The current console generation is strange to say the least, as unlike the previous, and the one which came before it, it doesn’t follow any pre-established trends. As certain genres are severely underrepresented, considering that the most recent hardware has been on the market for over three years, at this point. And whenever the subject of genre underrepresentation is brought to the table, all immediately jump straight to the racing type of games, as beside of a handful of titles, it has been pretty much non-existent. However, the one specific genre which most nearly always fails to mention, is the stealth-espionage category of video games.

If not for franchises such as Thief, Metal Gear Solid (may it rest in peace), and to some extent Styx, the stealth class of videogames, would be completely absent on the current platforms. And yes, there has been an indie here and there which could be considered as a part of the abovementioned genre, but in the end, each of them, was just another £9.99 throw-away indie. However, Denmark’s Ultra Ultra, is looking to bring some life to the now dying breed of stealth-centric videogames, with their most recent title, ECHO.

ECHO, at first sight, is a very nondescript game. And that’s not because it lacks substance or structure, but because every single piece of promotional material regarding the title, defines it in a completely different manner. Certain press releases calls ECHO a high intensity action game, whereas others define it as a demanding stealth-based action-adventure title. And in a way, all above descriptions are correct, and incorrect, at the same time. Because in reality, ECHO is an action game, but due to its overreliance on archaic mechanics such as stamina bars, it can only be played efficiently as a stealth game, as due to the gameplay-centric limitations, it is borderline impossible to approach it as an action-adventure such as Uncharted 4.

Some titles, in order to spice-up the gameplay, feature a mechanic or two, which are there in order to add a layer of complexity to the basic gameplay procedures. However, Ultra Ultra, have added not one resource based mechanic, but two – as in game, players have to keep track of both their stamina, and cells. And that’s because both resources need time and/or items to recharge. And at the beginning having to juggle your resources isn’t as frustrating, as one would expect it to be. But with time, as ECHO begins to throw hordes of enemies at the player, the core gameplay becomes nothing more but a chore.

Having to manage numerous resources is not a problem, when the said resources are limited to particular actions, but in ECHO every move other than walking depletes either cells, or stamina. And it is simply unreasonable to drain an entire bar of stamina for action as menial as a simple push. The developer has clearly realised that such as is the case during the development, as all in-game stages are littered with globes which recharge your cells, and fruit baskets which recharge your stamina. But provision of such, degrades the core gameplay to simple fetch quest, as it boils all encounters down to shooting the enemies, while searching for the never-ending supply of cells. And within an hour, the simplicity and monotony of the core gameplay begins to grind on one’s nerves.

Overreliance on collection of resources has its gameplay related issues, but in the case of ECHO it also carries one major flaw, related to the art of the game. And that’s because every single corridor, chamber, or maze is filled with the aforementioned globes, and fruit baskets. But thanks to ECHO’s general art design, one will likely overlook the dozens, if not hundreds of spinning globes, as he/she will most likely spend majority of the time in-game in awe of the surroundings. As it has to be said that ECHO, at least on the visual level is simply incredible.

ECHO features a plethora of diverse-looking areas, however, for the most part; it concentrates on the palace, which is the centre point of the game’s plot. And it many aspects, the palace, is the title’s greatest feature. The sense of scale and wonder which it creates, is simply astounding, as it has one constantly keep a look out for ever-new scenery, which is commonly clad in gold, gems, and marble. And the title makes sure to make the best use out of its environments, as each and every narrative heavy segment, usually takes place in a unique and simply breath-taking area.

On a visual level, ECHO is simply incredible, but the art related mastery is not just limited to the environments, as other in-game elements such as the UI and even the main menu screen are just as impressive. All the elements of the user interface are crisp and concise, and are natural to the game and its other devices. And that’s because all the elements of user’s HUD are attached to the main protagonist’s suit, just like in Dead Space, but ECHO makes much better use of the available space. And within the limited room, the designers have managed to fit in player’s health, stamina, power cells, locator, and hostile indicators.

ECHO’s user interface and heads up display are a work of art, and put to shame a vast majority of modern AAA releases. But the title’s first moment of brilliance doesn’t take place in-game, but within the main menu screen, as such is the best I’ve seen so far, on this generation. Initially ECHO­’s main-screen looks like nothing special, as it is just a high-resolution model of an eye. However, after a couple of seconds, after one realises that such is not just an introductory cut-scene, and moves the analogue stick to unveil faint reflections in the said eye, is exactly when he/she comes to realisation that the said screen, is not just a cut-scene but the menu itself. And by moving the eye around, one selects his/her actions, simply by looking at them, as the reflections which can be seen on the eyeball, are in-fact user selection, and not just random glints.

As you can see, ECHO is a stunning game when it comes to its visual façade. However, by ramping up the visual fidelity, Ultra Ultra has had to make sacrifices in other departments, or department rather. As on PlayStation 4, ECHO performs so poorly, that it could challenge the launch version of the now infamous The Long Dark’s PlayStation 4 port. As at times, the title can turn into a complete slideshow, and certain encounters take place in 10-to-15 fps, especially within the latter stages when there are a large number of enemies, equipped with fire-arms. And that’s a real shame, as sub-par performance, ultimately damages the title in a long run, as many modern gamers will simply not play a title, which performs worse than most WII U games.

In the end, ECHO can be summed up using the same phrases which have been present within the first two paragraphs of this review. As it is ultimately a strange, and nondescript game which lacks singular identity. Title’s core mechanics do not match its premise, and its technical performance is simply unacceptable in this day and age. And seemingly, the only good things which can be said about the title relate only to its visuals, and UI design. But as we all know, graphics are not everything, and an indie developer such as Ultra Ultra, should know it better than anybody. However, despite of its shortcomings, ECHO is still an intriguing experience thanks to its story – which should be experienced first-hand – and incredible performances by Rose Leslie of Game of Thrones fame, and Nick Boulton of Hellblade, and Mass Effect 3.



Author

Kamil

My name is Kamil, and I'm the 'Feature Man'. I write news, and reviews just like everybody else, however, feature articles are my true forte. And this is not because I'm another self-centered, pseudo-intellectual games journalist, but because there are many discussion worthy matters which go unnoticed in the flurry of other video-game related articles. If you want to read more of my #HotTakes and #Opinions, or if you simply want to fight me over the internet, you can follow me on Twitter @Kama_Kamilia.