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by THQ

The 3-D action genre has become increasingly crowded in the last couple of years. Seemingly every developer has rolled out some hip, edgy new mascot character and slapped them into a big 3-D world and sent you on a quest to collect mystical crap. A lot of the time they are little more than uninspired run and jump games that don’t add anything new to the genre. Developer Outrage Games hopes to buck that trend with Alter Echo and in many areas they succeed. Alter Echo features a few unique gameplay elements that are a lot of fun, but the poor camera and targeting systems drag the whole experience down. It has more to offer than most 3-D action titles, but it is ultimately just as forgettable.

The story in Alter Echo takes place far in the future where a special substance has been discovered called “plast” that is only found on a planet called Proteus, which is made entirely out of the stuff. Psychically empowered people called shapers can mold the plast to form anything and everything from buildings to spaceships. The most gifted of the shapers, known as Paavo, has created a powerful new form of plast known as echoplast, and he intends to use it to build an army and rule the galaxy. That is where your character steps in. As a young but very gifted, shaper named Nevin, it is up to you to battle Paavo’s echoplast minions and save the day. When Nevin arrives on Proteus, he finds that he has an unexpected but very powerful ally. When Paavo created echoplast he inadvertently caused the plast to come alive. Now the planet Proteus itself wants to help you to defeat Paavo.

You’ll fight your way through the game with the use of a suit made entirely out of echoplast. The suit has three very powerful forms, and you can switch between them at will. In the default form, you can quickly move around and explore and you have a large sword. The gun form turns you into a hulking mech that can shoot enemies far away as well as launch grenades or simply swat at enemies with your massive gun arm. The third form is a stealth form that turns you into a lizard-like creature that can turn invisible as well as climb on specially marked surfaces throughout the game. You can quickly switch between the forms at will using the shoulder buttons, so it is possible to get pretty creative with combining attacks from different forms.

The focus of the combat in the game is on combination attacks so you can earn points so you can upgrade your suit. The game keeps track of how many hits and kills you have in each combo and the more enemies you can dispose of the more points you get. You can also switch forms mid-combo to open up new attacks and make your combo even more stylish After every few levels you will be allowed to spend your points on new moves and upgrades such as more health or a better gun or sword. The game becomes easier when you buy these upgrades, but it also allows you to be even flashier with your combos so the game definitely gets better the more you play it.

There is also another way to deal out punishment in Alter Echo. You can use Time Dilation to stop time and rack up very impressive looking combos. When you use Time Dilation, the game stops and you are taken to a grid screen where you have to make precise button presses in order to build chains of attacks and destroy as many enemies as possible. When your chain reaches an enemy, you get to watch a nifty cut scene of Nevin performing some wicked looking attacks.

The gameplay in Alter Echo could have been better, though, had the camera and targeting systems not been so poor. The camera is just a little too close for my liking and it moves very slowly, so it is hard to locate enemies. It is especially difficult when you are in a room full of enemies and you are getting shot in the back while other enemies are ahead of you and the camera simply can’t keep up. The targeting system, particularly in the gun form, is an issue because the auto targeting doesn’t always move to the enemy that is the biggest threat. You’ll find yourself shooting at an enemy all the way across the room when there are four enemies standing right next to you beating on you. Another annoyance is that the camera doesn’t follow what you are targeting, so you will auto target enemies behind you or just out of the screen and the camera never moves on its own, which is annoying.

The level designs also leave much to be desired. There is only a single path through each level, which is a major drag. The levels are also very short and consist of only a handful of rooms each, so it is possible to beat the game in less than six hours. Another thing that I find odd is that Nevin is supposedly a great shaper wandering around a planet made entirely out of plast. It makes you wonder why he doesn’t just make a straight line through the plast to Paavo and get the job done quickly.
Graphically, Alter Echo look pretty good, but it isn’t great. The environments really look like they are made out of rubber or plastic or whatever plast actually is. Everything is smooth looking and every room is either purple or brown or pink and the overall look is pretty bland. It looks like what you’d imagine plast to look like, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t boring to look at. The character models are pretty detailed but the faces on the characters look jaggy and, well, ugly. Special effects for weapons and attacks are nice looking and help the game to not look so bland.
The sound in Alter Echo is ok, but the voice acting is absolutely horrible. The sound effects for fighting and the screams of attacking enemies sound good and the music is fine, but the voice acting will grate on you from the very first scene on. None of the characters speak with very much emotion, and the deadpan way Nevin tries to make jokes is annoying.

Overall, Alter Echo is a fun game, but it could have been so much more. The combo system and ability to change forms is great, but the poor camera and targeting system and linear level design make it yet another 3-D action game that is little more than average. Time Dilation attacks aren’t that easy to pull off, and they sort of screw up the flow of the game, but the resulting attacks are pretty fun to watch. I love changing forms so easily and the combo system allows for a lot of creativity. Alter Echo is fun to play, but little annoyances drag it down and the short length of the game make it a solid rental that you can have fun with for a couple of days and then forget about.


Eric Qualls   (10/12/2003)


Ups: Changing forms; combo system; lots of action

Downs: Voice acting; camera and targeting system; bland environments

Platform: PS2