When I first heard of ECHO, I was excited to see a new IP take on the stealth genre in 2017. Over the years, I’ve held series like Metal Gear and Hitman close to my heart, but I always enjoy seeing a new approach to the genre. It’s good to mention that the team at Ultra Ultra contains ex-developers from the Hitman series at IO Interactive.
During a hands-off preview meeting with developer Ultra Ultra’s Martin Emborg, DualShockers had to opportunity to learn about the game’s mechanics and story in order to better understand the game.
ECHO is set in a dungeon known as “The Palace” where players assume the role of a women named En as she sets out on personal mission to revive a lost companion. She is accompanied by a ship AI named London, who doesn’t approve of En and often butts heads with her. After arriving at The Palace, we learn it’s actually an AI system that is attempting to put a stop to En’s journey by using some pretty unique mechanics. More specifically, anything the player does as En, The Palace will learn; this includes hiding behind objects, walking through water, running, shooting, and so much more.
Once The Palace learns enough, it must reboot in order to install these new abilities into the enemy AI units, who look exactly like En. The is called a Blackout and it lasts a few seconds, once the lights come back on you’ll notice that the enemy AI will move and act differently, depending on what they learned. Luckily, the AI only remembers actions made before the Blackout and will forget what they were taught before previous Blackouts. So if you taught the AI to shoot or run during one cycle they will forget it after the next Blackout.
As the game opens up, players will be able to naturally learn the different ways to use the Blackouts to their advantage. One such mechanic to stall enemy is to eat grapes and allow The Palace to teach the enemies this action. So following a Blackout you’ll see the enemies stop to eat grapes, which allows you to pass by undetected.
During Blackouts the player is able to do actions without The Palace learning. That means this is the perfect time to shoot and run so that the enemies don’t use those moves against you later on. Using each cycle to your advantage offers new ways to constantly approach the game. Furthermore, if you made a mistake during one cycle you will be able to try again after another — that is, if you can survive long enough. Also, Blackouts can be triggered by En if she comes into contact with “Corruption” found on the map.
ECHO allows player to roam freely around the map, which can get quite large, as the enemy AIs pace through the halls in search of En. An early mission has the player seek out keys to an elevator in order to travel to a new location. This basic mission gives players the opportunity to adjust to how The Palace learns from the player’s actions and what exactly the player can do in order to not allow The Palace to learn too much.
In ECHO different levels of The Palace have various themes, the one we previewed had a water theme to it known as “Purity”. During gameplay, each new area would offer a new element that the player can use against The Palace to escape from the enemy AI. Also, there are save points represented by arches, by going through them, the mission objective will be highlighted the screen. This is useful because their isn’t a map that the player will have access to. However, players will be able to tag enemies and view highlighted objectives from afar.
ECHO offers multiple ways to approach each level, you don’t necessarily need to play stealthy. It’s possible to take your gun out and shoot any enemy you see, but you’ll need to deal with the enemies shooting at you after the next Blackout. The player is given a lot of freedom to decide how they want to play the game, which is good for someone like me who enjoys taking my time with stealth games and never getting caught.
ECHO’s levels will get tougher in the later parts of the game, but the player will have a variety of different skills they’ve developed in order to prepare them for anything The Palace throws their way. That type of game design is import in game presents so many different ways to approach situations. Although, it’s left to be seen if ECHO can accurately pull this off when the game releases.
To put it simply, ECHO looks awesome and offers enough unique elements to make it stand out in the stealth gaming genre. I was surprised by the functionality of the AI as they used En’s moves against her after every Blackout, but something to keep in mind is whether or not these systems will feel overused during the later sections of the game. Ultra Ultra will need to keep ECHO feeling fresh throughout the entire game without making these core gameplay systems feel repetitive.
There’s still much to be seen from ECHO, but right now I’m interested in learning more about En and her quest. Also, I am curious to learn how En and London’s relationship evolves during the duration of the story. Ultra Ultra has developed an impressive looking stealth game and I can’t wait to see more.