When you’ve got an independent team made of people who worked on the latest and greatest Hitman debuting its brand new stealth game, you pay attention. Hitman gave us sprawling levels with the freedom to solve them in literally dozens of different ways, all wrapped up in a highly-polished package.
Sure, Echo’s original premise, visuals and voice acting talent go a long way to help sell the game as well, but the sheer pedigree behind it should be more than enough to sell it to any stealth fan. And, on the whole, it works: It’s an inventive, creative game oozing with style.
It just, unfortunately, doesn’t quite nail some of the things that mattered most.
An inventive, creative game oozing with style.
Echo tells the story of En, a woman who wakes up from 100 years in stasis to explore a planet-wide palace, with the goal of resurrecting a long-dead friend. However, the Palace is as deadly as it is luxurious, as littering the grand halls and corridors are hundreds and hundreds of murderous “echoes” – clones that look and, in theory, act just like En.
Here lies the core mechanic of Echo. The Palace’s power will cycle: while the power is on, the Palace records everything En does. It observes how much she sneaks, how much she runs, whether she walks through water or opens doors, and multitude of other actions, and will apply this information to the enemy echoes at the beginning of the next power cycle.
The Palace is as deadly as it is luxurious.
Assume En spends a whole cycle sprinting around, killing every Echo she sees, diving over ledges and opening every door. In the next cycle, the echoes will act the same: they’ll be faster, use their guns, and be able to follow En everywhere she goes. If En plays it more slowly, sneaking around and avoiding confrontation, the echoes will later copy that style instead.
It all sounds terrifying, but in execution it falls woefully flat. For a game that bases its entire premise on the strength of its AI learning from and copying the player, Echo’s echoes are way too stupid to be effective antagonists for a stealth game. They follow pre-set movement patterns, lose En very quickly, and aren’t particularly aware of their surroundings.
The ways they copy En’s actions also feel incredibly unnatural. For example, if the Echoes have picked up on you playing stealthily, instead of trying to creep up on or flank you in any effective way, they’ll instead continue to follow their movement patterns, but alternate between walking and crouching. If they’ve learned to vault over ledges, their patterns will be extended a bit to allow for that, instead of them using it to trap you. Echoes don’t feel like they’re learning, they feel like zombies that sometimes copy what you did.
It’s such a shame that the thing that interests the most about Echo just doesn’t work well, because basically everything else about the game is stellar.
Echoes don’t feel like they’re learning, they feel like zombies that sometimes copy what you did.
If Ultra Ultra are aiming at building a franchise, Echo is a remarkably strong first entry. With the acting talents of Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) as En and Nick Boulton (basically every game ever, most recently Druth in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), the story is not only exceptionally well-written, but also fantastically performed. En is technically the only character in the whole game, as Boulton’s London is the disembodied, derisive voice of her ship, yet their world feels expansive and lived in. It has a detailed and consistent mythology, and discussions of En’s religious upbringing and her family really add flavour to what could’ve been a very lonely, empty world.
Echo is a gorgeous game, especially in its lighting effects.
With the vast, vast majority of the game being set inside the Palace, there was a significant risk of the environments getting stale very quickly, yet the aesthetics really keep things going. Echo is a gorgeous game, especially in its lighting effects. The Palace balances luxury, clinical loneliness and deadliness perfectly, offering up some amazing sights as you avoid your doppelgängers. The animations can be incredibly janky at times, but the character models help mask that, especially with the ever-so-slightly wrong Echoes feeling creepily alien, even when they’re wearing En’s face.
A lot credit also needs to be given to the beautiful sound design. It reminds me a whole lot of Remember Me thanks to its blend of sweeping orchestral themes and glitchy flashes. There have been a lot of great soundtracks this year, but Echo might well be up there as one of the best.
Echo is a fantastic experience, but a poor stealth game. Its worldbuilding, presentation, dialogue and characters all very, very nearly do enough to excuse the awful AI, poorly implemented mimicry mechanic and lacklustre sneaking. Stealth aficionados might not get what they’d expect out of an ex-Hitman team like Ultra Ultra, but anyone looking for an engaging, character-driven adventure will be in for an absolute treat.
A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC [reviewed]/PlayStation 4
Developer/Publisher: Ultra Ultra
Release date: September 19
- Fantastic worldbuilding and vocal performances.
- Gorgeous, foreboding environments.
- Some of the best music of this year.
- AI that’s as thick as two short planks.
- Stealth isn’t very engaging.
- Some unpolished animation.
While it isn’t going to win any awards for its bare-bones stealth or its idiotic AI, Echo offers a wonderful character-driven story in a surprisingly deep and developed world. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we see of En.