The best way I can think to describe There Came An Echo, is that it’s a narrative focussed sci-fi tactics game with an emphasis on voice control. It’s set in the future, where main character Corrin, a cryptographer, has created an unbreakable algorithm. Unfortunately this has sparked the interests of a variety of suspicious people, including a group of mercenaries who take you, and as/with whom you spend the rest of the game playing. They are interested in this supposedly unbreakable algorithm, and Corrin must attempt to uncover what secrets it is safeguarding, and fend off those others who are pursuing him – all the while, not entirely trusting the group of mercenaries he’s working with.

The game plays as a real-time strategy with voice commands (although you can play without). Essentially, you order your four units around the levels using set waypoints (the waypoints can’t be changed) and try your best to take out the foes in your path and complete any objectives the levels may contain. The waypoints at default are commands such as ‘Alpha 1’, ‘Bravo 2’, etc., but these can be changed in the options to something else if you prefer; and so a typical command you may use is “Corrin, move to Alpha 1”. There may be a group of enemies in a room for example, and three waypoints dotted around the entrance to the room – so you can choose to group your units behind cover, or keep one at the entrance to the door while the others enter the room, for instance (there’s always a good variety of ways you can go about tackling a situation). It sounds pretty simple, and for the most part it is; but the way the levels are set up and the ‘real-time’ nature of the gameplay provide some extra depth and challenge. For example, you can queue up commands by saying “on my mark”, as well as order your units to switch weapons that better deal with the situation at hand. You’ll also have to adapt your strategy on the fly, moving people to different points to flank enemies, or even retreating if you find yourself overwhelmed.

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Before each level begins, you’ll be given a choice of load-out. This includes a choice of four weapons (along with a default pistol, with which everyone is automatically equipped): the charge gun, which acts as a sort of area of effect grenade launcher; the screw gun, which is a rapid firing weapon best used to suppress enemies; the sniper, which is obviously a powerful long-range weapon, but cannot be used effectively if you are under fire; and the rail gun, which is a very powerful rifle of sorts, but uses energy quickly (energy is used as health as well, so using high energy consumption weapons is always a risky strategy). Additionally, you have a choice of perks – two for each of your four units, covering things like ‘increased accuracy’, lower energy consumption, etc. All of this melds with the real-time gameplay to create a fairly fast paced tactical experience – you may find yourself outnumbered, and therefore have to order one of your units to move to a different position, switch to the screw gun in order to suppress a group of enemies, or, if enemies are clustered together, use the charge gun to do damage to multiple targets – it’s a deceptively deep game, mechanically speaking.

There’s also a decent variety in the levels despite the game being so short (roughly four hours long) – you will have to utilise different strategies, such as being stealthy in one level, or splitting up your team in another; but there is also a level where you have to command turrets like a tower defence game, and levels with objectives like ‘override computers’ – this one in particular requires you to leave a member of your team behind each time you override a computer, as they will need to continue doing so to stop turrets from activating and wiping out your team.

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Overall the gameplay is pretty solid – it’s challenging and varied enough to be enjoyable – but it’s clear that There Came An Echo is quite focussed on giving a ‘narrative experience’. As I’ve already said, the game is quite short, so it’s a little disappointing that the four hours include quite a sizeable amount of dialogue and cut-scenes. The story is very good – it’s interesting, well-paced and unique (and has a fantastic soundtrack) – but the lack of gameplay content is conspicuous. There’s also very little replay value, beyond playing again on a higher difficulty (as well as a ‘war room’ to play against some waves of enemies).

With what little gameplay there is, however, is generally very impressive. I’ve already noted that there is a deceptive amount of tactical depth; but as well as that, the voice commands are robust and actually add a lot to the game’s quality (it’s not just a gimmick). We don’t get a lot of voice controlled titles, especially not ones that actually work; so it’s nice to see here that this form of control has been implemented so effectively – it makes you really think on your feet, and is smooth and satisfying to use.

On the other hand, I look at the voice controls and think that without these this would be a fairly mediocre game – a game with a compelling story and some worthy RTS gameplay, sure, but overly short, and certainly nothing special. If you do end up playing without a microphone, your experience will not be of the same quality, and in some cases may be outright annoying – the non-microphone controls are a little messy. There were also some dodgy instances I encountered during my playthrough. On one level I managed to get stuck – you finish a certain part of the level and order your team to the next location, which is guarded by soldiers; however, the game takes control away from you when you approach the target for some dialogue, and then gives it back to you after the enemy soldiers open fire, meaning you need to act quickly to sort your units (switch weapons, change position, etc.) before you get overwhelmed. I managed to trick the game into instigating the cut-scene just after I redirected my units to a different position, but the camera bugged out and refused to let me move it – if I didn’t have a microphone to move my units to the next location, it would not have been possible to progress (even worse when you consider that the game doesn’t let you manually reload checkpoints, instead making you restart the level from scratch).

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Additionally, despite the story being quite compelling and having a good voice cast, there’s not really a single likeable character; and at times I rolled my eyes as the script attempted to get profound, but actually just sounded silly. For example, there’s a running argument between some of the characters about religion, which only really becomes relevant when you reach the end, and even then it is still a stretch and a little obnoxious – there’s a line which particularly irked me from the character Grace: “how ironic that the atheist is the most afraid of God”…congratulations Grace, you managed to be both snide and fractally wrong.

But these are either isolated issues or pet peeves, and I suppose it says a lot for There Came An Echo that my key problem with the game is that it’s not big enough. It’s more like a tech demo than a fully-fledged game (albeit one with a decent, fully realised story). It shows that voice controls can benefit an RTS title, and that games that strive for that ‘narrative experience’ can also have compelling gameplay; but it never reaches its full potential. Providing you have a microphone, it’s certainly a unique and enjoyable experience, and one that I hope developers will look upon when making future RTS titles.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29