Words play an important role in games. A game that uses words poorly will never live up to the storytelling potential of the medium. Words express meaning, emotion and conflict– all essential themes in any story. Game play elements are also important, but every game can benefit from a compelling plot. Good games have a good story or fun game play. Great games have both.
Echoes for iOS is an example of the balance between words and game play gone wrong. It has minimal player involvement, a confusing clue system and a convoluted story line. “Playing” Echoes (if tapping through endless text boxes counts as playing) is both frustrating and tedious. In fact, after two “game overs” on my first two tries, without any feedback about why I failed, and faced with scrolling through countless text boxes once again, I gave up on completing the game.
This kind of game can work, as Telltale’s The Walking Dead has proven, but not when they’re designed as poorly as Echoes. The plot follows Ricky Fox, a detective from New York, as he tries to solve the mystery behind the apparent suicide of his best friend in Greenhearth. Greenhearth is a quaint little town, off the beaten path, with a host of interesting locals. But something sinister is clearly at work in the small town, and it’s up to Fox to figure it all out. The “quaint but sinister town” plot can be interesting, but it’s become cliché and predictable. The characters are stereotypical and the plot is far from unexpected, even if you can’t manage to finish the game.
The game’s visuals capture the comic book/noir style effectively, but the lack of color and definition causes game play issues. The music also fits well in the genre. However, as the only real source of audio in the game, it’s easy for it to become repetitive, as it’s all you’re hearing. All of these aspects, while far from perfect, are stronger points than the game play in this title.
Before you even get to the game play, you have to get through the onslaught of text boxes. Skipping to the next bit of dialogue requires two screen taps, and when this makes up 90 percent of the game, your thumbs get sore very quickly.
The player is given control of two game mechanics: clue hunting and questioning. When hunting for clues, the player is shown a room with various objects scattered about and tasked with finding clues. Without any idea what a clue might look like, and considering the game is played in black and white on a 4-inch screen, this “game” consisted pressing every possible space on the screen until a clue appeared. It’s hard to feel perceptive when all you’re doing is screen-mashing.
The other part of Echoes involves questioning persons of interest in the case to extract key facts. The only problem is that certain dialogue options are “right” and will result in clues, while others are “wrong” and will result in that character probably never speaking to you about the case again. There’s no way to tell which option will be the right one, and without any chance to redeem yourself after making a mistake, it means certain clues can become unobtainable.
On my first game, I thought I was progressing well, as I’d exhausted the dialogue options with all the NPCs. I had my character rest at the hotel, expecting to solve the case on the next in-game day, when a prompt appeared on the screen that I failed to find enough clues and that I should start over from the beginning.
I had no idea what I did wrong. There was no sign that I had missed something important. Not even a cut scene that explained my failure.
So I forced myself through the relentless text boxes again. I chose different dialogue options and managed to get even fewer clues the second time around, which resulted in another failure.
At that point, my thumbs were finished.
Echoes isn’t a game– it’s an exercise in trial and error. If the plot and clues actually made logical sense, then missing something would be the fault of the player– but that isn’t the case. It suffers from both poor writing and shoddy design. A single wrong dialogue option apparently dooms you to failure and forces an entirely new game.
The game tries capturing the feel of the old “choose your own adventure” books, but the player is really just along for the ride. And unlike a “choose your own adventure,” Echoes makes you start over from the beginning every time you “turn to the wrong page.”
If the plot weren’t locked away behind archaic and tedious game play features, I might have felt compelled to solve the mystery. While its story was at first vaguely interesting, Echoes completely neglects game play in favor of a mediocre plot.
In short, good games have a good story or fun game play. Great games have both. Echoes has neither.