It’s extremely difficult to make player death actually scary in games. Why? Well because it doesn’t capture the terror of uncertainty and discontinuity that death provides us in real life. And there’s no way that it can. But there is a game out there that takes the usual coping mechanisms surrounding death and twists it against the player. Which makes ECHO one of the more unsettling games to play. ECHO doesn’t present itself as a Resident Evil styled horror game. Conflict-free dialogue and world-building set the stage for the two main characters – professional gambler En and a sentient, bounty hunting spaceship called London.
ECHO is the debut game from the Copenhagen based developer Ultra Ultra. In the game, you assume the role of En – a woman who has been in hypersleep for over 100 years. At the start of the adventure, she is woken up by London. Fisher was hired to find En after she ran away from home. London believes that Fisher died pursuing her, while she contends that she saved Fisher’s life by using a technological process to “translate” his dying self into a red cube. Themes of guilt, exculpation, and purpose run through the storyline.
For London, the talk of reincarnation is nonsense, a hopeless byproduct of En’s upbringing. Through a careful process of gene-editing, En was cultivated to become a “Resourceful” by a man whom she refers to as her grandfather. resourceful were bred to be hypercompetitive people who vied with each other for a chance to journey to a palace said to be full of wonders, not the least of which is its ability to grant immortality. En believes that the palace houses have the ability to restore Fisher to his human form. Despite his skepticism, London plots a course to the coordinates that En took from her grandfather.
Without going too much farther into the game, it highlights your behavior in a way that comes back to haunt you. It’s designed to make you think twice about using the range of your capabilities. It constricts you in a way that feels familiar to other stealth action games, but it leads you into playing against yourself, which is remarkable. You will second guess every move that you make in this game. Often dropping one tactic in favor of another. And you won’t feel like you’re getting better at any single thing. It’s almost like you are walking to your death with each room you go into.
ECHO doesn’t bill itself as a horror game, but it still takes that genre’s explicit fear or death and stretches it well past a single checkpoint. At the end of the journey, you will find that it’s not difficult to kill someone, but it’s difficult to get away with it. Which is an interesting way to think about it, isn’t it? I mean, you have to kill other characters in order to survive, and yet that’s not the most terrifying thing about the game.