Genre: Survival Horror / First Person Adventure
Twice now, I’ve started reviews this week to try and focus on something other than my job, after playing some lighthearted games. As the weekend drew near, I suddenly realized.. Halloween is tomorrow. Being busy at work should be no excuse for forgetting one of my favorite holidays, but being busy enough that I forgot to play and review thematically appropriate games not once, but twice just feels preposterous. I decided to set out to play something I haven’t heard many people talk about since it came out back in 1999, a game I was largely unfamiliar with outside of unflattering reviews of the time; a playstation survival horror game called Echo Night.
First, let me start by saying that this games initial reviews were horrible. It was more like a 3D first person adventure game in the style of point and click adventure games. People didn’t know quite what to make of it. A lack of weapons and graphics that looked more akin to the systems earliest releases do not make for the prettiest game. It was based on the Kingsfield engine, and relied heavily on muted, dull and dreary colors. To add to it, people derisively called it a slow and plodding walking simulator, thanks to the lack of action.
Before I talk about the good things, I will say that I agree the game was butt ugly. Frankly, I don’t mind ugly graphics (I do enjoy retrogaming, after all). What truly struck a blow against this game for me was the controls for this game. You move the protagonist like you’d pilot a goddamn Gundam, looking around and turning using the L and R triggers on your controller while moving using the D-pad. While you can improve the control scheme slightly in the configuration menu (the one I found the most playable was Setting #4, if you are looking to give it a try yourself). I also turned off the crosshairs, which I found distracting. I was ready to throw in the towel before I did change the configuration, and still ended up having difficulty with it. Reader be warned.
After all those gripes, you’d think it was a cruddy game. Oddly enough, it was actually engaging and creepy, and getting over the hurdle of the controls, was a good experience.
The game opens by discussing a cruise ship that, much like the titanic, did not have the best of luck at sea. You play as Richard Osmond, who is called one day by the local police department with unfortunate and depressing news; your father, Henry, is dead. You are allowed to look around, but are asked not to touch anything, since there is still an investigation going on. Inside, you find a diary that discusses some strange happenings, including some business about a red and blue gem, and meeting someone at a train. This is about the time when things start to get weird.
Without spoiling things too much, eventually you find some of your fathers paintings and artwork, which turns out to be realistic… a little too realistic. Absorbingly so, in fact. You end up being mystically transported to the deck of the Orpheus, and all of its inhabitants are no longer in the land of the living.
Everyone on the ship, the crew and passengers, are ghosts. The actual premise and gameplay of the puzzles you have to solve generally revolves around either helping a ghost to pass on by resolving their issues – things either they tell you verbally, or which are played out in flashback scenes – or by fixing the wiring to a room to be able to turn on the lights. It turns out ghosts don’t like lights. If you’re in a dark room, you’re gonna have a bad time. If you manage to find the light switch or connect the breaker outside of a room, that murderous little girl with the knife is not going to be able to pluck your eyes out very easily, giving this game a unique and interesting premise for the time.
Puzzles that you resolve include things like finding the engagement ring of a woman and her fiancee, who are having trouble finding peace without it, or recreating the “special wine” of the ship party animal among the crew, who was infamous for his special and unique vintage that he’d share with his fellow workers – once the ghost takes a sip, he realizes that even though it’s the perfect look, he can’t taste anything because he’s dead. They’re simple things that bring each character to life, making everyone just a little sad and tragic in their own way.
The music and voice acting in this game fit it well. It’s sombre, and can be creepy when necessary. The voice acting has an almost stilted quality to it, that would be irritating in other games, but works well for this genre and setting. The ghosts sound almost confused, as if you’re waking them up from a daze when you speak to them.
This isn’t a game that relies on jumps to scare you, but creates an atmosphere that it wants you to explore. They wanted to unfold the story in such a way as to let the player walk around and discover everything about it before they wrapped things up. It’s not about how many baddies you can kill before you escape, or how many narrow misses you have with the final boss before you take them down and save the day as the best detective/cop/BAMF known to man. You’re trying to figure out what the hell happened to your father, what really happened aboard the Orpheus, why and how you’ve ended up there, and what the mystery is with these strange gems. I’d even bill it as more of a paranormal suspense game than a survival horror, if you didn’t have so many gruesome ways to go.
This is not the longest game. I got through it in about twelve hours playing the game blind, and I found playthroughs online where people got through it in about three. This was not a game meant for the time it was released; it plays similarly to more modern games of its kind. Echo Night may not be the most graphically stunning game, but its engaging and atmospherically spooky. That being said, if you can get past the clunky control scheme, this game is worth picking up a copy of. It was released on the Playstation Network last year, and still sits at only $6.