Speak and be heard…Maybe
There Came an Echo suffers from no lack of effort in anything it does. An indie game, brought to realization by a not-so-famous kickstarter, from rising (yet still obscure) developer Iridium Studios, released for fifteen dollars on Steam. None of it sounds particularly ambitious, but keep in mind that the protagonist is voiced by Wil Wheaton, and that it, like many unsuccessful hopefuls before it, strikes off into the dangerous territory of Voice Recognition Commands. Indeed, There Came an Echo has ambition in its humble format: to successfully create the voice activated strategy game.
Voice recognition is a tricky thing; perhaps good enough for dictation, but generally not enough for full blown command and control, elements essential to the vast majority of games, where controls are an absolute that the player must utilize, never fight. Echo utilizes new software in the voice recognition world, even allowing for different accents and speaking styles, and of any voice recognition game I’ve ever played, it’s the best. Mind you, that’s not saying much.
You order your ragtag team of commandos into battle, mostly telling them to switch weapons, targets, or switch between one of several available positions on the battlefield, although you also have to tell them to not to stand in open ground, or recharge their failing shield. Not unlike a real-time XCom, with significant limitations as to where you can move, what you can do, or whether or not you can trust your character to suddenly freeze in place and stop firing on your opponents.
Limitations and bugs aside, however, managing a hectic, real-time firefight with your voice is difficult and stressful, which is both good and bad. Stuttering and tripping over commands while team members die and bullets fill the room is a unique experience in system management. And while the game understands a majority of what I say carefully, it only understands things that I say slowly, clearly, and with heavy enunciation, like I’m talking to a deaf person whose lip reading is rather rusty. While speaking clearly is the player’s challenge (and what a unique gaming skill it is, to enunciate like a Shakespearian), the care demanded in ordering requires the player to move slowly, which would be fine if bullets weren’t flying everywhere.
The game has a decent storyline as well, but one can’t help but notice that the voice actors (most, at least) outclass the writers, leaving a few stilted lines here and there, and more than a few that sound torn out of an action movie. Although there are interesting ideas, and interesting ideas of characters, the rapid-fire pacing of the plot prevents us from exploring any too thoroughly, and at its best, stops us from looking too hard at any of it.
I sound rather harsh in my review, but would you believe I liked this game? The story is better than the vast majority of games I have played, the effort put into it sincere, and the utilization of voice recognition more innovative than most of the things I’ve seen in a year. Worth noting, also, is that voice recognition works great for some people, and horribly for others. If there has ever been a game to slap a “Your Mileage May Vary” sticker on it, this is it. Interesting as it is, why not give it a shot?