|release date||September 2017|
The past year 2017 was rich in major gaming blockbusters. After a series of high-profile autumn premieres, you could miss a few interesting games. Among them is ECHO from the studio Ultra Ultra. A group of people from IO Interactive, who worked on Hitman, went on an independent voyage and presented an unusual stealth action game with an original concept and original visual style.
The game takes us to the distant future. The heroine wakes up from many years of sleep in a cryocapsule. All her acquaintances have already gone into oblivion, and this is her fault. Trying to change something and revive a certain Foster, we go to a strange ancient place called the Palace. This is a huge ship, plowing the expanses of space and powdered with an ice crust.
Having penetrated inside, the heroine begins to descend deep into the mysterious ship. Walking along a winding path through collapsed stairs against the backdrop of incomprehensible industrial structures, we plunge into complete darkness, find a gateway and penetrate into large shiny halls with lush interiors. At first, the world around is shrouded in darkness. The palace is sleeping, but we will wake it up.
The game is in no hurry to reveal the plot, creating an atmosphere of mystery. We are immersed in some kind of strange story, where much is not clear. Step by step, through the dialogues of the heroine with the computer AI partner, we learn more about the events of the past and about the Palace. And in the end, these conversations go more and more towards philosophical reflections on life and death. In this manner of presenting the story, there is a strict differentiation, when the dialogues dilute the pauses between the gameplay stages.
After a protracted prelude of exploring the empty dark galleries, our adventure finally takes off. Trying to start the Palace results in a strange reaction. At first, we observe how energy impulses scatter along the corridors, and then bright lighting lights up. The space complex comes to life, but goes out periodically to restart itself. After eclipses, creatures come into the world who go through an evolutionary path from clots of a moving mass to human figures. The palace tries to copy the heroine, and with each cycle does it better, until finally the duplicates open the hunt for the original.
From this point on, the main gameplay begins. The heroine must avoid her copies, who are trying to capture her. At first, clones are slow, clumsy, and have a number of limitations. But as new replicas improve, they act faster and more dexterously. And the behavior of opponents depends on the behavior of the heroine herself. The palace watches and studies us, marking individual moments and poses with ghostly figures. Based on these markers of behavior, artificial intelligence forms its own matrix of actions and adopts new techniques.
In the early stages, duplicates cannot walk on water, jump over obstacles, or even open doors. But the further we go inside the ship, the less restrictions on the response of the enemies. As a result, they gain all our capabilities, begin to hide behind shelters, sneak, and can even use weapons.
The heroine also has her limitations. Running quickly depletes your stamina, while the pistol, scanner, and jumping use up energy cells. Therefore, stealth is the best helper. At the same time, the game simultaneously stimulates active actions. There are many enemies, they move around, and it is pointless to wait in one place for a long time. You need to skillfully catch the moment when you are out of sight, and quickly respond to any change in the situation.
Separate stages resemble arenas. Here it is difficult to quietly neutralize everyone, and sometimes almost impossible. You need swiftness and decisiveness when covert actions are quickly replaced by runs from cover to cover.
The aggressiveness of our actions causes a quick reaction from the Palace. It makes no sense to try to neutralize absolutely everyone – at some point the lights will go out and after the reboot the enemies will be reborn. And if you started shooting, then get ready for the fact that after the eclipse, duplicates will shoot at you too. But in the dark, our actions are not tracked. This gives you a chance to quickly take out someone or make a decisive dash to be in another place before the appearance of revived dummy.
ECHO gradually increases the difficulty and puts forward different conditionals. For example, in arena levels, you need to collect particles to activate the elevator. In large, confusing locations, you often have to look for a key to open a door with it in another place. Along the way, we can collect various items and upgrade the heroine, increasing the number of energy cells. The more carefully you study the level, the more likely you are to get an additional cell for a shot. On the other hand, it increases the overall difficulty and the likelihood of getting into trouble.
Lacks any opportunities for deceptive tricks. The heroine can only distract someone by throwing a pearl, which still needs to be found at the location. Otherwise, the difficult situation boils down to trying to run away, get out of sight, or quickly press the right button before we are grabbed.
There is a sense of a certain freedom when we “probe” the situation, choosing the best path or the best solution. Individual levels resemble a sandbox. But there are also straight-line zones where you need to literally go ahead, using the entire set of your skills. All this is successfully combined with eclipses that change the situation and can somehow help or harm us – it all depends on the actions and tactics of behavior.
The game has a distinctive visual style. Lush interiors resemble the interior decorations of some endless palace with bright illumination. The effect of infinity is created not only visually, but also physically. Sometimes there are self-reproducing branches in the corridors and halls, creating an internal recursion. This does not affect the gameplay, because there are always landmarks for the right direction.
The levels inherit the common features of the visual design, but the color scheme of the halls changes – white, green, golden.
The game is based on Unreal Engine 4. Graphics settings are not enough. Performance varies greatly in different gaming moments. The frame rate sags in large galleries with many light sources and in dark corridors (which is unexpected).
A small test of a group of video cards was carried out at maximum quality settings in one of the most difficult moments. We were walking through a large dark gallery.
Below are the results for 1920×1080 resolution.
With Ultra-graphics, the results of budget video cards are quite poor, although they will perform better in most scenes. The Radeon RX 480, Radeon RX 580 and GeForce GTX 1060 show around 40 fps, in lit rooms it will be up to 60 fps. So with these graphics accelerators you can comfortably play in Full HD mode. For simpler solutions, it is enough to switch from the maximum graphics settings to high ones, which will provide good acceleration with minimal loss in quality.
There is a Downsample on motion parameter in the settings, which activates dynamic resolution, reducing it in case of strong performance drops. For a clear picture, it is better to disable this item.
ECHO is an unusual stealth action game based on a unique concept. Enemies are our reflection and learn based on our actions. An intriguing fantasy story is built around this. But the plot is delivered unevenly, and there is a certain monotony in the gameplay. Stealth offers a balance between caution and a quick change of tactics. ECHO encourages constant movement within the framework of conditional stealth. Not ideal, sometimes drawn out, but a very good original game that will provide new experiences. The absence of the Russian language can become an obstacle in the perception of the game, but this will be corrected by the crack from the ZoG Forum Team.