ECHO (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 06.11.2017

Review for ECHO on PlayStation 4

While many often proclaim that they are their own worst enemy, it's usually during a reflective moment of appraisal following a particularly disappointing bout of self-destructive behaviour. ECHO, the debut title from Danish developer Ultra Ultra, takes a very literal interpretation of that often uttered phrase, gives it a sinister twist, and uses it to deliver a stylish, third-person, sci-fi stealth action title. Ordinarily the word 'echo' is most commonly used with regards to sound and has connotations of both repetition and reflection. How does this translate this into a gameplay mechanic? Well the old adage "you reap what you sow" is not only an accurate assessment of ECHO's entire hook, but also the best adopted approach for tackling the horror within. After reviewing it for the PC, Cubed3 takes a look at the PS4 version.

After emerging from an injury-induced 100-year stasis, the lone inhabitant of a spaceship, En (played by Rose "You know nothing, Jon Snow" Leslie), finds that during her lengthy slumber, her vessel has finally arrived at its intended destination. Still groggy and pained from all the side effects a century long nap brings with it, she slowly starts to regain her memory, and is reminded during a conversation with the argumentative ship AI, London (Nick Boulton), of an undisclosed event prior to her forced hibernation that not only caused her injury but also killed fellow traveller Foster whose life essence (soul?) is currently stored in a cube. Wracked with guilt, En believes that Foster can be brought back from the dead and that the very planet they are currently orbiting holds the key to doing so. Against London's advice En leaves the relative safety of the ship to touch down on the surface which, on closer inspection, appears to be entirely comprised of a vast series of interconnected structures.

Upon breaking the seal and finding a way inside, the heroine is surprised to find that the interior appears to be an extravagantly opulent palace, currently uninhabitable and untouched by human hand in aeons. A slow descent into the seemingly lifeless structure provides En and London the opportunity to converse further, doing a good job of adding exposition to the current situation, while bolstering the intrigue levels up a few notches. It becomes increasingly harder to ignore the frequent energy surges that bring a fleeting blackout that ends with another auxiliary support system activated, almost as if the entire dormant planet was awakening from some kind of stasis of its own. It eventually gets to a point where the sudden presence of life supporting oxygen means that En can finally take her space helmet off and enjoy that musty ancient palace smell in full.

Weirdly, a sudden abundance of odd little organic patches start to appear scattered about the hall,s and despite not being sentient they do appear to be evolving into humanoid form at an alarming rate. Alarm bells are ringing with London, and En is advised to retreat but it's a request she ignores. Then it happens... En walks into a room only to be confronted by an exact replica of herself, staggering slowly towards her menacingly, and seemingly preparing to attack. Is this some kind of automated planetary defence mechanism or the result of a long corrupted core? At this point any sane person would utter 'nope,' turn tail and head back from whence they came, but En is steadfast and deals with the first of her many clones.

Screenshot for ECHO on PlayStation 4

While most stealth games tend to concentrate on outsmarting pre-set enemy movement patterns without getting spotted, Ultra Ultra has used the sci-fi setting to introduce an entirely new play mechanic that recalibrates the norm found in other titles of this ilk. It effectively refreshes the entire genre by forcing constant assessment, re-evaluation, and a change of approach when necessary against an enemy that continuously evolves at a terrifying rate. At the start of the game each Echo is a slow, stumbling hollow shell, easy to avoid, but prone to attacking En should she get too close. Appearance-wise, they are a faultless replica of the protagonist, but have thankfully inherited none of her intelligence, given that they are barely sentient and devoid of even the most basic knowledge of interacting with the surrounding environment.

However, in line with the greatly accelerated rate of the Echoes' development, it's a short lived advantage, and it's not long before they're walking around at a normal pace, vaulting over walls, as well as investigating and reacting aggressively to stimuli. The aforementioned power blackouts appear to be intrinsically linked to the ever increasing skillset of this rapidly multiplying army of hostile clones, and it's a horrifying connection En makes herself after passing through a room that contained a few shallow pools of water. Upon entering she notices that all the Echoes cut off from her location by water don't jump in to attack but instead follow her along the outskirts of the pools much like a dog would single-mindedly run along the river bank while following a stick in a fast flowing stream. The sight of all those deadly mimics silently straining to get within strangling distance of En with only a few inches of water preventing them from doing so is in itself, quite an unnerving sight.

Predictably another blackout occurs and the sudden forced reboot of all the Echoes in the room brings with it the "water 1.1" update which sees them splashing a path direct to our heroine's swift demise. It's not just water - doors and elevators that ensure the Echoes are contained to specific rooms or areas soon become a non-issue after En unavoidably traverses through one, inadvertently passing on the working knowledge of futuristic door handles and lift buttons to the cloned masses. It's a scary situation that gets worse with progress. Whatever is in control is observing En's behaviour and interactions (both passive and aggressive) and mirroring it back with the express intent of killing her.

Screenshot for ECHO on PlayStation 4

An enemy that continues to adapt, respond, and evolve, just by studying its prey potentially sounds like an insurmountable challenge, but, thankfully, there is one further twist to proceedings that evens out the odds in a clever way. Each system blackout wipes the slate clean so while the Echoes may pick up a few new behavioural traits gleaned from En's activities between the two power downs, they also have the capacity to unlearn what was previously stored. For example, moving through a few blackouts without encountering any water or closed doors means that those interactions are wiped from the hive mind, and any Echo forced to deal with one of these obstacles will once more be stumped. Likewise, should En be liberal with her blaster when faced with danger, then expect the next blackout to bring an army of trigger happy clones that will open fire with zero provocation. There's a certain rhythm at play which becomes more apparent with progress, thus it makes good sense to regularly change tack and reign it in when moving through densely populated areas.

Spend time playing one of the many musical instruments scattered about then the Echoes will feel compelled to do the same whenever in the vicinity of one of these items providing the perfect opportunity to sneak by. They can even be manipulated into picking up any stray collectibles on their patrols, and can be also be distracted easily by making a sound in the opposite direction with a thrown item. The only time it's safe to act without consequences is during an actual blackout however every downed enemy up until this point is revived in the reboot. En herself isn't defenceless but has a forced reliance on an energy source that is slow to recharge and starts off at a measly two bars. Thankfully, her energy storage capacity can be upgraded gradually providing the correct components are found along the way, and there are plenty of Sun terminals scattered about the world that instantly replenish a bar upon interaction. While this restriction of resources does encourage a certain level of frugality with the gunfire En is able to burn through several Echoes at once should they all happen to line up nicely so it pays to make every shot count.

There's also a secondary fire that acts as crowd control for those times when multiple hostiles are bearing down on our heroine, but timing is crucial given that this non-lethal. Whenever her weaponry is depleted between charges, then En is forced to go old-school and get physical to survive. This can range from a quick shove knocking the target off balance, or, if lucky, over a balcony, a lethal bonk over the head with a decorative crystal ball, or the classic silent takedown from behind. In fact Ultra Ultra has given a cheeky nod to their former employers (IO Interactive) with a trophy titled 'Hitman,' which is earned by choking out 47 Echoes - nice touch, guys. It's not just En's weaponry that's tied to her Energy allocation either, as sprinting and sending out area scans also eat into her allotted power budget so it can become a real exercise in resource management at times.

Screenshot for ECHO on PlayStation 4

Visually, there isn't a massive amount of variety in ECHO's environments, as the majority of the action takes place in a series of vast, brightly lit halls, with reflective marble floors that sprawl for as far as the eye can see, vulgarly bedecked with enough gold to make it look like a nightmare version of Trump Tower. As a stark contrast, the external areas where En descends further into the planetary structure look to be heavily influenced by HR Giger, organically alien and stark, making for an unsettling contrast to the expanse of untouched decadence. Progress between zones is reliant on finding the key for the locked door which, being a video game, will always be at the complete opposite ends of each densely populated area. Occasionally En might need to activate a central elevator which involves hitting a set number of nodes scattered which is a bit tougher to pull off, but there are usually gates located nearby that save progress when passed through.

There are maybe a few frame drops here and there even on the PS4 Pro, but it doesn't really impact on the game too greatly. The audio is understated and minimally accentuates the mood of the current situation, perfectly by providing recognisable cues for in game events and ramping up the tension during particularly stressful moments. Despite being a fairly polished package it's not without the occasional issue. As an example, the set-piece struggle animation is perfectly fine in a one on one situation but it can unavoidably bring about a quick demise for En should there be more than one Echo in pursuit. Breaking free of a grapple via a swift bout of button mashing leads to a short period of vulnerability in which further contact will result in a guaranteed instant death. When there's more than one Echo laying on the hurt there simply isn't enough time to react or draw a weapon as the killing blow will land before the initial struggle has finished playing out.

Then there's the odd occasion where En seems to be perfectly placed behind an Echo to execute a silent takedown but instead shoves them to the floor, inadvertently starting an unplanned chase through dangerous territory by a hostile that by all rights should be lying dead on the floor. Of course these are minor niggles in the grand scheme of things but they can wipe substantial progress should they occur at the wrong time. En can at least try to avoid these hairy situations by keeping tabs on her surroundings courtesy of a smartly designed 360 degree HUD which displays all the hostiles in her immediate vicinity along with their varying states of alertness.

Screenshot for ECHO on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

ECHO is a game brimming with smart ideas that should appeal to lovers of good sci-fi and stealth/action alike. Ultra Ultra has done a superb job in creating an intriguingly eerie world that piques interest early on, first with a slow build up, and then effortlessly drawing you in for the long haul without having to be overly reliant on a heavy narrative to drive the story forward. It's an impressive opening statement from the Copenhagen-based troupe that puts them firmly on the developer map as ones to watch.

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   

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