ECHO (PC) Review

By Ofisil 18.09.2017 4

Review for ECHO on PC

Those working under the watch of a big and mighty producer will usually avoid doing something that could anger the "suits" on whom their paychecks depend upon, the result being an industry with a strong been-there-done-that feel. Luckily for those with a deep love for the medium, there are indie studios like Ultra Ultra; a tiny team of people from the land that gave birth to LEGO, Carlsberg, and Viggo Mortesen, which managed to take the stealth genre and do some pretty neat things with it. Suit up, then, enter the Palace, and see if you are strong enough of mind and body to survive ECHO.

It's hard to correctly put the atmosphere of a game on paper, which is a shame as ECHO is a deeply atmospheric experience, and one that throws lots of weight on its presentation, evident by the surprisingly long, Silent Hill 2-esque walking segment of this adventure's first chapter, which begins with En, the main heroine, landing on a desolate, icy planet, whose entire surface is covered by a never-ending line of identical structures; an image that's a taste of things to come, as what lies beneath is even weirder.

After setting the mood à la Ridley Scott's Alien, En will reach the centrepiece of this tale, the gargantuan labyrinth that will act a test of your skills, the Palace. Don't expect the typical futuristic vistas, though, as this is actually an enormous, seemingly endless array of rooms with baroque architecture; rooms filled with reflective marble, ivory, ebony, obsidian, and gold; rooms that combine the grandeur of a catholic cathedral, with the mystical aura of a Greco-Roman temple… with scale raised to 11, increasing the uncanniness of it all.

Simply put, Ultra Ultra has used the Unreal engine to craft a stunningly beautiful, as well as pleasantly weird, underworld. Even more weird, however, is the plot at hand, which revolves around… well, it's hard to explain, as this is not the typical, exposition-heavy, and easy-to-grasp storyline. The quick rundown is that En, who is part of a transhuman-like religious movement of sorts, has journeyed here in order to attempt reviving someone whose "soul" seems to have been preserved on a strange red cube that the protagonist wears like a hi-tech backpack.

Screenshot for ECHO on PC

No further details will be addressed here, as the only way to come close to understanding things, is to experience it all first-hand. Note, however, that while the story portion could be much better, it still manages to deeply immerse players. The dialogue, in particular, is of very high quality, and the voice-acting is simply top-notch, with the sensually raspy Rosie Leslie (Game of Thrones) portraying En, while industry veteran Nicholas Boulton (the awesome Druth from Hellblade) lends his voice to the cynical London - the best faceless character in recent history.

It won't be long before the Palace starts "glitching" out, turning off all lights, and forcing En to rely on her suit's flashlights, which, to be honest, can't really penetrate this pitch-black darkness (excellent shadow play, by the way). Why that happens? Soon enough she will realise that the Palace is trying to create the main enemy, who is none other than… yourself! The so-called Echoes are actually clones of En, and while they start as crude copies of her that move like zombies, each blackout will actually evolve them, until they become completely battle-ready.

ECHO basically plays like a tactical action game, with a strong emphasis on stealth. In other words, the goal is to go from point A to point B, making sure to avoid being killed by this eerie legion of copycats in the process. However, Echoes can't run, hide, or shoot their gun. In fact, they can't even do simple things like open a door or vault over a short barrier. They soon will, though, and that's because you can do all these, as these blackouts are nothing more than "reboots" that reprogram Echoes based on the way you act.

Screenshot for ECHO on PC

Spent lots of time shooting down Echoes? Next time they will be more trigger-happy than usual. You like sneaking behind the girls and choking them? Then they will become stealthier, too. Do you run, jump from high places, or use those small crystals as lethal blunt weapons? Be prepared, because Echoes are fast learners. The catch? Well, there are two. First, these cuties can also unlearn abilities and, second, during those few moments between reboots, En is free to act free of consequence, as the system is blind during this, highly tense, brief amount of time.

What's great about this ingenious concept is that, unlike with most stealth titles where you can just choose between being a silent hitman, a non-violent thief that avoids detection, or simply… Rambo, ECHO wants you to be a little bit of everything, as focusing on one type of strategy won't do much good, since the enemies will soon start adapting to it. Even better, while planning ahead is surely an option, due to the frequent reboots that resurrect Echoes, you will need to make decisions on the fly and risk "taking the shot" when necessary.

Yes, this will be a tough trek. Aside from the threat of the Echoes, players must be careful with their resources, be it the energy cells that act as the fuel for En's suit and weapon, or the tiny stamina meter, which empties when pulling off physical abilities. Thankfully, En is quite the resourceful kind of gal; in essence a walking Swiss Army knife, with the most important part of her equipment being her highly sophisticated "Orb" HUD that surrounds her, which makes the typical maps, radars, and meters of most videogames feel obsolete - yes, it's that good!

Screenshot for ECHO on PC

Long story short, this is a magnificent piece of software, from an extremely promising team of very talented people. It is finely-crafted, it is original, it is beautiful, it is captivating… but it's not without flaws. Technically, it's close to perfection, as the few tiny bugs witnessed in this review build, as well as the lack of some additional settings, are not worth mentioning. The real issue here is the fact that, while the level structure changes, the mechanics remain the same from start to finish, and, thus becomes somewhat monotonous.

Without any exaggeration, players will have to keep on doing the same thing over and over for approximately eight hours - the same awesome thing, yes, but that won't make this quest any less repetitive. Sure, each chapter will get progressively harder, with more enemies or a more challenging level design, but, apart from an "elite" type of Echo near the finale, nothing truly new will ever make an appearance. In other words, this will always be En-versus-the-Echoes, and with the same exact set of tools at her/their disposal.

Due to that, the replay value suffers a lot, as, besides the fun gameplay, the only reason to come back will be to try finding every single collectible - an excruciatingly slow and tough process that will discourage everyone but completionists. Does this mean that ECHO is bad? Of course not! ECHO is simply one the best and most innovative games of 2017. It's just that this could easily be one of the best games, full stop. Ultra Ultra - if you read this - kudos for a fine piece of work, and know that this humble reviewer is happy that you have entered the industry.

Screenshot for ECHO on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

A passion project by a handful of very talented people, ECHO might suffer from a pretty low replay value, but the rest of it is simply fantastic. Beautiful to look at, deeply atmospheric, and with some very clever (and well-handled) gameplay mechanics, this might very well be one of the best stealth games ever - especially since it lets players face the greatest enemy: themselves!

Developer

Ultra Ultra

Publisher

Ultra Ultra

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Emma (guest) 20.09.2017#1

What reward(s) is there for finding all the collectibles?

Emma (guest) said:
What reward(s) is there for finding all the collectibles?

Currently, simplistic unlocks like a different skin, a big head mode, and etc.

( Edited 20.09.2017 16:56 by Ofisil )

A lot of quotes in the Internet are attributed to the wrong person
                                -Georgios Karaiskakis
Emma (guest) 20.09.2017#3

Can you go into more specifics?

Emma (guest) said:
Can you go into more specifics?

The ones I have unlocked are setting that increases head size, adds one more suit colour, and a laser on your gun. The rest are pretty much the same

A lot of quotes in the Internet are attributed to the wrong person
                                -Georgios Karaiskakis

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