|It's a touchy time for the
industry. The mainstream press went to E3 for only one reason: to cover violence in video
games. Sure, a couple of gadget columns in the lifestyles section are bound to crop up,
but the fact remains that we've become very sensitive, as a culture, to violence. But it's
nice to know that there are always games like Echo Night. It carries a Teen rating, and
it's certainly not a "kids" game, but it is refreshingly cerebral. What little
violence portrayed in the game is enacted by the "bad guys," and you are trying
to stop it. Does that make it boring? Not at all. In fact, it's a unique experience, and
Echo Night pulls it off quite well.
It's true. This game feels as though it was made for teenage girls. Not because of anything having to do with the play, although the lack of violence is a trait of "girl games," but because of the storyline. Regarding plot, Echo Night is Titanic meets Shadowgate64. Now, lest you think that it involves a cheesy love affair between two doomed, impossible lovers, let me correct you. Echo Night contains multiple cheesy love affairs between doomed, impossible lovers, and a whole bunch of ghosts. It all starts when you are notified of your father's death/disappearance. While poking around his house (you know, fiddling with the clock and such), you are warped back in time to witness a scary encounter on a train in "the past." An old man and his daughter sit in one car. A younger man enters. You run around and figure out that you need to get the thing from the now dead conductor to open the window on the roof of the car with the three passengers. You witness the old man shoot the boy, and you are involved in a tangled web of extreme, demonically-influenced politics. So of course you're like Jesse Jackson. You gotta go in and straighten everything out.
You return to your father's house, where you are warped to the Orpheus, an ill-fated steamliner in 1916. This is where it goes all Titanic on us. The ship is full of ghosts who are unable to move on, find rest, whatever, until some little wrong is righted. You not only convey the love of multiple couples, but you give little girls their dolls back, reunite mother and child, and help sailors complete their last command. In general, you remind ghosts of loved ones, and that prods them along. Some ghosts are friendly and needy, others are needy and lashing out. So you get hurt occasionally, and collect healing potions, but you can't hurt them. You can turn on the lights and scare them out of the room.
But that's the worst of Echo Night. The story leaves a little to be desired, to say the least. Especially if developers wanted to make the game really push the genre. Then again, Echo Night doesn't really have a whole lot of competition, and that's what makes this game so good. It's unique. Original. Fun.
The game is entirely in the first person. The 3D environments are not half bad, but they aren't incredible. The textures are quite nice, but fall apart when you get close. Characters and objects are typically PlayStation, and that's sad. At first everything is super slow, so it is imperative to up the Speed option all the way. Control is great, and environments are easy to figure out. Interactive objects light up as you move your center point over them. The feel of the game is very much like Shadowgate64. In both games the focus is on talking to characters and solving puzzles, aided by books and notes. Occasionally, there are drastically different sections, such as the mine-car maze and the casino.
The character interface is great. It's clean and efficient. You can pull up items to use while roaming around, or hit Select to access a menu where you can save at any point, access a map, read your notes, or examine an item more fully. You can read the books you collect, and your notes are sometimes more complete than your memory. The notes also occasionally give you hints about what a particularly confusing ghost might want from you. The emphasis on thinking about what characters have said and interpreting events you've witnessed from the past makes Echo Night a stimulating mental exercise.
While the voice acting is melodramatic and poorly done, to say the least, it is nice that almost everything is spoken in Echo Night. The game takes on a very immersive feeling, and the sound effects are well done. It is completely possible to find yourself startled by something in Echo Night. There is no music, except some creepy classical-type stuff whenever a malignant ghost is around, creating a great ambiance.
The puzzles in Echo Night are not half bad. Mainly the trick is to figure out what the ghost wants, and then it becomes pretty easy to get it. For example, you find the ghost of a young sailor, drunk, outside his room. There's a glass next to him. You get the glass, talk to him, find out he wants to taste Ed's drink one last time. You go in the room across the hall and find that Ed carved a message into his coffee table that says the recipe is coded into a painting. So you go in the bar at the end of the hall, find a painting with Ed's initials, and interpret the one man, two snakes, and an axe to mean a shot of "man" liquor, two shots of "snake" liquor, and a spritz of "axe" from below the bar. Take the drink to Tipsy McSquid, and he's happy enough to dissapate.
Sometimes Echo Night's puzzles get a little random. Usually these occur in places where you are trying to open a door or box. Fortunately, they have limited possibilities, and are decipherable, but generally with a little too much effort. It really sticks out in a game that is generally quite easy and understandable. The side effect of the easy play is that the game goes quite quick. Granted, there are several different endings, but that doesn't make the play very different. For most people, Echo Night is going to be a very memorable rental, simply because of its brevity. But there is definitely a niche audience for it and the size of their niche is like the Grand Canyon if the success of Titanic and the cult favor of Shadowgate are any indicators.
In all, a game like Echo Night stakes a large part of its claim on story. Unfortunately, the story is possibly the worst part of the game. It also doesn't have the greatest graphics or voice acting, but it does have a certain style. The melodrama of the vocals are just shy of true camp, and who knows how funny they'll sound in a few years? It definitely does something to grab you, if you are the person who is open to these kinds of titles. If you are unsure, definitely rent it before you buy. You might finish it over the weekend and decide that's good enough. Or you might not be able to put it down.