|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Not long ago, the computer gaming scene ran rampant not with action titles, but with adventure, strategy, and puzzle games. In an attempt at originality, some of these older titles are being rereleased or revamped for the modern gaming scene, but surprisingly, here's one that's entirely new: Echo Night, a PlayStation title from Agetec (formerly ASCII Entertainment).
In 1913, a year before the Titanic, the passenger liner Orpheus mysteriously disappeared. Now, 24 years later, Rick Osmond receives a key in the mail from his father — followed by a phone call from the police, informing him his father's house has burned down. Upon arrival at the house, Rick finds a hidden basement with a painting of the Orpheus, and is suddenly finds himself pulled inside the living portrait. The ship is abandoned but for ghosts and spirits, both benign and malevolent. The latter cannot exist in well-lit areas; often, upon entering a new area, it will be a mad scramble to see if Rick can reach the light switch before the ghost reaches him!
Gameplay is point-and-click from a 3D, first-person perspective, similar to Shadowgate 64. Items can be picked up, dropped, and moved, and people interacted with. Rick's inventory is small and manageable, with all items serving a purpose (unlike Shadowgate). As he moves deeper into the ship, he will learn of the evil cause behind the ship's disappearance, and his family's tie to it.
The people and spirits Rick encounters all have something to say, thanks to the marvelous (and creepy) voice acting. The ghosts often send Rick on brief journeys through time and space: to watch a scene play out, obtain an item, or change history itself.
The spirits are dark, polygonal, transparent shades of their former selves. Living people are similarly polygonal, not photo-realistic individuals. Altogether, it works well for the setting.
The graphics are more detailed than Shadowgate's. Essential items are hard to overlook, while non-vital details are well-hidden, but not invisible. There are no muddy, indistinct graphics to blame for having missed something.
Silence accompanies general exploration. Only when something happens does the music pipe up. It most often accompanies cinematic sequences that occur at a set pace, so the music can follow perfectly, swelling and subsiding at just the right moments.
The aspect of the controls most immediately noticeable is the lack of support for PlayStation's dual analog sticks. As any Turok or Goldeneye player knows, the ability to control line-of-sight separately from the character's movement is essential. This oversight is inexcusable, but fortunately, not fatal. The shoulder buttons control strafing and up/down head movement, while the four main buttons interact with the environment, display the inventory, and use items. Strangely enough, Echo Night does support the rumble feature of the Dual Shock controller.
Echo Night is not a difficult game, nor a long one, but it is fun. The puzzles are wickedly logical, unlike the "huh?" solutions to Resident Evil's or Shadowgate's conundrums. That doesn't make them easy; indeed, overlooking a small detail can stump a player for what seems like ages. And with three different endings, players will want to see everything.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with this genre, there is no replay value. The game railroads the player from beginning to end, with little room for improvisation, and the puzzles never change. Veteran players should be able to see virtually everything in under five hours.
If you're a fan of point-and-click adventure, and Shadowgate 64 left you wanting, then Echo Night will be a titanic relief.
This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 23-Aug-99