There Came An Echo
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.