The Science Fiction genre has proved to be such a rich source for video games over the years. There have been so many epic and action-packed space-bound adventures that it has become somewhat difficult for a sci-fi game to stand out above the crowd on its own merits. Unfortunately, it can’t be said that either the storyline, setting, or indeed the gameplay of Robot Entertainment’s Echo Prime does anything to make it particularly memorable – it barely even does enough to ensure you remember it this time next week.
The game begins by casting you into the shoes of un-named space marine Number 12727 (for want of a better name, as you’re not provided with one when you first start), as he tries to escape a failing spacecraft being sucked slowly into a nearby Black Hole. He proceeds through a generic-looking corridor, avoiding obstacles and shooting robot drones as he attempts to reach an escape pod. This acts as a tutorial stage, easily teaching you the basics of the whole game in one fell swoop.
In the process, the Black Hole somehow spews out an Alien consciousness – known as an Echo – that fuses with our nameless hero. Echoes are the memories and voices of someone from another world, and when you encounter them, they are given new special powers and abilities, linked to each unique Echo. These can be active powers such as freeze shots or lightning, that you can activate when you wish, and that have their own cooldown rates, or they can be passive skills, such as regenerating health or an extended shield. To begin with, only one of these can be equipped at a time, but later on more can be used at once.
After completing the first stage, it is explained how these work, and how you will now be forever linked to the Echoes. From here, you choose from three campaign to begin, and select the missions to take on. There are core missions and side missions – with core ones progressing the campaign (albeit not really providing much in the way of storyline), and the others offering the opportunity to gain more XP and credits for spending on upgrades. There is a story thread that runs through the core missions, but it is loose and only presented on loading screens between missions; in fact, it feels like an afterthought.
With so little emphasis placed on the story, one might expect that the gameplay would be something rather special. Sadly, that isn’t the case – and Echo Prime quickly establishes itself as rather simplistic and repetitive. One simply taps or drags to move their avatar around , and taps again to attack, or taps with two fingers to block. All enemies can be defeated by these means really, with a swipe dodge and the aforementioned Echo skills added in to help handle the trickier foes. And every level is set in the same side-on corridor-like levels – with a progress meter which goes up from 0-100% after each enemy is defeated. Kill them all to fill the meter and complete the stage.
Some enemies are tougher and form bosses of sorts – but the difficulty never becomes very tough, so that with the use of special abilities you will usually have no trouble taking even the biggest foes down. However, if you feel under-powered, you can connect online and make use of Echoes that have been collected by friends or other players – and select one of these to be a passive skill for a level, giving you an extra boost while sending the donor some bonus XP. This is a nice idea to add an extra level of connectivity, but you can simply use Echoes from people you don’t even know, so you will always just pick whichever power is the strongest on offer, not one that is from a particular friend.
Side missions do try to add some variety to the mix, such as protection stages, where you may have to protect a generator for one minute from oncoming foes, or Combat Simulators, where you go head-to-head against waves of enemies to reach a top score. These still amount to more or less the same gameplay though, and don’t really do enough to add any excitement to proceedings apart from letting you earn your extra XP and cash.
Levelling up unlocks new upgrades and equipment such as better armour, stronger weapons or a visor for increased accuracy. You can also upgrade your Echoes, making their powers stronger or more effective, which only really serves to make he gameplay simpler, as cooldown rates will decrease and you will be able to defeat a greater number of foes by just using your special attacks. This ends up taking much of the skill (what little there is) out of the game, making it seem almost on-rails. The Echoes could have been a clever game mechanic, but are instead just glorified power-ups.
It unfortunately can’t even be said that the graphical or audio presentation is impressive. The levels are presented in 3D, but the character models are all rather simplistic and uninspired. Even the main protagonist is quite plain and generic – he could just as easily have been one of the faceless enemies as the hero of the piece. The music and sound effects are fine, but don’t remain memorable in any way.
VERDICT: Echo Prime has a nice idea at its core, but it is let down almost every step of the way by run-of-the-mill, uninspired execution. If the Echoes were portrayed on-screen as elemental helpers, or played a larger part in the game as guides or companions, then the mechanic would have been far more exciting. Sadly, they remain relegated to being simply special skills, and their importance to the story is undermined by this lacklustre implementation. The game is at heart a straightforward side-scrolling action game, and the Echoes idea just doesn’t manage to drag the game into loftier territory. The Echoes may be trans-dimensional memories implanted into the brain of the hero, but this is one title that you will soon forget.
POOR. Games tagged 4/10 will be playable, perhaps even enjoyable, but will be let down by a slew of negative elements that undermine their quality and value. Best avoided by any but hardcore genre fans.