There Came an Echo is a futuristic real time tactical strategy game that uses voice control as a central feature. Iridium Studios set out to make something different. A strong focus on narrative and a motley crew thrown together by chance instead of a seasoned squad or army combines with the voice control to create a different kind of tactical battle simulation.
Voice control gameplay
Voice control in games have been uncommon. It has not been accurate or quick enough to work well within most genres so There Came an Echo has made a bold move to implement it extensively. Full keyboard and mouse support is available, more on that later, however voice control is the superior prefered choice of controls.
The idea is a brilliant one. Voice commands are set to a small number of words in order to increase accuracy, but there is also full customization options for every command, allowing players to interact with NPCs in their own language, whatever that might be. Some of my friends have had good success, but I have a non-supported accent and recognition was a problem for me. I stuck to the programmed commands, practised them, switched headsets out to try and increase the accuracy, which did help some, but not enough, always costing me precious seconds to repeat commands.
I was hoping using some clicking would win me back more time because clicking is faster than talking, but in There Came an Echo, clicking triggers the NPC companion to issue the order to the squad vocally. The only time saving bonus is one of accuracy, the squad always understood her where as I had to repeat commands.
I think the voice control is well implemented within the game and when it works, it works beautifully. However, when it doesn’t, it is immensely frustrating. Voice control never comes easy with my accent that straddles two countries and jaw issues that can affect enunciation. I hope others have better luck because it is so much more immersive than hitting keys on a keyboard or clicking with a mouse.
There Came an Echo is partially accessible to anyone with a mild to moderate visual impairment or who experience blurred vision, eye strain or photophobia (light sensitivity). The text is bright light blue against a shaded dark background in a medium to large size font with no animation. Interactive elements are highlighted clearly and the UI fits well with the game design. Audio cues help out significantly and I would highly recommend turning up their volume.
The main flaw is in displaying name tags. My characters had tags that spiralled at the bottom of their shield, which makes them hard to read. The biggest problem for me was that enemy tag text changed angle with the NPC’s movement which made the tags extremely difficult to read and when enemy units stood on bright move points, it further obscured the text. It made it challenging to use the voice control effectively, as commands depend on the target’s number.
Colour is used as an indicator, which can be helpful when text sizes are small. It is not used as the only indicator, making the game accessible to those with colour blindness.
Motion (simulation) sickness and balance disorders
The isometric viewpoint is a good choice for anyone who experiences dizziness or motion sickness. The camera movement is player controlled and smooth. Moving the viewpoint back and forth is vital to success and I had some difficulty particularly on large missions maps where some action takes place off-screen and flicking back and forth was a constant. I was able to play in 20-30 minutes sessions and taking regular breaks helped, but regardless had some issues throughout the game.
The soundtrack, special effects and voice cast is one of There Came an Echo’s best selling points. It complements both the narrative and game mechanics. I found audio cues invaluable and appreciated the ability to adjust sound effects, voice and music with separate sliders in the options menu.
Sound is not a requirement to play. The artwork is classicly styled and there are visual indicators for audio cues as well as subtitles which clearly denote who is speaking. Audio helped as I have mild visual and hearing issues, but if vision is normal, audio is a bonus extra. There Came an Echo is accessible to deaf players or anyone with a hearing impairment, has tinnitus or hyperacusis (sound sensitivity).
Input and Touch
Real time tactics games are fast-paced requiring the ability to think and act quickly under time pressure. There Came an Echo has a high quick reflex requirement as shields are finite, deplete under fire and do not recharge. It would have been much more accessible if shields recharged in combat when units were not taking fire. Think quick, talk quick or read super quick for the mouse option or die.
Keyboard, mouse (or controller) and voice control
The optimal and recommended way to play is through a combination of voice control and minimal keyboard and mouse or controller input. A clear voice, good enunciation and a recognizable accent is required, but don’t give up when voice recognition does not work instantly. Calibrate, use a headset, practice commands, customize commands and never shout or mumble. Voice control that works is awesome and the ability to use it in a simulated tactical situation is impressive and worth some effort.
The handful of keys are not remappable, but voice control commands can be customized. If voice control is used, mouse and keyboard use are a few single button presses and limited drag and drop. There is no requirement for precision or accuracy when using voice control.
The game can be paused at any time and checkpoint saves automatically. There is no manual save. It is possible to take breaks at any time with the game on pause, but quitting unexpectedly not at a checkpoint will lose some progress.
Keyboard and mouse (or controller) only
The controls are clumsy without voice control. Hit boxes to click on are tiny and still limited, you can still only move to designated points. The worst aspect is the radial dial pulled up with a mouse right-click that holds all commands. It is possible to select characters by dragging a box over them. The game can be played mostly (I could not find a way to change turret lanes or detonate mines in one mission) with a keyboard and mouse but it is not recommended.
Ease of Use
There Came an Echo starts simple and easy. The menu contains all the commands and key bindings and there are multiple difficulty settings. The opening scenes are narrative heavy and cut scene driven with single prompted voice commands and mini-tutorials that introduced me slowly to both voice control, the characters and the game. The pace picks up at a steady level with more weapons, more commands and more characters, but options remain limited with only four squad members, four weapon choices and a couple of boosts each, keeping it simple.
I found combat challenging due to the time pressure and sensory information overload. There is a fair amount going on and information in the UI often overlapped making it both difficult to see and process. When things are going well, everything ticks along rhythmically, but when things start to fall apart, which usually happened at the first voice command I issued after my opening queued command had been completed, it was chaos. I could not find my balance and struggled to get all elements to work well together.
Language and Math
A decent reading and language comprehension level is vital to understand the plot, the sci-fi jargon and to assimilate both the text-based and audio information provided. Much of the text is in capital letters only, some text is on a timer and some text is small, which can make it harder to read. Vital information is provided with both text and voice over which helps.
Save files have an icon and the game is made easier by using visual representations, like gun icons, shield and health bars. There is no reliance on math more than being able to recognise and use numericals, for example focus fire on target 22.
It is a single player game with no multiplayer or co-op. The only social interaction is scripted between NPCs and players do not have any dialogue choices, only observing NPCs interacting with each other.
Trigger warnings & age ratings
There Came an Echo is rated as Teen and violence is an integral part of the game. Other themes that some may find upsetting include a focus on killing a human being for the first time and some characters who are isolated or vulnerable in violent situations. It has a strong military theme with armed soldiers engaging in combat.
Predictability: There are some unpredictable and unexpected movement and events, like soldiers flanking off screen and suddenly ambushing my squad from behind.
There Came an Echo is a beautifully designed game with an original soundtrack and the heavy focus on narrative is a welcoming feature. It runs smoothly, boldly tries something new and the voice control is more accurate than most untrained software, but the time pressure of a real time tactics game combined with voice control or a radial menu was too hard for me to handle. If I could have used either well, I think I would have loved There Came an Echo. It is a game that is rough around the edges, but in the moments where it all came together as it should, it showed me something new and exciting.
Product: There Came an Echo | Developer: Iridium Studios | Publisher: Iridium Studios | Platform: PC (Steam) | Genre: RTS/RTT | Game length: 4-5 hours |Players: 1 | Version: Europe | Release Date: 24 February 2015 |Content Rating: ESRB (Teen)