It can sometimes be difficult to find games in which all of its parts are working in interesting and engaging ways. I have played many games that narratively have taken me on incredible adventures with unique characters, but not showed the same level of innovation in its gameplay. Similarly, there have been many games that play incredibly well and find new ways to tell story through games, only for the narrative to fall flat. Echo, the new game from Danish studio Ultra Ultra, has the rare distinction of being a game in which its story and gameplay are perfectly married together, creating for me one of the most unique and interesting gaming experiences I have had this year.
In Echo you play as En, meeting the character shortly after awaking from Stasis as she arrives at her destination: an ancient civilisation thought to be myth. What she uncovers there, aided only by the artificial intelligence of her ship London, is something she never thought she would find, a horror that she must find her way out of. I’m being vague yes, but only as a service to the great story that develops from this mystery, and because of the enjoyment I found in this game without very much prior knowledge of what the game was “about.”
What first struck me about Echo is just how visually unique this game is. Echo does fall into the Hard Sci-Fi genre but doesn’t pigeonhole itself some some of the trappings and conventions of the genre. The imagery can often subvert your expectations of what one would find in the Science Fiction genre and at times feels as though it is taking inspiration from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and even Sci-Fi legend H.R. Giger with its dark surreal imagery. The Palace, the name of the strange place the game is set in, takes on a very dreamlike quality with endless corridors, vivid use of colour and architecture, its not often I find myself marvelling at a game on this level but I feel that the uniqueness of this aspect was truly something worth taking the time to appreciate.
Narratively the game also crafts a unique, dark mystery, being vague without verging into pretentiousness, yet also keeping you engaged with the pacing and development of the story. The game could be boiled down as I’ve said to being a hard Sci-Fi game, but to do so would be a disservice to the game, as it also employs great moments of horror, tension, suspense and mystery. There’s also opportunity for humour in the interaction between En and London, which serves as a great way to keep the game from being one note. I also found the character development and interaction as a whole to be believable and not overdone, something which can feel very forced in “big concept” games such as this one. All of these elements are integral to the success of this game, but it is not the only thing this game has going for it.
This is where the game excels from being not only a unique Sci-Fi story, but also a unique gameplay experience. The main antagonists of this game are replicas. Exact replicas of your own character. As the game progresses these replicas become more sophisticated in every way, not only in their strength and agility, but in their study of your behaviour as a player. The AI in this game actually studies your method of play and uses this against you, with the replicas becoming more knowledgable about how you may try to outsmart them.
Say for example, you are more inclined to go for a stealthier approach of play, sneaking behind your enemy and killing them silently. This is perfectly fine, and the method I used through most of the game, however due to the shared consciousness of the replicas and the strange nature of The Palace, you will find that the AI themselves become more stealthy in response, and more wary of ways you can get the better of them. This is what makes this game so great in many ways. The tension is heightened even further through the gameplay, as this feature means that there is no “safe” method of play, giving you no opportunity to feel comfortable when confronting them.
Echo is one of those great games in which I was not previously aware of the title or the studio, but on playing it instantly became entranced and in love with the world that was created. The creators of the game have found a unique way of keeping tension throughout the game with its great mechanics, but also has a thought-provoking story and gorgeous visuals to compliment it. I cannot recommend this game more, and recommend players to go into this as blind as I did, giving yourself some of the great surprises that this game has to offer.
8.5 | 10