Game review: Echo pays tribute to Stanley Kubrick in a game where you kill yourself again and again
In this shooter, where Solaris meets Jorge Luis Borges, your character has to find their way out of a maze while fighting enemies that are clones of itself and copy your moves and tactics
Highbrow influences aren’t often seen in video games. More often than not, developers are happy to pander to gamers through Michael Bay-style visuals and dumb fight scenes straight out of ’80s action film. Rare is the developer who takes his inspiration seriously.
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Observer was one of the most fascinating games recently to buck that trend, borrowing liberally from sci-fi classic Blade Runner and Hong Kong’s long-gone Kowloon Walled City. And now here’s Echo (for PlayStation 4 and PC), another pared-down indie release with mixed influences.
It’s a little bit Solaris (both Stanisław Lem’s book and Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film), a little bit magical realism author Jorge Luis Borges, with visuals straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Players take on the role of En, voiced by Games of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, a far-future space traveller on an endless mission to resurrect her lost love. After a century of sleep, she wakes up on a cube-like planet, journeying through a long labyrinth that leads to a room straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Once the lights go on, all hell breaks loose, as piles of black sludge quickly morph into clones of your character. Echo’s set-up is simple and a little unrefined – a shooter in which you battle it out against a slew of regenerating enemies – but the clever part is that as you basically do battle with versions of yourself, and your enemies learn as you do.
The first few clones are easy enough to dispatch, but each of your fighting moves is eventually used against you. Shoot your doubles in the head, and they come out as sniper-trained crack shots. Sneak up behind them, and they’ll garrotte you when you least expect it. The only respite is when the system invariably switches off and everything is unlearned.
Those precious few moments are vital, either to figure out how to manage the endless clones, or find a way out of this Lem-Kubrick-Borgesian maze. Those influences are key, and the references to classic sci-fi films keep the visuals evocative and eerie, while the stealth-heavy gameplay challenges with its excellent artificial intelligence.
Echo isn’t exactly original, but that’s what makes it so inspired. By pairing intellectual influences with simplistic gameplay, the developers have made a game of cunning over contest, one that echoes greatness while never sacrificing fun.