|Dev: Iridium Studios|
|Pub: Iridium Studios|
|Release: February 24, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
A handful of titles have integrated voice recognition into their control schematic, games such as Binary Domain, Project Spark, Ryse: Son of Rome, and a smattering of other Kinect-compatible titles. However, in all instances the voice input is either poorly constructed or an optional novelty that is trounced by more responsive button controls. There Came an Echo effectively challenges the norm by providing a voice recognition system that is not only stunningly accurate, but changes the tone of the game, quite literally.
Yet beyond this impressive control scheme, the rest of the game yields a plethora of contradictions. The story is convoluted with themes of morality, dogma, and the value of life—idealistic concepts that are condensed into a very brief adventure. The gameplay, on the other hand, has the potential to extend the experience and offer a wide range of control to the player, but that potential is withheld by the game's design to essentially guide your hand too firmly from start to finish.
The story envelops the tropes of near-future science fiction, with obvious influences from The Matrix, both directly and indirectly. The opening scene introduces us to Corrin (voiced by Wil Wheaton), a jaded cryptographer who stumbled into the creation of an unbreakable algorithm called Radial Lock. Mindlessly working at his office desk, he suddenly receives a call from a mysterious woman name Val (voiced by Ashly Burch), with a warning that people are coming for him. You play as Sam, the other omnipresent being alongside Val looking down from above. Where Val provides social depth and emotional support, your role is that of a vocal tactician, commanding Corrin and other characters met soon afterwards like chess pieces.
The plot contorts that of The Matrix, injecting its own ideology on the perversion of mankind's true existence and the ramifications of genetic engineering. The scenes in between the game's ten brief missions are loaded with philosophical and subtextual lectures paired with the banter of characters thrust into a partnership yet each with a personal vendetta. The script is rife with prophetic plot twists, though compounded too quickly to induce an emotional response from the player. It's as if the content of a full-length feature has been crammed into a one-act play.
This is partly due to the missions themselves being paced too quickly. The game opts for a real-time approach over a turn-based system. On one hand, not having the luxury to pause the action and issue commands raises the intensity of each engagement, as you calmly but quickly issue your characters to recharge shields, switch weapons, focus on specific enemies, and move to predetermined locations on the map. On the other hand, the isometric display can only contain a specific amount of the map, making instances where the team gets separated a strategic hindrance in real-time. It doesn't help that the camera shifts around during conversations, and seems to enjoy zooming in on the characters during these scenes without returning to your advantageous zoomed out view afterwards.
The game also takes away a measure of your freedom by only allowing you to move to designated locations, marked using the NATO phonetic alphabet (i.e. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot). These movement points are for tactical purposes only, stripping away the potential to search rooms and interact with the environment outside the scripted story. User created checkpoints could have allowed the player to create their own strategy, possibly providing alternate methods of achieving the mission's goal. There are also no tangible rewards for your success. Enemies cannot be looted, no experience or currency is acquired, and weapon and accessory slots on the party loadout screen are unlocked simply by progressing through the story.