Developer: Ultra Ultra Publisher: Ultra Ultra Platform(s): PS4, PC
Our 50 best games of 2017 countdown isn’t in any order, we’re just going through fifty of the finest the year has given us. Find out more here.
I hate myself. Everywhere I go, there I am, getting in my own way and threatening my life at every turn. I’m a quick learner, though, picking things up with ease. I just learnt how to play the piano – this morning I couldn’t even open a door.
If you’re worried about my mental state, I am not referring to my daily ritual of staring at myself in the mirror, gritting my teeth, and singing Bob Marley. I’m talking about Ultra Ultra’s excellent ECHO: an indie stealth game that came out at the tailend of 2017 and became one of the year’s most underrated hits.
You play as En (who is voiced wonderfully by Rose Leslie) as she makes her way through an opulent palace to right a wrong. ECHO’s narrative unspools over time and is certainly withdrawn to begin with, so I can’t really say much without spoiling it. What I can say, however, is that Philip K. Dick fans will find plenty of world-building to dig into.
Things start off slowly in ECHO, almost painfully so, but then the game’s hook sinks in. You are being hunted by yourself. Clones of En are all over the palace as they act as its twisted defence system, so you are quite literally your own worst enemy.
While some may say that effectively re-using the same asset for enemies is a cheap getaround (I did to begin with), it’s always terrifying to open a door to see an army of you just waiting to take you down at the first chance they get. They aren’t instantly as capable as En, however, which is where the game’s best mechanic and one of the best in recent memory shine through.
The AI is adaptive in ECHO, meaning that whatever you do, they will be able to do too. They start off pretty useless, unable to even cross water, but as you will eventually have to wade through the water to make progress, you had better be prepared for when they start wading their way towards you. The mechanic operates on cycles: when the palace lights are on, the echoes will be able to learn anything you do (such as sprinting or even something as simple as eating fruit) but not when the lights go out. This monkey-see-monkey-do spirit is the driving force behind ECHO and something that I never got tired of battling against.
After the lights go out, you’re free to do whatever you please, but combatting the echoes is usually not a wise decision. You have a fairly weak firearm at your disposal, but seeing as the echoes come back to life when the lights return, it’s only to be used in case of an emergency. Do you sprint around and dispatch of a few while hoping beyond hope that you find the thing you need, or do you just play it meticulously slowly? The choice is yours; ECHO is supremely dynamic and doesn’t let up with the surprises.
If you’re stuck without an Outsider to kill or have been held up at the supermarket too many times because of the barcode on the back of your head, ECHO could be the stealth game you need.
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