Trailers are dangerous things. Take the gameplay trailer for PS4 and PC game Echo, the debut title from studio Ultra Ultra. It presents slick visuals, an interesting premise, and – best of all – a novel gameplay hook that I’ve never come across before, whereby enemies watch what you do and learn from it, turning those same skills against you in turn.

It’s a thoroughly excellent trailer, two and a half minutes of precision marketing designed to convince me that Echo is a game that I urgently needed in my life. What it doesn’t tell you is one crucial thing: Echo is a stealth game. And I am irredeemably shit at stealth games.

“Echo is a stealth game. And I am irredeemably shit at stealth games.”

So how much of a stealth game is Echo exactly? Well, it turns out Ultra Ultra is staffed by ex-IO interactive developers, for one. You know, the guys who make the Hitman games, one of the last surviving bastions of the sneak-sneak-kill-kill mega franchises. So I probably could have seen this coming if I’d bothered to do my research, but here we are: I was terrible at Echo, and didn’t have much fun, but that has everything to do with me  and nothing to do with what is actually a thoroughly good game.

Echo is set in one of those far-flung futures that gets to assume lots of exciting technological and societal changes in the background without ever feeling much of a need to go into them in detail. You play as En, a woman with a checkered past who finds herself exploring an almost impossibly perfect palace floating in the vacuum of space – which may in fact have been prophesied by the cult-cum-religion she ran away from years before.

“Surely no human architect would opt for such crushing, beautiful monotony?”

The payoff is a game spent exploring a space that feels infinitely vast and infinitely repetitive, a neat excuse for reusing environmental assets that actually plays to the game’s favor. Each new corridor, staircase, or sprawling hall boasts the same gleaming marble and glistening gold, opulence taken to an absurd limit, its very perfection revealing the artifice behind it – surely no human architect would opt for such crushing, beautiful monotony?

More distressing than the perfect palace though is what you find inside in: a seemingly endless army of clones of En, exact imitations right down to their immaculately coiffed curls of hair. This is more than just another savvy attempt to reuse assets though: these clones don’t just look the part, they act it too, learning how to kill you by watching how you kill them.

The palace operates on a cycle – in each few-minute window it watches your every action. In the next cycle, the clones know all the skills you used in the previous – from mundane actions like opening doors right up to using weaponry. However, they simultaneously lose whichever skills they had last time around, so there’s a constant process of memorising – and often restricting – which skills you use, so as to predict which tactics the enemy Ens will throw against you in the next cycle.

As Christian Donlan points out at Eurogamer, this is all a rather smart inversion of the old Hitman formula: instead of cooly learning the patterns of the world around you to slip through unnoticed, the world is now memorising your own patterns of behaviour. It encourages the player to achieve as much as possible using the fewest skills, so as to avoid overpowering the enemies, while simultaneously opening up a wealth of playstyles. Do you plan your chosen abilities for each cycle meticulously? Cycle through them, to make sure you always have something new to counter your opponents? Or maybe preserve all your actions for the brief blackout each cycle when the palace isn’t monitoring you?

“If you love Hitman, or Metal Gear, or Splinter Cell, or any one of the other big stealth series around then I can’t recommend Echo enough.”

The only problem – well, for me at least – is that one playstyle that doesn’t work is to go in guns blazing. Your pistol is slow to fire, with limited charges, and enemies can kill you in two hits. Charge in and before long your opponents will charge back, and there are a lot more of them than there are of you. Of course, for many many many people that won’t be a problem at all. If you love Hitman, or Metal Gear, or Splinter Cell, or any one of the other big stealth series around then I can’t recommend Echo enough.

But I hate all those series. I don’t have the patience for stealth – I can’t bear the sitting around, waiting for the right moment to move. I just want to get on with it, to make a mad dash and hope for the best, to keep the pressure up throughout. I’m not even sure why that is. In real life I’m plenty patient – in fact I’m usually the last person to try and rush anything. And maybe that’s the problem. Videogames are an escape, and for me in part they’re an escape from living life cautiously, from taking care and precision over every minor detail – it’s a setting where I can be reckless, make daft and dangerous decisions, almost entirely without consequence.

That attitude does not jibe well with Echo. I made it halfway through the 4 or 5 hour story, but I’ve stalled out – which is a shame, because the story and universe are fascinating in their own right. Echo clearly isn’t for me – but it might well be for you.

About The Author

Executive Editor

Dom thinks too much, acts too little, and probably needs to get out more, to be honest. He writes about games, films, and life and stuff.

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