Review: Lost Echo27 Sep 2013 0
There's a table in this room. (Interact: table.)
On the table sit two different point-and-click adventure games. Also, the table is a nice oak or birch job, maybe. Good sheen. (Interact: game number one.)
The game on the left is of the cartoonish stripe, a title that challenges with its surreal, but consistent, game logic. Turkey plus gun equals turkey-gun, which will help you distract the guard dog, etc. (Interact: game number two.)
Two is the more "realistic" title, not in the sense that it's less fantastical plot-wise, but that it's more a game about attention to detail and complicated, semi-believable puzzles. So... Myst, then, even though these were supposed to be more like general examples. Meh. (Combine: game one and game two.)
You mash the two together and... just break them, really. But also, in the debris, you Find: Lost Echo.
Happenings and conspiracies begin in Lost Echo, as they often do, with a midday ice-cream date. Greg, our protagonist, meets his journo girlfriend Chloe at the park at her behest, presumably to discuss something important. And what a park it is. Lost Echo's environments are likely among the best ever put to a touchscreen, with its Unnamed Near-Future City rendered in Jobsian iArchitecture that's, frankly, beautiful. (Character models... less so, especially in comparison to the pearly, sparkling world at large.)
But to the ice cream. To learn the basics of this (and by extension every other) point-and-click, the player is tasked with procuring a treat for their best gal. Head over to the ice cream monger, pick a flavor and... oh. Dude's out of that. Fine we'll go... oh. Out of that as well. And this one. The only choice is "vanilla." Pick it, and said monger calls you boring before launching into a comically longwinded tale. Which Greg cheekily comments on in his internal monologue. (Like this!) A joke, yeah? As in literally? As in meant to provoke laughter? Heh?
The above might seem like small potatoes, but it's an apt illustration of how Lost Echo approaches its chosen genre, and the tonal and mechanical issues that rise from this approach. Almost directly after this scene, some sort of orbital strike explosion whisks Chloe away and knocks our hero unconscious, and from this inciting action Lost Echo truly begins as, ostensibly, a sci-fi/thriller where NO ONE CAN BE TRUSTED and QUESTIONS WILL BE ASKED and POSSIBLY ANSWERED MAYBE. Would you believe me if I told you that no one remembers Chloe, and that traces of her seem to have been erased? Hmmmm.
This is fertile ground for an adventure game. Admittedly, Lost Echo's first... half-hour, or so, is engaging enough, if only because the game hasn't started to try and explain itself yet. An early dream sequence where you play as Chloe pushes the tolerable limit for meta-humor and self-reference without going over, and, yeah, is "cute" in a good way. But soon enough, the cracks appear, chief among them poor dialogue and a meandering plot.
Characterization and plotting are just more important in this sort of title. These games need to be as engaging narratively as they are mechanically, and Lost Echo botches it. Dialogue is unnecessarily wordy and drags on far after the point is delivered. The mystery of the opening is dulled by the kind of twisted point-and-click logic which doesn't quite fit here.
For example: get your friend to make an introduction on your behalf to some underworld connection, if you get back an heirloom he lost in a poker game, which you can only do by proving another player cheats, only you don't actually have to play him once you discover how he cheats... and this involves the ice cream shop CCTV camera... somehow. As a bonus, our sleuthing is peppered with winking games jokes and forced wordplay. "Yeah, that's funny Tom, I guess all your nicknames have a positive meaning to you, but are in fact revealed to be quite derogatory upon talking to other peop-" GOOD GOD A WOMAN IS MISSING.
But. But but but. Here's the thing: Lost Echo has a hell of a twist. It's a pretty crap twist, narratively speaking, but one that could have meant so much in terms of mechanics. Without spoiling too much, let's just say the player is put in a position to replay the events leading up to an eventful break-in at one of Unnamed Near-Future City's major corporations. Wait, did you guess time-travel? Shit, whatever.
This is the sort of brilliance you should build an entire game around, evoking shades of time-ethics dissertation Primer. Your actions the second time around are integral to your actions the first time around. So when you just "happen" to "easily" recruit a crew of wannabe spies for your caper (which, at first, just seems like more poor, rushed writing), you're actually meeting them for the second time. Your future (past?) self already went back and pre-recruited the team. Neat.
Except... wouldn't they think it's odd you're talking to them a second time, as if it were the first? And, honestly, it's not like it takes much more effort to convince these rubes to suit up when you talk to them the second (first?) time around. Not to mention it takes a fair amount of play to even reach this point, and that the key spy mission embodies the worst of Lost Echo's puzzle play--namely, a confusion between "puzzles" and "just handing out items and telling the player how to use 'em". (The best of the puzzles? Some fairly competent chess and picture matching games.)
So back to the cracks, then, made all the worse by the weight of time-travel logistics. Lost Echo should have either been an enjoyably silly sci-fi farce, or a serious mind-bender of a thriller, but in trying to have it both ways it gets, well, lost somewhere in the middle.
The game was played on the iPad for this review.