Archives by Day

There Came An Echo

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Iridium Studios
Release Date: May 31, 2016


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PS4 Review - 'There Came An Echo'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 11, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

There Came an Echo is a voice-controlled real-time strategy game in which you, the field commander of a small squad, use your voice to direct your units around a map to accomplish various objectives.

In theory, voice commands are a fantastic idea, but they're still a relatively new thing. The more complex the voice commands, the more prone they are to breaking. Games that make heavy use of them, like Binary Domain, tend to use voice commands as a secondary or optional control method. There Came An Echo is an ambitious experiment in that it's a lower-budget indie game that focuses entirely on voice commands. The result is certainly memorable, though not always good.

There Came An Echo casts the player as Sam, a faceless, nameless "commander" who's tasked with guiding and protecting Colin, a young programmer who invented a theoretically unbreakable encryption called Radial Lock. Although Corrin released it as open-source code, he now has people hunting him down with the intent of forcing him to reveal how to break open the lock. Before long, Corrin is hunted by mysterious individuals armed with futuristic technology, and in order to survive, he has to team up with an eclectic group of hackers, mercenaries and outcasts.

The problem with the plot is that it's too self-aware and snarky. The game unashamedly borrows from "The Matrix," including an opening that is almost a one-for-one re-creation of Neo's escape in the first film. The characters spend a lot of time joking with one another, which works sometimes, but when it becomes the only mode, it can get a little exhausting. Still, the plot is reasonably compelling, but it sometimes lacks background. There are a few spoilers that lack the impact they should have, but by the end, I was engaged with the plot and interested in where it was going.

Rather than directly controlling characters, you "guide" AI characters using voice commands. Every arena is divided into points designated with call signs, which determine where you can move and what you can target. Effectively, you'll spend most of your time moving characters from point to point. Luckily, the commands are very straightforward. Most of the time, you must include the character, action and location, such as "Corrin, shoot Target 1" or "Miranda, move Alpha 1." You can also buffer moves, such as telling Corrin to move to Alpha 2 on your mark, allowing you to set up multiple actions to go off at once. The game is good about recognizing alternate variations on words as well. "Go to" and "Move" work equally as well as "Fire," "Target" and "Shoot."

Each character is armed with a shield, a basic gun, and a small handful of special weapons, which amount to a grenade launcher, a suppressing gun to keep enemies locked down, a sniper rifle for long-range shots, and a rail gun for high-damage shots. All weapons have a risk. Every character has an energy meter that powers their personal shields, which prevents people from dying when they've been shot. Special weapons share an energy meter with your shields, so every shot you take means less defense for your characters. You can recharge shields mid-mission, but every character has limited batteries, so you must manage your resources. Characters can be revived after combat if they go down, but it might make an upcoming fight harder if you don't have any resources.

The big make-or-break feature for the game is the voice commands, which are too awkward to comfortably use. The game asks you to speak calmly and forcefully, but even then, it would misread my words pretty regularly. This is a pretty serious problem when it comes to some of the more prickly moments.

However, without the voice orders, There Came An Echo isn't worth playing. The physical controls work as well as one can expect, but it's clear the game was designed around being entirely voice-controlled, and the physical controls are an afterthought. The result is that you have to awkwardly struggle through some uncomfortable button-based mimicry of voice commands to issue orders. Also unfortunate is that it emphasizes the simplistic gameplay. Without the barrier provided by the voice controls, you realize how limited your strategy options are. It's unfair to say it's completely without value without voice controls, but it's like playing a light gun game with a controller. It's possible, but you're struggling against the game's intentions the entire time.

Even with voice commands, there's no escaping that the game is shallow. A majority of the combat devolves into moving characters into cover and then focusing fire on individual enemies until they fall. There's some light strategy involved in picking who to focus fire on, but usually, it's pretty obvious. The multiple weapon types add a little strategy to the game, but they're so fiddly that they quickly wear out their welcome. I think this would've worked better as single-action special moves rather than swappable weapons. Even when using them properly, it's hard to pretend like there's a lot of depth there. Enemies aren't clever enough, mechanics aren't developed enough, and stages aren't interesting enough to have much to them.

The game tries to throw in some twists and turns to help the gameplay, but none are very compelling. A stealth sequence is either incredibly easy or incredibly tedious, depending on whether or not the voice triggers correctly. I failed it twice because the game didn't recognize my command to move, and my character stood there while an enemy found him. A short while later, a tower defense sequence was rather fun but felt so simple that I wondered if it was possible to fail it. It's easy to overlook this simplicity when everything is working correctly because the illusion of control is quite good. As soon as the illusion breaks, it comes clear that there's not a lot of game here. The story carries itself, but once it gets into pure gameplay, there's not a lot to enjoy.

There Came An Echo has a simplistic but charming graphical style, although it can be difficult to read the small characters, and some of the environments are a little busy. The voice acting is excellent and boasts some surprisingly big names, like Wil Wheaton and Ashley Burch. The characters do a good job with the dialogue and help bring some personality to the characters. It's a small cast, but it works well. I really enjoyed the dialogue and plot, even lines that would have come across as cheesy in the hands of poorer actors.

There Came An Echo is more of a proof of concept than a real game. There's a basis for a strong game here, but it really needs to get fleshed out. It's a great proof of concept and an enjoyable experience, but it breaks just too often to be worth playing. Some of the title's weaknesses are the simple gameplay, awkward and fidgety mechanics, and voice orders being too inconsistent to feel natural. The short main story also means it's tough to recommend, despite being an interesting experience. If you're willing to work past some hurdles, there's a fair bit to like here, but it's probably best to wait for a sale.

Score: 6.5/10

More articles about There Came An Echo
blog comments powered by Disqus