Review: Echoes Episode 1: Greenhearth

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Echoes: Episode 1 Greenhearth starts with a black and white still of our protagonist, the once dashing Ricky Fox—no, not the former NBA player—disheveled is his hotel room, frantically scribbling the story of how his sanity’s been stolen as things outside the door try to thump and claw their way in. If you’ve ever read a single Edgar Allen Poe of H.P. Lovecraft story, you know this is familiar and clichéd territory. Rather than being scared and unnerved, you may find yourself wondering how the hell Rick’s going to get down several weeks of activity and observations before he becomes demon meat.

This won’t be the last time you’re left scratching your head. As mysteries and iPad apps go, Echoes is about as messy and disjointed as it gets.

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The gameplay, such as it is, hinges on tapping to navigate conversation trees and tapping find-the-object screens to collect clues that advance the story. Ricky, a New York cop, has come to a quiet town to investigate the apparent suicide of his old friend, Dr. Arthur Petrovski. Very little about the case suggests suicide and everything about it suggests gigantic cover-up. Maybe even of a supernatural nature.

But it doesn’t take long for the branches of the conversation trees to begin to fray. One of the first subjects I interviewed was Raymond, an aggressive vagrant who seemed pretty integral to the mystery. When I spoke to subsequent suspects, several of them also suggested I speak to Raymond. The response you’d expect to see might be something along the lines of “Yeah, I talked to him already. He didn’t have much to say.“ Instead, your response choices don’t even acknowledge that you’ve spoken to him at all. In more than a few instances, characters completely fail to react to major changes/revelations in the information landscape—not just because they’re hiding something, but because it’s not time for the game to pursue that particular narrative yet. Knitting all the potential conversation paths in a game like this can be tricky, especially when you’re incorporating the challenge of multiple endings (the story plays a little differently every time you start a new game). But plenty of games have pulled it off gracefully—check out anything from Bioware. Here, you’re left looping back through the same four to five options hoping to stumble across the trigger that might move the story forward.

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Sadly, there’s no voice acting to elevate the hackneyed writing. (“She was obviously lying. But I didn’t know that then.” What?) There are recurring text-label glitches that make it unclear who’s speaking, and, to top it off, a host of spelling and grammatical errors. Basically, this mystery is a mess that wouldn’t pass muster on a bad episode of Unforgettable, and without any compelling gameplay mechanics to distract from the design flaws, there’s little reason to invest your mad detective skillz here.

Echoes does have some truly beautiful artwork and acoustic piano riffs that play beneath every screen and hand-drawn vignette. So at least there’s that. But the fact that this is only the first episode in this meandering tale is probably the scariest thing about it. (*Sound of writer screaming in horror*)

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Beautiful piano riffs

Cons:
– Derivative, poorly written story
– Limited gameplay
– Conversation trees don’t knit together

Game Info:
Platform: iOS
Publisher: Nova-box
Developer: Nova-box
Release Date: 6/21/2013
Genre: Adventure/Mystery
Age Rating: 12+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.