|Before I can start this review I need to take a minute and clean
up the puddle of drool that's been gathering on my floor ever since I placed the dolphin
game in my Dreamcast. Ecco: Defender of the Future is Myst meets Super Mario 64. I didn't
think it would be possible to develop a game that was equally beautiful and interactive.
This game has as much soothing power as turning off all your lights, putting on Enya in
the background, and just staring at your fish tank. That's not to say that the game is
boring. In fact the serenity that it induces makes the shark attacks all the more intense.
I doubt that I have ever jumped so much while playing a game. Sharks come at your from out
of nowhere and the impact of the attack is heightened by Ecco's sweet little squeal.
The games story is secondary to its visuals and its gameplay, but it is serviceable. In the future Man(and, I presume, women) and dolphins are working together to spread a message of peace and unity throughout the universe. They eventually encounter some aliens known only as "The Foe" who dont cotton much to the idea of intergalactic brotherhood (or sisterhood for that matter) and yada, yada, yada They eventually attack earth and its up to one dolphin (because all of the other dolphins are too concerned with catching fish) to save the world. Ecco, with its earth-friendly, peace throughout the universe message is this decades Star Trek IV with a lot less cheesy dialogue.
I dont know exactly where to start with my praise, I guess the soundtrack is as good a place as any. The music for this game is perfect. They couldnt have done better if they had hired Enya and John Williams to collaborate. At moments it's more relaxing than those nature sounds clock radios and at other moments it rivals John Williams' score for Jaws in its ability to put you on the edge of your seat. The rendering for the water is expertly done. The sound effects are equally well done. I was really impressed with how the sound field seemed to open up whenever you jumped out of the water. It really heightened the feeling of underwater isolation.
Ecco is like Sea World on a disc with Shark Encounters included at no extra charge. At times you will be more of a tourist than a gamer. In fact, I would have liked to have seen a tourist mode where you could explore the worlds in a non-linear level without the threat of attack. One of the only drawbacks of the game is the map that you access. A lot of the environments look very similar and the map doesn't do a very good job of helping you distinguish between areas.
The fluidity of Ecco's movements are simply astounding. Not a jagged line can be found in his design. He is the most organic character I've ever seen on a console system. There are aspects of this game seem to approach movie quality CGI. Ecco has made me see how very close we are to having photo realistic graphics on console systems. At times you will just pause in the middle of playing and admire the lighting effects on Eccos body. If Ecco was the only character that was expertly rendered, I would have been sufficiently impressed. But virtually every fish, dolphin, shark and alien has been given the utmost attention. You will be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the whales and Octopii. When you show your friends what the Dreamcast can do, Ecco will be your first Demo disc.
The controls become intuitive after only a little bit of game play. I'm not the biggest fan of the Sega controller, but it really works well for this game. Navigating in a true 3D underwater environment can be a little disorienting, but the controls make the best of it.
Although this is a game with specific goals to accomplish, you will spend most of your time exploring, eating fish, or doing tricks at the surface of the water. The fun at the surface is what makes this game so much more than the previous incarnations of Ecco. The claustrophobia of the sea bed would sometimes force me to the surface basking in beautiful Caribbean like sunsets. You can play through this game in much the same way you can gobble down a fine French meal without savoring the experience. But if you take your time and savor every bite/level the game will become more than a series of goals in much the same way that a fine meal becomes more than a collection of ingredients. In the later levels some of the design work is simply beautiful. Atlantis is reminiscent of everything that was good in Myst.
Taking a laid back approach to this game will help you to better deal with some of the frustrations inherent in playing it. It is long and at times frustrating, but if you take your time and enjoy the journey more than anticipating the destination you will feel that it's been time well spent. This is not a game you can expect to beat in a couple of days. When you sign up for Ecco's world, you are signing up for a long term relationship. The levels are quite involved with multiple goals to accomplish and there are over thirty levels to deal with.
Lay some plastic on the floor and play this game with a bib because your jaw will drop and the saliva will flow.
Another new standard has been set by the folks at Sega. They are changing the face of game. Its no longer about the points, or the coins; its about the experience. No single platform has come out with so many revolutionary titles in such a short period of time, and with SegaNet just starting theres nothing that would surprise me. The Dreamcast is not rolling over and playing dead; it is standing up to a certain 256 bit system with its tongue out and its hands wiggling in its ears. "Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!"