There Came An Echo never feels repetitive due to a lot of different scenarios and a flowing narrative, but it’s confusing storyline, and one-day length can turn a lot of people off. Using voice commands could be an excellent sub-genre of gaming, and this is the closest I’ve seen any studio getting to making it successful. While I laud the developers for tackling this style of gameplay that has failed before, sadly it’s the other areas of the game that makes it difficult to recommend. Bad art design and weapons are missing the required impact and results in a lackluster experience. Overall, it’s an interesting weekend experience that’ll impress you with its fantastic vocal performances but offers nothing outside of its sparse campaign.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Voice controls work in this game, which is a hell of an accomplishment.
º The voice acting is some of the best that I’ve heard in video games.
º There’s a lot of diversity with the gameplay and battle scenarios.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º The story is so confusing and rushed that by the end you’ll be completely lost.
º The game is rushed, and could’ve used those diverse segments in more battles.
º Animations and art assets are pretty bland, lacking any real weight in battle.
For me- voice-control gaming sounds as promising as a foot-controlled car. Sure, I’m sure you can make a vehicle with pedals and switches at the feet to provide a hands-free experience; but why? I’m not typing this review with my feet; I’m using my hands. I’m also not using voice to text because sometimes I don’t spoke to wells. So why would any developer ever throw away the controller for a feature that feels so gimmicky? There Came An Echo is a new real-time strategy game from Iridium Studios, and features a strong narrative focus and is controlled mostly by voice commands; so, does it work in There Came An Echo?
To answer in a short way- yes. It does. Sometimes. Honestly, I don’t have a sexy Jon Hamm voice, with strong annunciation with every word and syllable. I’m a poor boy from South Florida; making me this game’s worst enemy. Usually, trying to get my phone to understand my voice commands requires the dickish voice you’ll only get when you’re dealing with bad customer service, or when you’re trying to get Pikachu to do anything on your Nintendo 64. Somehow, it understood me a fair amount of the time. They needed the voice recognition to work, considering the only time you use the controller is to move the camera around. Then again, you could use the “zoom” commands if you really only wanted to use the mic. Thankfully, I can say with all certainty, this is one of the best voice-based games I’ve ever played, and for the most part, it understood every command. Except when it didn’t- and then I would scream into the microphone like a lunatic, scaring my family and friends.
The only reason it works most of the time is due to its distinctly different commands. You can move your squad around by using terms like “Squad Move To” or “Focus Fire On,” all sounding much different from one another. As long as you can remember those unique terms and how to lay them out, you’ll be okay. You can even add your own versions of words, to where “team” could be the word “shitheads” if one were so inclined, but this can cause more problems than it solves. You can also use several marks to coordinate large attacks. Setting two teams up outside of different doors by saying “move to alpha five on my mark” and the other group to “focus fire on enemy seven on my mark” is rewarding when you finally give the final command. One complaint I would have is that despite the commands working well, the game would constantly confuse “Alpha” with “Delta.” The game also is in real time and expects you to keep your composure and state your orders clearly and articulately when the shit starts hitting the fan.
Your lifesaving shields and powerful weapons use the same energy, so utilising your weaponry in the right moments, and using your infinite pistol to conserve armour is a necessity. When your teammates get low on energy, it’s up to you to tell them to recharge, even though it would seem like something they could easily do themselves or done automatically. Your squad can also change out their gear between missions, which is a nice touch, but thoroughly underused. The sniper rifle is used in one segment of one mission, and then after that, it becomes a weapon that you’ll never want to see again.
These problems are where the game stumbles over itself. There’re so many ideas here, and yet none of them are fully explored. You start the game guiding someone out of an office building by directing them on what routes to take, but it’s the last you see of this gameplay. There’s a segment where you stealthily take out two guards at the same time with the rifles, the level starting with the promise of sneaking missions, only for it to be the only opportunity. There’re times the game take up a tower defence segment, but sadly another one-off experience. It feels more like a collection of seven gameplay modes, arranged into a story, and then suddenly ending after you just feel like you’re getting the hang of it.
To jump into the story, you play an overseer whose guiding a group of ragtag mercenaries and cryptographers as they to unravel a mystery with an algorithm that the lead character Corrin Webb (played by Wil Wheaton) created. While the story starts with that, it seems like after every chapter the goal of the game changes. Sure, it starts with safeguarding information about Corrin’s program Radial Lock, but as you progress it becomes about avenging a murder, connecting a long lost love and ending with existential conundrums. This is the first time in my time reviewing games where I got completely confused and disoriented by the plot; it is very convoluted. Not bad by any means, but I would suggest bringing a work pad and taking down notes.
Normally this kind of story would have me tune out, but I was still thoroughly engaged. Each time the story shifts, it explores complicated ideas of identity and humanity. The conversations run deep, and they will make you scratch your head in contemplation- floating you nicely over the humongous gaps in the storyline. It’s also hard for me to talk about all these twists, as I hate to spoil any aspect of a game’s storyline. It’s as if each chapter has one and finally the ending is a huge one that’s entirely off the deep end- one that I’m sure will turn some off, but I enjoyed.
What really sells the game is the voice acting. Man, this is a top-notch cast. Of course, there’s Wil Wheaton, whose commitment is heard as he creates a realistic and believable character from a fly on a wall perspective. The game also has Ashly Burch, who played Tiny Tina in Borderlands, Yuri Lowenthal of Ben 10 and Naruto fame, Laura Bailey, and Cassandra Morris. Each actor and the Assistant Director who worked on performances deserve recognition in their excellent use of the auditory stage. The game’s soundtrack is also well fitting and is one that I’ll be going back to listen to again in the future.
The art design ranges from being exceptionally average to impressive. There wasn’t anything that really wowed me or made me cringe; it’s all very vanilla. Even weapons like energy bombs and landmines produce an uninterested sonic orb that just kind of makes everyone go to sleep. Everything just lacks the punch of more traditional RTS games. Character animations are also pretty good, but very slow in pacing. While they’re appreciated in conversations, bringing some life to subjects that could’ve come across as nothing more than models, when it gets to the action you’ll see more telegraphs than the Western Union.
As an experiment, I found the game admirable. It’s hard to convince gamers to speak calmly and clearly into the equipment they usually yell at kids through, but as a voice-controlled game, they’ve taken some excellent strides towards proving its usefulness. As a game however, I have to say that it’s not bound to make anyone’s top 10 lists. Once you’ve beaten the game and sat through the awkward 20-minute video credits, you’ll find that there’s only a swarm mode called the “War Room” to enjoy after they’ve rolled. It’s just too short and inconsequential to consider anything other than a fleeting moment of unusual fun.