There Came An Echo

EDGE - - GAMES - Irid­ium Stu­dios PC, PS4, Xbox One Out now (PC), TBC (PS4, Xbox One)

PC, PS4, Xbox One

That re­peat­ing sound you can hear isn’t an echo, but your in­creas­ingly frus­trated voice as you ask Mi­randa, yet again, to heal Cor­rin. The ac­tion wouldn’t be nec­es­sary at all if he had lis­tened when you asked him, min­utes be­fore, to switch his shield bat­ter­ies over. And to top ev­ery­thing off, now Val – your tac­ti­cal ad­vi­sor – is telling you that you’re speak­ing too loudly to be un­der­stood. Comedic mo­ments like this per­me­ate voice-con­trolled RTS There Came An Echo’s short cam­paign, but regular break­downs in com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­trast with mo­ments of bril­liance when the tech pulls it­self to­gether and de­liv­ers on Irid­ium’s am­bi­tions.

This in­con­sis­tency re­sults in a game that feels ex­per­i­men­tal through­out. In or­der to ac­com­mo­date the slower in­put speeds of spo­ken or­ders, sce­nar­ios are dis­tilled right down to their ba­sics. Your squad mem­bers can only move be­tween pre­de­ter­mined check­points (la­belled Al­pha, Bravo, Char­lie and so on), and you’ll never face an over­whelm­ing force. Com­plex­ity in­stead comes as you jug­gle the tools at your dis­posal to gain the up­per hand in battle. Every­body wields a ba­sic pis­tol, but four other weapon types al­low units to switch into snip­ing, sup­pres­sion or a choice of heavy-type roles. Units’ guns and shields While the avail­able check­point po­si­tions in this room pro­vide a clear sense of what cover they will pro­vide, that’s not al­ways the case, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to plan. The need to enun­ci­ate can limit in­stinc­tive re­ac­tions, too draw from the same en­ergy reser­voir, how­ever, so you’ll have to care­fully man­age your use of spe­cial weapons.

There’s some well-thought-out de­sign here, then, but im­mers­ing your­self in it is re­liant on your faith in the game’s abil­ity to in­ter­pret your or­ders – a trust that’s reg­u­larly un­der­mined. Even for­mi­da­ble tac­ti­cal chops will be for naught when Syll runs into an­other room be­cause he some­how mis­heard your or­der for Grace to switch to her Charge Gun. You can opt for a com­bi­na­tion of drag­gable se­lec­tion boxes and ra­dial menus when voice com­mands fail you, but do­ing so high­lights the sim­plic­ity of the un­der­ly­ing game and proves an un­sat­is­fy­ing way to play. And even when things are work­ing as in­tended, the ac­tion is stymied by indis­tinct level de­sign, a tightly fo­cused cam­era and lethar­gic map scrolling speed that con­spire to make it dif­fi­cult to keep track of your sur­round­ings – whether that’s ob­jec­tives, or squad mem­bers split up into teams.

But de­spite all of this, when your charges re­spond to your or­ders on cue, there’s a sense of ur­gency and con­nec­tion that is ab­sent in other RTS games. When you set up a pin­cer attack, hand­ing out com­plex or­ders to each squad mem­ber ap­pended with an “on my mark”, and then set things in mo­tion with a bark, Irid­ium’s vi­sion briefly fizzes into fo­cus. Oth­er­wise, There Came An Echo feels like a proof of con­cept for a much more sub­stan­tial, and re­fined, coun­ter­part.

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