There Came an Echo: The real-time strategy that’s all talk, talk, talk

The main echo you’ll hear playing Iridium Studios’ voice-controlled strategy will likely be the jabbering reverberations of your tired larynx as you fight to make the game obey you. That’s the trouble designing around a gimmick it has to work. And There Came An Echo simply doesn’t.

The concept is solid. Our scene opens on a futuristic office, and with skilled cryptographer Corrin (played by nerd king Wil Wheaton) answering a ringing phone. This is the man behind a revolutionary encryption algorithm called Radial Lock, and it’s in high demand. “Some unfriendly men are coming to your office,” says the enigmatic voice on the end of the line. “Listen carefully.”

It’s The matrix made playable as your all-seeing oracle steers an unwitting hero away from armed guards with orders of “Go left, go right, go straight.” The trouble here is Corrin doesn’t always listen, and what’s worrying is that this is the game at its simplest. The majority of There Came an Echo plays like a poor man’s XCOM, where player speech is used to shoot, heal, revive, zoom, and even navigate menus. The gamepad never needs so much as a glance as you manoeuvre a four-person squad through isometric battlefields with the power of your voice.
“It’s the matrIx made playable as your all-seeIng oracle steers an unwitting hero”
Radio blah blah
“Miranda, move to bravo two,” you might say. Or, “Syll, switch to sniper.” You can even queue commands with, “on my mark,” and execute them with, “mark.” This is all great in theory but woefully inconsistent in practice. We try several headsets on several people. We try switching accents in the menu and varying the mic distance. The result? Repeating phrases five times on average before the game understands.

You can play There Came an Echo with a controller, or mouse and keyboard, but because the game stoops to accommodate voice control it feels woefully simplistic without it. You can only move to select points in the environment, which limits tactical potential, and units fire automatically, making combat simply a health bar-monitoring war of attrition. Your solution often boils down to sending everyone to a predetermined position, watching them shoot the men opposite automatically, then herding them on.

The low point comes in the grey heart of a military complex. Every 60 seconds an alarm sounds which triggers powerful sentries, so you’ll need to position someone next to a terminal and reset it before that happens while your other units push on. miss your window, though, and not only will that unit get cut down almost instantly, but you’ll have to double back and send in another unit to the terminal. They’ll die because of the sentries, and so repeats the cycle.

One tower defence bit gives glimpses of what might have been: as enemies advance you direct turrets to fire on lanes and use “detonate mine” commands to blow them sky high. Like the overall game, however, a promising idea is hampered by spotty controls.

There Came an Echo is a strategy game without the strategy. Use your voice and it’s maddeningly complicated; use your mouse and it’s laughably simple. Instead, just use your head and steer well clear.

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