Games of the Year

ECHO

ECHO Screenshot 1
ECHO Screenshot 2
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After a century in stasis the girl En arrives at her destination: A Palace out of legend, a marvel of the old civilization eons gone, still awaiting its first human occupants. Out here, using forgotten technologies, she hopes to bring back a life that shouldn’t have been lost. But nothing could prepare her for what she’ll face in the ancient halls below. The experience starts as a character driven journey of discovery, but as it unfolds it evolves into something altogether more punishing. The Palace studies everything you do, everything you are, to use it against you. Gameplay revolves around stealth, action and manipulation, as you face off against the ultimate enemy: Yourself.
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Game Discussion

Review by Anonymous
Review from Steam

This game claims to be a stealth game, and if you go in thinking "I've got a crouch button, a stealth take down, and the ability to lure enemies away one at a time for easy kills, this'll be a breeze" you're going to have a bad time. Two of those options are traps 99% of the time.
If you go in thinking "I'll play this game like I'm speed running doom," you'll have a much, much better experience. The game shines when you're making on the fly decisions about what you can teach your echoes in order to get out of your current jam, and is a complete slog if you try to avoid teaching them anything.
The there are certain frustrations: The story is poorly told, only really understandable on repeated play throughs or heavy reliance on pre-existing knowledge of sci-fi tropes. Certain, semi-common scenarios will prevent you from unfucking yourself because of how the game handles the take downs. The beginning is a lot of walking and talking, but it picks up after the first two chapters (once you see water, you're in the main game). And the main menu is artistic in a way that impedes understandabilty.
The game is beautiful, even on the lowest possible settings, but my Nvidia GT 630 really chugs even on those. The sound design is also very nice, and carries a lot of cues you'll get used to picking up on.
This game is fun. A lot of fun, actually. It's not too difficult, even on the hardest settings. But it took me three tries over a couple of years to figure out how to play the game in a fun way. So, if you can push past the opening, and your own impulse to make this a stealth affair, you'll have a good time. If not, that's okay. There are other games that are actually stealth games, and other games that have gripping intros (and even other games where the protagonist has a limp at the start).
Take care out there!

Review from Steam

Recommended for its idea, not its execution
The concept of this game, where your enemies are literal echoes of you, meaning they will copy your moves, strategies and force you to constantly adapt, is so brilliant, I just wish the game surrounding it was as good.
Movement is clunky as hell, avoiding echoes is far more difficult than it needs to be, checkpoints are too far apart, making the whole game frustrating as hell. The story is very interesting, well acted and the game is gorgeous, its just such a shame that the gameplay is so annoying, I have read that this is currently being made into a film, and I will be very interested to see how it pans out, because the idea behind this is so brilliant.
I tentatively recommend it if you like the idea of a constantly adapting enemy and play-style, just be aware of how clunky and frustrating the game is, one day I will come back and finish it for sure, but for now I think I've had enough.

Review from Steam

ECHO is a stealth game with some puzzle and strategy elements where you play as a girl named En, who is from a group of humans genetically modified to be perfect as she and her AI companion travels to a beautiful yet mysterious "Palace", a seemingly endless structure resembling mansion rooms in an empty planet. The baroque aesthetics and the mystery of the mansion reminds me of the white room in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The game starts out slow, walking around the planet and entering the rooms while the two talk a bit about their background before encountering enemies.
The unique mechanic in the game is the adaptive AI from the enemies, called Echoes, who are clones of En. While the Palace's lights are on, every move you made are recorded, followed by a blackout where you are free to perform any actions. However, in the next light cycle, the enemies will be able to perform the moves you did. You did nothing but walk slowly? The enemies will stay like that. You fired your gun and sprinted? Prepare for enemies who will hunt you the same way. Thus it is better to utilize stealth and not use too many moves on a light cycle. Very late in the game there will be a dangerous Golden Echoes, who are large, already know some moves, and will instakill you.
However, stealth is not that easy here. The rooms have many Echoes, yet very little cover. Pushing them down or performing a takedown from behind are the safe ways to deal with them. But the worst thing is, killed Echoes respawn, unless you kill them during the last seconds of a blackout. Personally, I think the game would be better if killed Echoes stay dead. I don't mind En having low health and a slow gun, but the combination of those 3 made the game a bit more difficult than I liked. Most of the levels are these way, so the gameplay does feel repetitive at times.
I think this game should add more variation to the levels. I really like the beginning parts where the clones of En are still half-formed, shambling zombies that don't learn your skills and pretty easy to avoid or kill. The puzzle section where you have to lead some non-hostile clones to open a door for you was nice. I think adding a chase/hide sequence with a Golden Echo while the gun doesn't work will be cool. Or maybe a "gun overcharge" scene where you and your clones have unlimited ammo and fire at each other.
Overall, I think ECHO is a pretty great game with a unique mechanic and interesting story, despite it being a bit hard. The game is also strangely obscure despite having famous actress Rose Leslie as En's voice. Even if it didn't really feel like a stealth game due to the amount of "walk and push" I did to finish the levels, I enjoy the Palace's aesthetics. Recommended if you want a challenging, beautiful game, or if you're a fan of Leslie. The game company who made this is sadly disbanded, but I would love more stories in this world.

Review from Steam

This game is a masterpiece.
I was completely hooked by the story, amazed by the visuals and the sound design. The atmosphere is incredible, and the way the mechanics and story blends together is just impressive. The storytelling and voice acting are incredibly good, with perfectly written dialogues, really deep themes.
It can be a little bit repetitive in some segments, but the gameplay is always enjoyable and clever.
It is the studio's first and only game, and it saddens me that they had to close.
I just reinstalled it, and it made me realize how much this game had an impact on me. That is why I wrote this review.
This game is one of a kind, and one you’ll keep thinking about long after.

Review from Steam

Steam REALLY needs a middle thumbs, because this is SUCH a mixed bag.
On one hand, you have amazing art direction, atmosphere, and writing that chills you to your nerves.
On the other hand, you have extremely unforgiving gameplay design.
The concept is really cool, as many clones of you replicate what you do before each black out, and then they start doing what you just did, replacing what they were doing before. You have to be strategic with what you do and where, so that when you trigger the blackout, you are prepared for what they're about to do after rebooting.
But it's relentless. Running and shooting need to be a last resort, but you'll find yourself almost always needing to do that. Similar for almost every other thing they can use against you.
You can't fight off too many, due to your extreme limitation on ammo and number of clones you can push back.
And if you die, and you will die a LOT, you might end up starting all over to the start of the area, which is LARGE. Unless you're lucky enough to find a manual save gate, which is rare, and not too easy to find.
The game TRIES to be balanced, while challenging, but it has some major design flaws that makes the game only accessible to people who are good at extreme stealth. Anything less, and you're in trouble.

Review from Steam

Echo's a good game, very unique in the way it handles things and while that makes it hard to accurately pin a genre on it, it is well worth experiencing if you don't count on it neatly fitting into what you may expect from other games.
The main feature is the titular echoes, copies of you that the palace makes to stop you from reaching the core. The echoes live up to their name and prove to be soulless, twisted reflections of your recent past. You have a variety of actions to bypass, escape and attack the echoes but beware: Everything you do, you teach them to do and you'll have to face those decisions reflected back and multiplied, then adapt to keep ahead of them. This means you can't just take a favorite gameplay style and carry on forever with it, the echoes will learn it and use the same tricks against you. You must change and overcome yourself continuously. Creeping around and choking echoes to death from behind is all fun and games until one does it to you.
Since I just mentioned the need to constantly evolve from your previous incarnations, it's also worth mentioning that since the echoes literally represent your past, you should realize that, like your past, you may never truly escape them. Every reboot not only updates the echoes but respawns them, ensuring you cannot simply blaze a path in blood and carry on like most stealth games. Your past actions will literally come back to haunt you and you will never be rid of them for long. That you must face your own scowling face in the process is just all the more delicious. They don't come out and say this but your behavior sufficiently diverging from the current echo capability set isn't the only thing that will cause a reboot: Killing a certain percentage of them in an area will also do it. Notice how time isn't one of the factors, you can't just hide wait them out. There is a certain patient, relentless inevitability to reaping what you sow.
I called the echoes soulless earlier and they are. They aren't intelligent, they don't call out to one another if they spot you and while they mimic your actions, they clearly do so without any understanding. If you teach them to crouch, you may spot one crouch walking in the middle of a room nonsensically. Beyond serving to make them all the more uncanny and unsettling, you can exploit this to teach them things that don't help them. Find a harp and play a few notes and next cycle, echoes that spot a harp will periodically divert from their usual route to play those same notes for you to hear. Take a break to eat a tasty grape to regain some stamina and the echoes will soon do that too, despite their not being capable of tiring like you do. On a related note, take care when teaching them to sprint.
It isn't about knowing the echoes though, it's about knowing yourself. You must temper your actions and plan ahead to counter them. You must adapt, think and act on the fly when things go wrong but also with the knowledge that how you do so will have very real consequences in the near future as your saving grace is stripped from you and turned back upon you. Running through a door and slamming it in an echo's face or vaulting over a ledge will save you one cycle but not the next one. The echoes won't just do these actions when chasing you, it becomes a normal part of patrol behavior for all of them and you'll start seeing them wandering in new places accordingly. They'll even pick up keys if the palace sees you do it too so you may find an empty pedestal and have to hunt down an echo with sticky fingers from time to time.
The best example of trump cards with consequences is the gun you carry. It is very powerful: It instantly kills all echoes in a line but it consumes limited energy to fire and if you pull that trigger in the light, all the echoes next cycle, including the ones you shot will realize what that funny object on their back does and use it shoot you on sight. They aren't great shots but they are legion, don't have to worry about energy and their guns are just as effective at instantly killing you so that one trigger pull has a lot of weight. Once Pandora's box is open, you may as well keep blasting. Until you kill enough to trigger a reboot, resurrecting them all, now freshly equipped with the weapon of your potential demise of course. Mix up your routine, don't return fire and they'll forget about it again though, if you can survive that long.
All the talk about the echoes aside, the palace itself is interesting and for all its splendor, the opulent trappings quickly show themselves to be as hollow, soulless and uncanny as the echoes who walk its halls, extensions of its will. It's a uniquely unsettling setting. The interface is pretty cool too, once you ignore the fact that En herself can't actually see most of it. It's the kind of radar one might expect in a space ship's cockpit but projected around En's suit. Very cool once you get used to it.
It's a shame Echo didn't get the attention it needed for Ultra Ultra to stay with us and give us more like it but a gem like this warrants praise all the same, even retroactively. Hopefully it gets on a few more people's radar, it certainly deserves to.

Review from Steam

Pretty epic intro and start but it gets a bit numbing to the end. Unique mechanics always plus

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