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Echo (ULTRA ULTRA) Review


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After many months of wait, countless times watching trailers and gameplay reveals... I honestly thought that I'd enjoy Echo, but I found myself enjoying the environmental design, shader implementation and asset design rather than the overall gameplay... The game starts off showing the capabilities of Unreal Engine 4 (UE4 / Formerly UDK (UE3)) and what you can achieve with some hard work and a little elbow grease... Even the menu was thoughtfully laid out and implemented as "En"s eye following your cursor and revealing the menus as you move....

There was a single fundamental flaw when it came to the introduction of the game, The Menu; As fluid as, well designed and pretty as it seemed... I sat for a solid twenty minutes thinking that the game was still loading or I might have been waiting for some instructional text to pop on my monitor, this wasn't the case; I moved my mouse and low and behold I was amazed by it, I sat for a further twenty minutes moving my cursor and admiring the work, elbow grease and pure imagination ULTRA ULTRA had put into it.

Being entrapped by  what at first glace looked/seemed and felt like an enjoyable experience, I was immediately turned around and sat on my own arse fannying about waiting for excruciatingly long cut-scenes to finish, I mean the voice acting alone was grasping at me and enticing me to play more; So that's what I did... Thirty minutes into the game I found myself walking around what seemed/looked like an entrapped planet of snow to further spend twenty minutes admiring the level and asset design of the snow covered catwalks further into the planets core...

To Quote  PC Gamer's "Lauren Morton"

Quote

It's got a great hook. In Echo, enemies choose behavior patterns that mimic the behavior of the player. Levels are divided into discrete 'cycles', which I won't explain in detail to avoid spoiling the story elements that warrant them. Put simply, enemies can mimic any action taken by the player during the previous cycle but are incapable of performing any actions the player avoided in that cycle. It sounds complex and alluring—and it could have been—but in my experience just became a weird game of tug-of-war with the AI. 

 

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Further into Echo, you're wandering the halls of "The Palace" a marble and goal leaf covered "installation" (to put it simply), again entrapped by Marvellous level, asset, character and art design... But the fact remains its heavily reliant on the Modular asset design the game and levels become excruciatingly repetitive and hard to look at (let alone acknowledge), in the early game especially when you first enter the palace you cannot help yourself but take your time and admire what you at first glace think is something pretty and unique.

That combined with the Integrated Heads Up Display (HUD) that at first glace seems like a half baked Idea, at least during the first hour of the game (depending how slow you're going)... Just adds the cherry on top, with the sly issue being there's not much in the way of information at least again at the start of the time game, you're expected to know where to go; I found myself listening for Audio cues to find the correct route in the early game.

I know what you're saying "But Droid"/"But Austin", its a unique puzzle game with one of a kind idea's and systems, I'm aware of that but when you spend five minutes looking for something to press your interact button on just to get into the nitty gritty of the game before even entering "The Palace" you can see why its something worth mentioning...

However I will give them the benefit of the doubt in the late game at least, Objectives are clearly marked with distance once you start getting into the state where "Cycles" begin and clones of your character "En" start emerging from the ground like little spawns of satan scaring the life out of you until you realise that its starting to mimic some kind of humanoid form .

 

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Instead of the game feeling like you're being challenged like you'd expect from a Puzzle game that incorporates stealth you find yourself playing a elongated game of Tug-Of-War with the AI and the game, trying to avoid actions that you wouldn't want to be used on you, the immediate regret of having to use your stupidly over-powered energy weapon that'll kill as many Echos are you're able to line up (Yes however many you manage to line up).

You'll find yourself running and hiding behind obstacles that you've seen time and time again, the modular asset design and level design may have boded well during development and seemed like an amazing idea to cut down on development time but has only come back to bite the user and for that fact the game in the backside and hinder what could've been an enjoyable experience.

Speaking of Hiding being overly used modular environment assets, the only way to actually hide from any of the Echos is to run and find the nearest and suitable large chunk of Gold Covered Marble, may that be the stair case you saw thirty minutes ago twenty plus times or that giant pillar you've seen in the hallways and Ball Room looking puzzle section you've seen countless times.. I found myself laughing at the limitless ways to give being giant marble structures instead of the game having suitable "Stealth Like Components" such as Snake's cardboard box or Ezio Auditore da Firenze's hay stack; Maybe even the countless amounts of game that incorporate lockers that you can hide in (Wouldn't that be a fantastic idea).

 

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Don't get me wrong and be mislead by what I'm saying, ULTRA ULTRA and for that matter ECHO does try and guide you through some sort of half baked tutorial on stealth, a guide to hiding behind marble I guess you could call it.... But to be completely frank, its better if you just ignore it and ignore the stealth for that matter if you're looking for an experience that is heavily grounded on amazing voice acting and story telling, yes that's actually something to take note of in the game...

Entrapped by the incredible back story, the voice acting... Story telling second to "The Last Of Us", maybe I'm being just a tad generous there; Overall the story experience is amazing but it surely isn't something to be compared to "The Last Of Of Us" or for that matter anything created by Naughty Dog... In the end what makes the game enjoyable isn't the capabilities of the stealth mechanics but the Story Telling, Voice acting and amazing Design; Modular or not you cannot help but admire the textures and shaders, the sheer effort and love put into something.

 

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Coming from a development background in both Game Design and Programming, I can't help but feel like the games I have worked on myself have received this same Criticism to somewhat of the same degree.. But when you're left with something Thoughtful and Creative to work on, something that'll help you make your next game; May that be a second echo or something entirely different they've already got story telling down to something that is enjoyable..

Its a shame that Echo was let down by what I can only describe as a Half Baked stealth system and a game of tug-of-war against a system that would like to see you fail (I mean that's the point).. In the end I did get Echo refunded after playing for a couple of hours, enough to get the general gist of the game and have a decent idea of the games background.

 

Side Note: Feel free to private message me here with feedback on the review as well as telling me if you'd like to see more of these by reacting/liking the topic and leaving a thoughtful reply.

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