ECHO Review – Bursting with Ideas and Skill
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Ultra Ultra
Publisher: Ultra Ultra
Release: 19th September 2017 (PC, PS4) / 2017 (Xbox One)
ECHO is probably one of the most interesting stealth games since years. Developed by former Hitman developers and freshly founded indie studio Ultra Ultra, the game promises a stealth experience with your own playstyle as an enemy. By copying the moves of the player ECHO aims to bring a challenging but diverse experience to us and while it works pretty damn good it´s not free from flaws.
Set in the distant future, En and her ship London try to find a mysterious temple, in order to revive En´s mentor. Unsure if her plan is just a mere dream and guided by her mysterious past En begins to descend into the unknown depths, accompanied by London´s companion AI. Yet, not shortly after the both encounter the bizarre security system of the temple … copies of En, able to imitate her in every way possible. Will she be able to unravel the truth?
ECHO´s story around the female protagonist En, her past, life and the temple had the potential to be something exceptional. Sadly, most of the potential remains unused due to the huge focus on either gameplay or long, boring walking sections. The world and art direction of the world itself is by far not bad, hell, the temple looks absolutely amazing and could probably be one of the most beautiful Sci-fi things I´ve ever seen. Exploring the interesting architecture is truly interesting and captivating. Unfortunately, En´s journey through her past is told in the most boring way possible, at least in my opinion.
The game´s first 30-60 minutes for example consist of slowly walking through a linear level while the game explains the setting and motivations. Surely, there are some people who like these sections … I hate them. They don´t offer any gameplay, force me to listen to dialogues and slow down an already very slow game without adding anything new to the mix. Cutscenes would have been so much better since any replayability is basically destroyed. The fact those segments can be found everywhere in the game because they serve as the main way of telling the story made the game simply boring outside of the stealth gameplay. A shame considering the actual good plot beneath this layer of boredom is, being more than a generic “revive a precious person” plot but more about the memorable characters, world and morality. . ECHO story lives from it´s world but fails to present it in an interesting way.
On the other hand, the actual gameplay is surprisingly great. When I first heard about the concept of an adapting stealth AI, I was pretty sceptical if that can work out. Now, after I saw what can be done with it I don´t know if I can live without it.
In contrast to other stealth games, ECHO doesn´t feature different enemies with their own programmed behaviour. Instead the only enemies are clones of En produced by the temple, able to copy the player´s action and perform them themselves. Every now and then the temple will remove the clones of the area, in order to collect data about En´s actions before copying these moves.
Let´s say En doesn´t perform any special moves like jumps or stealth kills during such a section, the AI won´t be able to execute such things. ECHO essentially gives the player the power to create his own enemy and difficulty. It´s great. An experienced player can perform various moves and actions, before facing a damn versatile AI able to perform stealth kills, run, jump … you get the point. The perfection with which the AI collects these moves and executes them is pretty damn amazing. Never have I been surprised by an enemy taking me down from behind or doing other unusual things. The clones feel alive, dangerous and unique in a way only a few games can achieve. Surely the lack of variation in enemy design, relying solely on En´s clones, is a bit lackluster but the glorious technical framework of the game can overshadow such a minor flaw.
Sneaking through the temple is the other big part of ECHO and works as great as the AI. On the one hand the movement feels very similar to the Hitman games, no wonder considering who developed this game. Crouching behind cover, hiding and exploring the temple just feels right. On the other hand the overall pacing is much faster than in Hitman games or others. Jumping, running dodging, everything feels faster, more responsive and better. Combined with some special abilities like a pistol, fueled by slowly recharging and collectible energy, ECHO offers a compelling, responsive stealth system on top of the already great AI.
Graphic-wise ECHO is a very pretty but also subjective game. Textures are mostly sharp, lighting looks awesome and the whole architecture is incredible, able to convey this sense of a mysterious old temple constructed by a cult-like group. En herself looks pretty damn great too, despite her stiff facial animations and some stiff jumps. Still, the heavy use of Blur and Depth of Field is not for everyone, especially on a PS4 where you can´t disable it. On PC the options are pretty alright and the overall performance feels good enough, even though some frame dips are a bit too heavy. Just the heavy DoF and Blur might scare some people off.
ECHO is one of those few games that have an interesting idea and can execute it in near perfection. Rather than falling apart Ultra Ultra delivered a game that can fully use its ideas to become one of the best stealth games of this year. Despite the occasional slow, boring walking parts, the lack of great storytelling and some subjective graphical flaws, ECHO is a good game, able to contribute something truly unique to the gaming market. Honestly, no stealth fan want to miss this gem, no matter how flawed the story may be.
[A Review Code was provided by Ultra Ultra]