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Echo Night: Beyond (PlayStation 2)

Echo Night: Beyond (PlayStation 2) review


"Outside the mainstream there's a tradition of slow, simply made horror-adventure games whose gameplay has barely developed for a decade or more. These are the D's, the Notes, the Hellnights, the Echo Nights, etc. The raw stuff of Echo Night Beyond (ENB) is nothing that an original Playstation or something even older couldn't run, but this is a genre where atmosphere goes a long way, and ENB does generate a detailed, restrained outer space creepiness befitting the PS2's graphical capabilities. Th..."



Outside the mainstream there's a tradition of slow, simply made horror-adventure games whose gameplay has barely developed for a decade or more. These are the D's, the Notes, the Hellnights, the Echo Nights, etc. The raw stuff of Echo Night Beyond (ENB) is nothing that an original Playstation or something even older couldn't run, but this is a genre where atmosphere goes a long way, and ENB does generate a detailed, restrained outer space creepiness befitting the PS2's graphical capabilities. This atmosphere plus a decent story add up to create a fairly involving supernature-in-space experience, even if at heart this game really is very old-fashioned. But know that this is absolutely not a game for the impatient, and that while there is some scariness, there is no combat at all. It's all about puzzle-solving.

It's 2044 and you and your fiancee are separated by a shuttle crash before your space honeymoon has even begun. You awaken to find yourself stranded on a lunar colony where the lights are mostly on but nobody's home. While the machinery clatters away, the ghosts of astronauts and colonists haunt the hallways, fretting over the details of the lives they don't realise they've lost. Communicating with these spirits is the means to solving the mystery of the deserted colony and of your fiancee's disappearance.

The game plays in the first person with you looking through the visor of your space helmet, to the perpetual accompaniment of your own in-suit breathing on the soundtrack. You can walk, walk a bit faster, jump if you're outside in low gravity, look all around you and press a button to hear what a ghost has to say. This is your arsenal for solving the whole game.

Benign ghosts wander in place and usually need your help in locating people or objects that have sentimental value to them. The presence of evil ghosts is signaled by a fog. If disturbed, these ghosts will rush you, with potentially fatal consequences via the skyrocketing of your pulse. But evil ghosts can be pacified by freeing them from the malign influence of the fog. Usually this means finding and activating appropriate air conditioning systems in an area.

The pleasures and pains of finding and using objects to repair equipment, access new areas and the like, are largely the same point-and-click adventure game pleasures that have been around for years. There's tons of backtracking required and no place for haste lest your eye glance over a vital item. Early in the game, problems and solutions are necessarily found near each other, but later on when you've got a whole multi-level space station's worth of exploration behind you, it's a major chore to find you're missing some crucial item and face the prospect of rewalking most of the map to look for it. This is a design ugliness inherent to the genre and this game does nothing new to address it.

On the interpersonal level, though, the game does much to help. The in-game log of ghosts met, what they’ve said and what they want saved my neck and got me unstuck countless times. By the same token you can read capsule summaries of ghostly footage you've previously viewed on security cameras to remind yourself of clues.

The sense of helping the ghosts move on from limbo by resolving their various problems gives ENB a particular taste, and makes for a surprisingly sentimental experience. The number of adults, children and even animals reunited with loved ones or reassured of some fragile fact about their (non-) existence could easily provide material for whole seasons of Oprah. The dialogues are obviously translated from Japanese with typical semi-clumsiness and repetitiousness, but the overall effect is basically touching. It all makes for a very sincere, good-natured game. Even the evil ghosts aren't really evil, they're just confused and angry, and thus worthy of your empathy.

The first time any ghost attacks you is usually pretty freaky (rammed along by the heart-pounding, gasping and 'screaming strings' effects on the soundtrack), but for the vast majority of the game, the chill is slight, and mostly manifest in an atmosphere of desertion. It's future cleanliness bereft of life, furniture trundling along on a disused conveyer belt, the detritus of human existence distributed around the space quarters as if everyone just evaporated at once. The design of the station feels authentic and the cross-surface reflective effects are exceptional.

I typically don't like point and click adventures at all, but this one pulled me along quite strongly, mostly because of its atmosphere and the sense that I was really helping out these space spirits. I still couldn't make it through without a walkthrough. My tolerance these days for re-searching whole gamemaps for missing items is non-existent, and I found a few of the later developments in the game to be bows drawn too long for me to be able to intuit where I was meant to go, or what I was meant to do, next. But basically, ENB is a likeable example of old gameplay enlivened by story and atmosphere.

Rating: 7/10

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Community review by bloomer (December 05, 2007)

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