stealth games and abhor games that infuse dialogue with exposition repeatedly may be a lot less forgiving of Echo, and may want to stay far, far away.