Taking a look at the voice controlled tactics game from Iridium Studios today.
Read my review of Before the Echo, the first entry in the echo series.
Listen to There Came An Echo’s OST while reading this because it’s awesome.
A Paladin’s Review: There Came An Echo. An Imperfect But Enjoyable Attempt At Pushing Barriers.
- Genre: Narrative Driven Voice-Controlled Isometric Squad Based Tactical Shooter.
- Developed & Published by: Iridium Studios
- Platform: Windows only
- Business Model: Single Purchase + Optional Extras DLC
- Copy Purchased by Myself
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
There Came An Echo is a squad based tactics game where the main gimmick is about controlling them with your own vocal commands. This three hour long campaign is fully voice acted and narrative driven. There’s really no reason to play it more than once so you’ll probably just get the three hours out of it. Still, I think it’s worth the asking and time price. There’s also a simple battle arena for testing out the voice commands but that’s it as far as extra modes are concerned.
It used to be a spoiler that There Came An Echo was the sequel to Sequence. However, due to a trademark claim on the name, Sequence was renamed to Before The Echo, solidifying the connection the two titles have. Going from a rhythm based RPG to a light tactics strategy in a series of games is one heck of a leap of genres. I have to wonder what that conversation was like with the developers on the project. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a developer take an established universe and change the genres but this is probably the most radical shift I’ve ever seen. What I will say about the story, without spoiling it, is that it picks up several years after the events of Before the Echo. You aren’t necessarily required to play Sequence, as this title does a reasonable job of explaining what happened in that title, but you probably should because it’s a fun game.
Voice Command System and Strategy Talk
The voice command system is a pretty neat and certainly one of the better ones I’ve ever encountered. Being a tactical strategy game, you’ll have a depth of commands including moving units to certain spots on the maps, switching to one of three weapons and so on. There are even alternate commands and you can choose a single custom command for every character and action if you wish. However, it has it’s limits. You have to say the order the command phrase in the right way or it won’t acknowledge it. If you say the wrong thing or misstate an order, it doesn’t adaptively listen for the screw up. As such, it makes cancelling orders hit and miss. As far as responding to my voice, I’d say it did a reasonable job. I find that most voice recognition software has some difficulty understanding my voice due to how deep it is and my unfortunate ability to screw up phrases. However, I’m an Western Oregon accented male voice. It claims in the options menu it can handle different languages such as English in the UK, Australia and Canada all the way to Russian, Chinese and Japanese. But I don’t have any way of testing this. So, your mileage may vary. I haven’t seen or read any widespread complaints about it not handling other languages or accents, yet. If There Came An Echo does have problems understanding your voice, it’s entirely optional. You can control the game with mouse and keyboard but it’s definitely a lesser experience.
Voice control is something that gamers have wanted for a long time. After all, wouldn’t it be cool to command a starship from the comfort of the command seat with only your voice? While this is no ship, you do get the pleasure of ordering Wil Wheaton around. So, close enough. In general, I would say it works about as well as Google Now or Siri’s voice search in terms of understanding what you’re saying. Which, to be fair, I consider that a compliment. Others may disagree with that sentiment but this system could have been far worse. When it hears the right things, it works well and the support for custom commands is a nice feature. However, you can overwhelm it with a bunch of orders at one time and if you yell at it, it won’t be able to understand you. You are also given some freedom to shorten your orders. For example, you can order this: “Miranda, move to Alpha 5” or “Miranda Alpha 5” and Miranda will move to that location. Even the menu itself can be commanded which is really neat. It’s really a neat system. Oh and I should mention that you will probably have to wear headphones as the in-game music and voice acting will trigger the voice system randomly, even if they aren’t saying the voice commands.
I’m not surprised that the game is short. I think if it had been made longer, it would have started to get tiresome and dull. The strategy element of the game is fairly shallow. All you can do is order soldiers to a handful of different points on a map, have them switch weapons and control whether they are or aren’t firing. The main idea is that you’re always trying to flank the enemy units to beat them down quickly. The challenge mostly comes from trying to vocalize those orders. Every person on the team has their own energy bar which is also their life bar. If it goes out, they’re knocked down until someone can revive them. If all four teammates are knocked out, it’s game over and you have to reset from the last save point. Which the save points aren’t very generous. The weapons in the game include a pistol which doesn’t use any energy, a sniper which allows a unit to shoot at long range but is interrupted by anyone firing at them, a screw gun which fires bullets at a rapid pace to keep an enemy unit from firing and a charge gun which fires area of effect blasts. Firing these special weapons consumes energy at varying rates so you’ll need to keep an eye on it. Energy can be recharged with battery packs that each unit carries two of. They can’t be replaced until the next level though there are some exceptions.
Narrative Discussion (Spoilers)
I don’t really know how I feel about the story. There’s a part of me that likes it. Likes that it was a sequel to the events of Before the Echo and that we get to see what happens with those characters. But then there’s the part that looks at the story and thinks it’s a bit of a jumbled and slightly rushed mess. It’s entertaining enough when you experience it for the first time but examining what the heck went on creates a lot of questions that aren’t answered. I’m not even really sure what the moral of the story is, but I guess that’s not surprising as Before the Echo’s moral point was pretty murky as well. You begin the game as Sam, a supposed commander working with Val. You have no idea what’s going on, who Val is or why you’re even helping someone named Corrin escape from people in suits trying to kill him. They’re trying to kill him for his knowledge about a quantum lock program that he designed. So, you lead him out of the office building he’s working in. As Corrin tries to escape the country, he gets cornered by them only to be saved by a mercenary named Miranda. Eventually, they meet up with Grace, a young woman who has personal issues with the leader of the enemy forces and Syll, an apparent Australian hacker who needs Corrin’s help. Val’s intentions aren’t revealed until near the end of the game and as the player, you don’t really have any say in the events. You’re just there to assist them in their tasks and help them survive.
It’s revealed pretty quickly on that Syll is actually Ky from Before the Echo. He married Naia and had become a real big-time philanthropist. But one night his wife had been murdered and he cut went rogue. See, this is where it becomes difficult to describe what’s going on and really piece together how the plot works out. There’s a woman who believes that the technology that created Syll can bring back her dead sons. But it can’t. There’s a side plot about how Ky’s and Naia’s marriage program was defunded due to Ky going awol. There’s also this other plotline that’s revealed to show that all of human civilization has been in an alien simulation this entire time. They did this because of the second law of thermodynamics states that eventually all civilizations fall. So this alien one is trying to avoid it by creating this utopia in a simulation and….I’m sorry, where was I?
This game wants to talk about a lot of big heavy topics, which I don’t have a problem with, in the the very short three hour runtime it has, which I do have a problem with. It all makes a bit of sense if you go with the flow but if you actually stop to think about the themes in the game, you realize that there is a ton of complexity that gets glossed over. For a point that I don’t think it gets across very well. It covers subjects ranging from cloning to eugenics to whether the reality we see as real is actually real to begin with. That doesn’t even cover some of the minor stuff brought up either. And it wants to do all of this in three hours? Yea, that’s not something I would recommend and the story comes off as a mess for it. However, that’s not to say that the game shouldn’t have done that. I just don’t agree with how it was done. That all having been said, the story and characters are still pretty enjoyable and some are relatable. It’s probably the right length considering its mechanical limitations too.
PC Settings and Audio/Video
There Came An Echo comes with a good selection of PC options. Graphic options include screen resolutions up to 2715×1527 on my 16:9 monitor. Windowed mode is on/off (no borderless), V-Sync on/off, anti-aliasing 2-8X MSAA, Lights on/off and shadows low, med and high. There’s a setting for enabling 30FPS lock if you’re finding the framerate isn’t staying consistent. I can’t see any video settings that are missing. What few keys there are for this game can’t be rebound but it supports keyboard + mouse, PS4 and Xbox controllers. It also includes four separate audio sliders for master, effects, music and voice volumes. Voice sensitivity and language can also be changed here. There are some miscellaneous options for voice control including push to talk, sound dampen and so on.
The game is rather draining on resources I noticed which I found to be rather surprising. So, you may have to set some of the graphical options down depending on your setup. Most likely the Anti-aliasing setting. I didn’t experience any crashes or glitches during my playthrough. It has integration with Intel Realsense but I don’t own anything to test out that technology.
Visually, the game has a colorful yet realistic Sci-Fi look to it. The colors on some levels can get rather overwhelming when there’s firefights going on but it otherwise looks consistent. The character models are pretty decently well detailed but the lip flaps don’t sync up with the talking. Overall, it looks good and consistent with the theme it has. The music is simply awesome. I had picked up the album on Bandcamp long before I had a chance to tackle the game and it’s great to listen to. It’s some of the best work Big Giant Circles, Malukah and Ronald Jenkees have ever done. Which is saying a lot considering their previous work. I could go on for hours how awesome it is to listen to but I won’t. Suffice it to say, it’s definitely one of my favorite videogame soundtracks of all time.
There Came An Echo would be a threadbare tactics title if it didn’t have the voice command system. Instead, the gimmick makes the game worthy of your attention if for no other reason than it’s cool. Is it perfect? No, but it worked rather well for me and it was enjoyable ordering units around. Even if the strategy isn’t that deep, it’s deep enough to keep things interesting. I don’t really know how I feel about the story overall. I think it’s got enjoyable aspects to it such as the characters and the themes it attempts to present. But the short runtime and messy storytelling makes for a jumbled delivery. Still, I think it’s worth checking out.
Thanks for reading! Check out my review of Before the Echo if you enjoyed this or any other of my videogame reviews on this site.