There Came an Echo is equal parts epic vision and shallow one-note gameplay. The game’s premise is perhaps its greatest strength: you, the mysterious Sam, command a small group with just your voice, from a top-down real time strategy perspective. Disappointingly, you’re likely to spend more of your time with There Came an Echo frustrated than empowered.
You control your team simply by using specific assigned words to make characters maneuver and act in certain ways. For example, one might say “Corrin attack target one”, “Everyone move to alpha two, on my mark” or “Corrin switch to sniper” and the AI should act accordingly. The option to create your own custom commands is also available. Suddenly “Hey good looking, stroll on down to party one and hit chump two!” has you working identically to people with more earnest approaches. The game also gives the option for conventional controls. Keyboard, mouse and controller support are all here.
Playing with the non-voice control schemes is clunky. A dial is used to issue all orders, and doesn’t seem intuitive as the sole tool of control in a game that is not turn based. Playing There Came an Echo without voice control seems pointless. There are a total of 12 upgrades and five guns in the game. They unlock almost instantly, and selecting which of your four characters will carry what into battle is the beginning and end of all tactical depth (besides perhaps the ability to flank your enemy). Echo offers little besides the novelty of using your voice meaningfully in a video game.
The word “gimmick” will naturally spring to mind. I think that undersells what this experience is. When the voice recognition is working, you feel like a god. Directing your troops can work seamlessly like a well-oiled machine. Regrettably, the process only works about 60 per cent of the time, and the louder you shout in a vain attempt to save the lives of your heroes, the less Echo wants to listen. Yet the game is full of potential. Voice recognition gaming, if we take this experience’s successes, could well be a new genre in the coming years. The highlight mission of the campaign is undoubtedly a tower defense segment, halfway through where the voice commands really seem to mesh well with core gameplay.
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Strange design decisions hold There Came an Echo back from functioning as any more than a proof of concept. There are around two points where the player is given the choice of two different tactical plans of action. It seems strange to dangle this sort of autonomy in front of the user to then rarely use the tool again. This brings us to Echo’s length. Steam informs me that I spent six hours with the game, at least three of which I know to have been spent dealing with glitches, bugs and the making back of progress I had lost when the game so frequently crashed.
It would be unfair to focus solely on the many failings of There Came an Echo, leaving out what has been done right. The small cast is capable and often charming. The producers often stress the voice of Corrin, the game’s protagonist, to be Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame), but characters Val and Syll consistently gave more interesting performances. The narrative will entertain while it is needed, and in places invests you in characters, but serves mostly as an excuse for gameplay. Music and overall sound design also impress, showing an indie developer can achieve quality on par with AAA titles. Echo’s graphics are not particularly memorable, but their simplicity allows for play on lower caliber PCs. The art style reminded me of a toned down XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a game Iridium Studios clearly has drawn a lot from.
There Came an Echo acts as an exciting proof of concept for an idea still years away. It’s great to see indie developers try their hand at something so ambitious. I recommend it to anyone interested in voice recognition software, but several significant shortcomings make it hard to label a good game.