PAX East First Impressions – There Came an Echo

Shifting gears, but staying within the realm of RTS titles – I guess it’s one of those days – a new project by Iridium Studios drummed up a significant amount of buzz on the show floor. There Came an Echo is an X-COM style squad-based tactical RTS that features a heavy emphasis on story and voice control. In fact, the voice control system is the biggest feature the game had on display on PAX, and from what I was shown in the booth during a private demo, goes way beyond some mere gimmick.

The main draw of using voice control as opposed to standard controller inputs – which are available for those who decide against using vocal commands – is a system in place called “aliasing”. Sort of like button mapping and hot keys for voice commands, aliasing allows the player to completely customize the list of commands they can give to their squad. They can change the names of the characters, and the commands used to execute strategic maneuvers. For instance, I choose to change the name of male protagonist Corrin – voiced by none other than Wil “WHEATONNNNNN” Wheaton – to “Spider-Man”. This is done by pulling up the command screen, which shows all of the available actions the player can command on the left-hand side, and typing in the new voice prompt next to Corrin’s name on the right side. Sure enough, when I told Spider-Man to regroup with the rest of the squad, off Corrin ran to join the team.

Echo(2)This presents a unique perspective shift for the genre, as instead of playing as the squad or a particular protagonist, the player is assuming the role of what amounts to a squad leader in a command center somewhere. (Whether or not that creates a disconnect for players who like to assume the role of the protagonist remains to be seen.) The demo I played was using an Xbox One controller, and required a squeeze of the right trigger before commands could be issued, to prevent additional noises from interfering with the controls. That said, when the trigger was being held, every command I used worked flawlessly, as the squad split up, flanked enemies, concentrated fire, and finally regrouped. It was a short demo, more of a tutorial of sorts, to get a feel for the voice controls, but it served its purpose. I’m told the demo units on the show floor themselves – that did not have the benefit of being in a soundproof room – worked surprisingly well in terms of accuracy.

As for the story-driven aspect of the game, Iridium Studios had a bit of assistance from Anthony Burch, whose most recent credentials include being the lead writer for Borderlands 2 and its associated DLC. One of the small touches that adds a bit of personality to the game is the way characters interact with one another during missions. In addition to the usual quips you might expect when engaging the enemy, the 3-person squad of Corrin, Miranda, and Grace will chat amongst themselves and often think out loud, offering anything from useful advice to, well, random silly thoughts and observations. The added benefit of a stellar voice cast, which further includes Ashly Burch and Yuri Lowenthal among others in addition to Wheaton, makes these moments even more appealing, resulting in an engaging experience overall, and will assuredly make the squad much more relatable as they encounter various hardships throughout the adventure.

Echo(3)Iridium Studios told me that Steam is the priority at the momentin terms of release platforms, but Xbox One and PS4 are next in line to receive ports of There Came an Echo, even if they don’t make it in time for launch. For more information on this intriguing new title, be sure to follow Iridium Studios via Twitter and Facebook. Details can also be found on the developer’s website. The release date is tentatively set at “late 2014″ but gamers can invest early and pre-order the game if they so choose; $15.00 gets buyers a DRM-free copy of the game at launch, while $20.00 nets the soundtrack as well, which is being composed by Ronald Jenkees and Jimmy Hinson.




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