In a digitally-aware world encryption is everything. In light of recent revelations involving the NSA and GCHQ spying on much of the world’s internet traffic, encryption has become a hot button issue. Whether you know how it works or not, it’s there securing your online presence against unwanted intruders. And yet, how often do you stop and think about the people who make your communications and data secure? Not often, I’ll wager. In There Came An Echo, Corrin is one of those people, one of those geniuses, you might say. He’s your typical computer whizz and he is about to become embroiled in something larger than himself, or anything the physical world has to offer.
Corrin anonymously released an open source encryption software into the public domain, called Radial Lock. Its claim to fame is that it cannot be broken in any way, and its open source code is testament to that, but there’s one problem: the hardware to support it does not exist yet. Or so Corrin thinks. Unbeknownst to him, Radial Lock has been put into use by a shadowy organisation and it is securing some highly coveted data. He quickly finds himself backed into his office whilst armed troopers search for him, and that’s where Val and Sam come in.
Val acts as Corrin’s assistant and overseer, while Sam takes on the role of commander and provides the orders that will keep him safe. You will assume control of Sam and direct Corrin, and his comrades, through dicey situations to find out who is searching for him, and for what cause. You won’t be using traditional control methods to guide Corrin though, granted they are there if you want to, instead you are encouraged to use nothing more than the power of your voice to guide him on his dangerous mission.
“Voice controls?”, I hear you moan dubiously. “Yes, voice controls”, I retort in a confident manner. There Came An Echo‘s main draw, aside from sporting Wil Wheaton as the voice of Corrin, is that you can control the game almost entirely with your voice. Past games have attempted this to some degree of success, but never in a way that felt essential, or anything other than an afterthought. There Came An Echo brings this control scheme front and centre,, with Val gently guiding you through the game’s various systems, such as movement, weapon swapping and attacking. The system is quite robust, allowing you to order multiple units around at the same time, or dish out commands to all but one unit. Within a few minutes of getting to grips with the voice commands I began to feel distinctly like I was gaming in the future. This is what a gaming evolution should feel like.
Ordering Corrin and his accomplices around is so smooth and intuitive that it becomes second nature almost immediately, but there are some caveats that you will need to understand fully before beginning. While the voice command system is incredibly in-depth, and works with many different dialects and accents, even my Scottish accent, it relies on you being clear and enunciating each and every word. If you mumble or shout Val will pop up on-screen to let you know that no one can understand what you are saying. Be it through necessity, or just my wish to stop having Val pop up on my screen, I quickly learned the ins and outs of the system.
Controlling Corrrin using nothing other than my voice was an absolute blast. Aside from the few times where the voice recognition system refused to play ball, everything played out so cleanly that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And that is no understatement. Telling units, calmly and clearly, to switch guns and travel to new defensive points on the map, and seeing them do exactly as I said is something of a watershed moment in gaming for me. You don’t have complete control over your units though, and they do not have the ability to freely roam each level, instead there are zones dotted throughout each area which you will guide Corrin to using the phonetic alphabet. So, if you want Corrin to go to Alpha One, you would simply say “Corrin go to alpha 1”. Or, if you are lazy like me you can simply say “Corrin, Alpha 1”, and he will run towards that location. In the heat of battle you will be dishing out orders at a brisk pace, so remember to be calm and clear, you’ll have a much more fun if you do. You’ll also get to feel like an awesome tactician!
All missions in There Came An Echo play out very similarly, first starting out with a load out screen where you can choose each party member’s guns and perks. As well as the bog-standard pistol you can choose a secondary weapon which drains your energy bar as you use it. Energy is important because it powers your shields, so you’ll want to use your sidearm carefully and effectively. Although it is possible to use your pistol for most of the combat, you will probably struggle to proceed in some of the tougher parts of the game.
Finding yourself under heavy fire from enemies wielding charge guns is a common occurrence, but you can turn the tables on them by laying down suppressive fire with the screw gun. When your opponents are on the backfoot you can then attempt to flank them with a unit or two, and hit them with a taste of their own medicine. Let me tell you, there are few more exhilirating feelings than successfully outwitting your enemies in There Came An Echo. Each level is dotted with these tactical opportunities which highlight wonderfully just how responsive and fun the voice recognition system can be. Admittedly, the action is formulaic but Iridium throw a few curveballs in there to keep you on your toes, too.
As a spoiler-free review I won’t delve too much into There Came An Echo’s story, but it is filled with deceit, mistrust, love and greed. You may even come away questioning the nature of your very existence. With multiple agencies out to find him, Corrin is torn in multiple different directions by people who want to use him for their own gain. Over the course of the game he transforms from a nerdy, bookish type into a man who is able to take the initiative and do what needs to be done to ensure his survival. The highest of praise should be lavished upon the entire voice cast for bringing a touch of emotion and realism to what can otherwise be a sterile genre. Wheaton, in particular, shines with a solid performance throughout.
There Came An Echo could be the title that takes voice controlled games into the mainstream. Voice recognition should no longer be a selling point to be cynically emblazoned upon a game’s box, in the hopes that consumers who don’t know any better will buy it. It should be here to stay, and the hard work that Iridium have put in should be refined and incremented upon for future titles. Quite simply, it sets a standard by which all future games with voice controls should be judged.