Alter Echo is THQ's latest entry in the third-person action genre for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Michigan-based Outrage Entertainment is developing the game, which combines a variety of different gameplay elements with a very unique visual presentation. We recently checked out a build of the PlayStation 2 version of the game to see how it's coming together.
Alter Echo's story is set in the year 2850, when a substance called "multiplast" has become an incredibly precious commodity. The material is coveted for its versatility when handled by psychics called "shapers," who can mold it into anything from clothes to spaceships. You assume the role of a shaper named Nevin, an employee of the IMS Corporation who is dispatched to the planet Proteus, the only planet in the universe where multiplast grows. You're sent there to check on a research facility that dropped out of contact after sending a cryptic final message. Upon arriving on Proteus, Nevin discovers that the research facility's head, a renowned shaper named Paavo, has managed to create an entirely new form of multiplast--called echoplast--that can actually manipulate time. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Paavo went insane and decided to keep the secrets of echoplast to himself. To make matters worse, his addled mind has also prompted him to wipe out the entire human race. While it may sound like Nevin is headed for a quick defeat by clashing with Paavo, there is one silver lining to the whole mess: The echoplast became sentient when it was created, and it's keen on getting out from under Paavo's thumb. As a result, Nevin is assisted in his battle against Paavo by the new entity. This is especially fortuitous, as Paavo's skills as a shaper have allowed him to unleash a planet full of creatures against Nevin.
The gameplay in Alter Echo features a mission-based structure that has you venturing through Proteus in search of Paavo. You'll interact and play with NPCs, face off against a variety of enemies, solve puzzles, and explore Proteus' twisted landscape. The levels will usually involve defeating enemies, avoiding environmental hazards, and finding switches to open up new areas. Along the way, you'll find an assortment of power-ups that restore your health and grant you temporary benefits like invulnerability. You'll also find various nodes in the game that will give your health a boost or let you upgrade your abilities.
While the game's structure is pretty standard, the actual gameplay mechanics feature some very unique elements that keep things interesting. Nevin is given a special suit made of echoplast upon his arrival on the planet. The suit features a variety of unique abilities that are key to safely making it through the game. You'll be able change into three different modes: melee, stealth, and gun. The melee mode will rely on sword attacks and sword-related combos for attacking your enemies. It's also the best suit to do the bulk of your exploring in, as it lets you perform a double jump. The stealth mode morphs Nevin into a slightly less human form that features a bit more versatility. You'll be able to climb on certain walls and ceilings, fit into small spaces to access different areas, cloak yourself, and use a lizardlike tongue to reach objects or enemies. The gun mode lets you become what is essentially a tank with feet. It shifts you into a large, lumbering form that, while nowhere near as agile as the melee or stealth forms, packs some devastating firepower. You'll be able to use a variety of guns and grenades, absorb certain enemy attacks, launch enemies out of your gun, smash through certain obstacles, and use the turretlike "gun nodes" that are strewn throughout the levels.
In addition to the unique abilities offered by the forms, all three modes share one common ability: time dilation. Time dilation lets you attack multiple enemies at once, and it also opens up different attack combos. For example, with the extra time provided by the dilation, you can start a combo in stealth mode, change to melee for a different attack, and finish up in gun mode. Combos are an important element of the game, as they yield points that you can use to upgrade your moves.
The gameplay is complemented by a tight and accessible control scheme that keeps the action engaging. You'll move Nevin with the left analog stick and use the L1 and R1 buttons to cycle between the three modes. The L2 button will let you block enemy attacks when in melee mode, cloak yourself in stealth mode, and absorb bullets in gun mode. The face buttons on the PS2 controller will let you perform three different attacks that vary depending on which form you're in. Finally, the right analog stick will let you manipulate the camera and activate the time dilation ability.
The graphics in Alter Echo feature an assortment of surreal and distinct imagery. In fact, walking around on Proteus is very much like walking around inside a lava lamp. The colorful landscape morphs itself into all manner of bizarre shapes that ensure the game is always interesting to look at. Of course, Nevin and the other characters in the game fare pretty well also. While our build of the game was still coming together, the characters featured a clean look. Nevin's character model featured the highest amount of detail due to his suit's different modes and their associated forms.
The audio in our build was still coming together. There was still some placeholder sound in places, though overall the audio seems to be headed in a very positive direction. The game's soundtrack suits the visuals very nicely and sets a suitably eerie tone. The voice acting in the game is shaping up pretty well, too. The sound effects for morphing and weapons fire are satisfying and just odd enough to fit the game.
Based on what we've seen, Alter Echo is shaping up to be an interesting game. The odd premise, solid gameplay, and trippy visuals make for a promising combination of style and substance. Our only real complaints about the game concern the consistency of the camera, but we expect some more work to be done on that particular aspect as development continues. Alter Echo is currently slated to ship this September for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.