There Came an Echo is one of the more fascinating, unique games I’ve played this year; not because of Iridium Games’ desire to emphasize voice control as the main means of playing the game, but because of how it all comes together in the end. The story, the characters, the gameplay and its unique mechanics, all blend together in a marvelous, sci-fi experience worthy of competing with The Matrix. Seriously, this is a game that could have a movie based on it.
“They're coming for you Neo and I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
By now, I hope you all recognize that line — the one spoken by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) as he guides Neo (Keanu Reeves) in escaping an office in one of the most iconic scenes in The Matrix. There Came an Echo takes its cue from that, briefly introducing us to Corrin, a hacker/developer responsible for the creation of an unbreakable encryption software known as Radial Lock.
“Did you know that they’re coming for you?” a mysterious woman by the name of Val warns. After some hesitancy on Corrin’s part, followed by some quick persuading, There Came an Echo kicks off with a bang. And from there, you only go deeper into the rabbit hole.
Like Neo, you’ll feel a lot like Alice while playing the game. It’s a surprisingly deep story, one that I was initially led to believe was just your basic run-of-the-mill sci-fi hacking plot. It’s so much more than that.
In the game, you take on the role of Sam, a faceless voice tasked with helping Val in guiding a band of misfit vagabonds. The premise, at least at first, is pretty straightforward. There’s a software program and a bad guy — err, woman, who goes by the name Heather Farrick — who wants it for her own personal reasons. What you’ll discover, though, as you tumble down this convoluted rabbit hole, is that Radial Lock has a much more important purpose than even Corrin realizes. It’s hard to talk too much about There Came an Echo’s plot without treading into spoiler territory, but Iridium Games definitely invokes some thought-provoking questions about God and humans’ increasing technological prowess that could, in fact, result in playing God. Every time the characters think they’ve solved something, a new wrench in the plot is introduced. It’s an intriguing story, albeit one that rides fairly close to The Matrix line. It's a story that'll keep you hooked from beginning to end. And let’s just say that by the end of it, like at the end of The Matrix, you’ll be questioning your very existence.
Writing aside, the story is aided in the successful casting of its characters. Sure, the dialogue is filled with some sci-fi jargon, some of it made up, but the actors — Wil Wheaton, Laura Bailey, Ashly Burch and more — do a fantastic job of bringing these characters to life.
As I mentioned, you play as Sam, the all-seeing commander, the eye-in-the-sky, raining down commands through your choice of voice recognition or mouse-and-keyboard. Seeing as how Iridium Games has placed a tremendous emphasis on voice control, I played the majority of the game using that method, experiencing various degrees of success depending on the microphone. While it mostly understood commands, there were times — especially during the more frantic periods — where I would rattle off moves a bit too fast for the game to pick up. The game even warns that you have to speak slowly and clearly when issuing commands, but I did find that hard to do while in the middle of a fast-paced battle. Thankfully, the game is pretty forgiving in combat. It’s not a difficult game by any means, almost to the point where it seems Iridium just tacked on combat for the sake of action without really trying to impede your progress.
Commands and tactical approach start off light at first, but quickly ramp up as the story picks up. Each of the characters start off with just a standard pistol, but as you progress you acquire new weapons, like the Charge Gun which deals area-of-effect damage, or the Screw gun which lays down suppressing fire. Again, how you choose to approach each scenario seems more complicated than it actually is. It seems frantic, but the key is just staying cool and level-headed. During the more chaotic times, I actually found it more beneficial to return to mouse-and-keyboard controls. Basic commands consist of telling a character to move to a specific location, target a certain enemy, or switch to a different weapon.
Of course, there’s much more to this idea of voice control. And it actually wasn’t until now, as I write this review, that I started having an epiphany. The voice recognition isn’t implemented for ease of control, but for a much deeper purpose that actually ties into the plot in the most fascinating way. I’ll let you come to the realization on your own, though. From a technical point of view, the voice control works. From a philosophical point, it excels.
The story is told through a sequence of 10 missions that wrap up a bit too quickly for me. While the plot is plenty sufficient, I just don’t feel there was enough meat to the gameplay. And I’m not talking about a lack of innovation. With voice control, there’s plenty of unique situations you’re put in. One specific part of the game, that particularly stood out to me, was having to control my characters and two different turrets as you attempt to defend a base from enemies that approach from five different lanes. Constantly shouting out voice commands was a real thrill. When I say meat, I’m referring simply to the amount of gameplay. Missions are too quick, and there’s not enough of them. Even the War Room, which lets you defend against waves of enemies in a simple, symmetrical arena, could use some variety in maps, objectives, or even player-vs-player action. That being said, I did cherish the three or four hours I did have with the campaign and would love to revisit a universe established by Iridium Games in There Came an Echo.
There Came an Echo definitely isn’t for everybody. It’s not perfect by any means. Technical hiccups (which Iridium has been working up through release to fix) and lackluster animation leave a lot to be desired; but, it’s story — both entertaining and intellectually demanding, albeit a bit convoluted and self-indulgent at times — more than makes up for any gameplay issues you may encounter.