One look at Echo and it's easy to fall under its spell. Its large and ornate environments are unreasonably pristine. The lead character En dons a pitch-black, high-tech outfit that emits a faceted neon sphere that glows when danger is near. It's a visually stunning game, without a doubt. But to understand the challenges facing En, and the potential in a game like Echo, one look simply isn't enough.
Developed by Ultra Ultra, a team comprised of several ex-IO Interactive employees, Echo is a game conceived with an eye towards stealth--but with something far more interesting under the hood. Deep in space, in an impossibly shiny and decadent palace, En is searching for a loved one. Along the way, she's forced to confront veritable clones. And you are in effect your own worst enemy because you teach them everything they know.
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The core conceit can be summed up as AI management and manipulation. If you let yourself get distracted by food while moving from point A to point B, for example, your clones will similarly stop to eat whenever the opportunity arises. Teaching them this can open a path for you to move about unnoticed while they snack away. Conversely, shooting an enemy may make an immediate threat disappear, but it will also clue in other enemies to shoot first and snack later.
The number of actions that you can teach the parade of clones that stand in your way is surprisingly large. Thankfully, enemies will also forget actions over time. Echo's environments operate on a cycle of darkness and light. During the first period of light, the AI will study your every move. In darkness, your actions are yours alone, and you can act freely without imparting any knowledge to your enemies. But when the lights come back on, the AI will put its knowledge to use. It's only when the lights turn off again that their memory is wiped to make room for the next round of behaviors.
Needless to say, this can all get a bit confusing, but it's this complexity which makes Echo so enticing, in addition to its presentation. Carelessness will make your tasks incredibly difficult, but is it not also difficult to be mindful of your every action, and calculate how it will impact you in the future? We should have a better idea when Echo releases on Steam next week (Sept. 19), and down the road when it comes to PlayStation 4.