There Came an Echo
There Came An Echo is a real time strategy game from Iridium Studios, developer of the quirky rhythm and role playing game Sequence. It features the voice talents of Ashley Burch and Wil Wheaton and game play that calls to mind titles such as XCOM, Valkyria Chronicles, and Final Fantasy Tactics. The important caveat to those comparisons is that There Came An Echo’s combat takes place in real time and that one of its defining mechanics is controlling your squad through voice commands.
The player takes control of up to four characters at a time, observing the field of battle from an isometric point of view. While you can use traditional keyboard and mouse controls at any time, the game is designed so that the vast majority of actions can be done using your voice. The developers have encouraged this by simplifying and streamlining much of the game play. For example, instead of being able to move to any area on the map your team can only go to certain, predetermined points. These points glow yellow and orange and are labeled with names such as “Foxtrot 1” or “Alpha 3”.
If you can get over the idea of people in adjacent rooms hearing you shout at your computer monitor (and, come on, who are they to judge anyway?), the voice commands can be exhilarating. Whether you want to tell a specific unit to change weapons or order the entire team to open fire, the system is both fun and functional. There’s a special feeling of empowerment when you call out things like ”Grace, switch to Rail gun and move to Foxtrot 4!” However, the system wasn’t without hiccups, and mistook what I said a few times. For example, several times when I tried to use the command “On my mark” the game would pause. Overall though, the voice controls worked well, akin to using a system like Siri. The developers also included the option to change out commands and character names so that the game will recognize different command aliases. Most of the game is spent taking out enemy soldiers, but there’s also a lengthy stealth section and areas with multiple objects for variety
There Came An Echo is kind of an anomaly in that it’s a story focused real time strategy game. Apart from the single player campaign there’s only the War Room, a place to practice your tactics and get used to commanding your squad. The game’s story takes place in the not so distant future in the underworld of private corporate espionage and tasks the player with uncovering an international plot involving an advanced computer algorithm. In the story you assume the role of the mysterious Sam, a seemingly omnipresent observer whose true nature and identity are revealed late in the game.
Your squad changes and grows throughout the game but you’ll be aided the entire time by the computer program Val. Val is one of the story’s highlights. She injects a lot of humor and, surprisingly, a good deal of humanity into the script. Her humor is emblematic of the game’s approach to comedy overall: shyness and insecurity. Many of her lines begin with brazen confidence but give way to heartfelt vulnerability. Early in the game she explains to the player “Show them who’s boss! It’s you, by the way. You’re the boss.” While this feigning of confidence is a great source for humor, it’s at odds with the overall narrative of the game, which tries to ponder deep themes such as the nature of death, memories, faith, and knowledge. The comedy undermines the moments in the game when the storytellers wanted to say something profound. Ultimately the story is worth experiencing, but struggles throughout to maintain a balance of comedic charm and dramatic musing. It’s as though it’s saying both “Take me very seriously,” and “Don’t take any of this seriously for a moment.” As a result many of the dramatic moments feel weightless. Still, the writing for the comedic sections is sharp and even if you end up rolling your eyes at the dramatic moments they give you something to think about after the credits roll.
While some players may consider the strategic elements dumbed-down for the sake of accommodating the voice control system and the length of the game is a modest 6-7 hours, the time you spend with There Came An Echo is enjoyable for it’s novel game play, comedic writing, and rather bizarre ending. For fans of real time strategy and brass-tacks sci-fi writing this is a game you’ll want to experience.