02/06/2017

☆ Review: Echoplex "Sometimes you can run away from your past" ☆

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Echoplex - PC Before getting started with Echoplex, it’s important to keep in mind the game is very a much work in progress. Currently, on Steam Early Access, Echoplex is a first person horror/puzzler from South African developer Output Games that rests itself among the likes of Portal and The Stanley Parable.
As a South African myself, I was extremely keen to give the game a go and was pleased to find an original and interesting idea lurking behind this admittedly rough-around-the-edges title.


Echoplex sees you playing as an unnamed and masked protagonist who after waking up inside a computer simulation must undertake a series of puzzles. Reaching the end of each puzzle unlocks snippets of the protagonist’s memories, piecing together the mystery of how they found themselves in this simulation. If this sounds rather confusing, that’s probably because it is.


The story of Echoplex is delivered to you in non-linear bite-sized chunks that slowly piece the story together. These story chunks are shown through very well presented FMV sequences with impressive levels of production value. The flow of the story telling is instantly reminiscent of the film Memento and does serve to give the game a hint of intrigue that pulls you in. According to Echoplex’s Game Director Tyron Janse van Vuuren in an interview, with The Sausage Factory, the game’s storytelling draws inspiration from his many years of experience working and studying in film and was conceived with the idea of conveying a deep and meaningful story in a way that no game has tried before. 



Whilst they are certainly engaging and do help to fill in a bit of the story, the story fragments delivered between the levels are a little vague and open-ended to deliver any kind of overly satisfying conclusion. Whether or not the story will continue to be developed throughout early access and into full release remains to be seen.




The 15 levels of the game play out a bit like a maze in which players must navigate the twists, turns and obstacles of each level in search of their memory fragments. While each level has a time limit, the real catch is that soon after beginning each course your character will be pursued by an echo of yourself, a carbon copy who follows the exact same course you’ve taken through the level, albeit a few seconds behind you. Coming into contact with your echo will cause the level to reset and see you beginning over again.



This is where the horror aspect of the game comes in, while although this phenomenon of being chased by yourself may not sound very frightening in theory, it is in fact somewhat scary in practice. The very first time you turn around to find your own masked expressionless face barrelling towards you is a very disconcerting experience.




Interestingly, while your echo is your enemy, it can also be used as your friend. For instance, just as your character can be used to trigger switches, so too can your echo. This brings an interesting dynamic to the game in which you must always try to think one step ahead of yourself to ensure the path you take through a level line up with where you need your echo to be.



Time is a factor in everything you do in Echoplex, as you race not only the clock but also yourself and your past decisions.


Many of the rules and mechanics of the game are still being worked out (with heavy influence from the community) and are not quite up to the level of polish that’s needed.

While there are logical solutions to the puzzles, I found that working each puzzle out the first time was mainly a result of blind luck and fooling around until something seemed to click.




It is still early days in Echoplex’s development and many of the kinks of the game still have a chance to be worked out. Output games are very open to criticism and input from their community and are keen to take feedback into account as they move forward with the game’s development. One such development is the game’s premonition ability that allows you to stop time and step out of your body to look around the level. This mode gives you some breathing room during the breakneck pace of each level, allowing you to look the maze over in detail and plan your next move.

Summary:
Echoplex is an interesting concept for a game. By creating a sense of unease that comes with being chased by the “ghosts” of your past, Echoplex delivers an interesting tension that I’ve never seen before. It’s the kind of experience that leaves your cursing your past self and second guessing every choice you make. 

It still has a long way to go, both in terms of gameplay and also in making sense of its disjointed storyline, but as it stands now I think Echoplex brings something new to the table, and I hope the game manages to iron out all of its teething issues.
RATING: MELTING

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Just Falls Short Of Greatness)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

Game Link: Steam
Dev Link: Output Games


Review By Alex Gaillard from Bitz n Bytz