Echo Night: Beyond Review

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Publisher: Agetec
Developer: FromSoftware

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Richard Osmond just wanted to get married. After years of planning, he departed on a shuttle flight to the Moon with Claudia Selfer so they could wed in a Lunar ceremony, something possible in the Year 2044. Traveling along with vacationers and miners heading to work on the Lunar base, the first hours of the flight seemed like the beginning of the happiest moments of their lives. Then the shuttle began taking damage.

Osmond awakens inside a protective EVA suit, in the wrecked passenger cabin of the shuttle, a shattered robotic stewardess twitching in the corner. The wrecked shuttle has crashed into the Moon facility, and Osmond is left to find Claudia and discover what happened to the base, now populated only by the dead. Of course, as with all good ghost stories, things turn out to be a lot more complicated than they first appear.

Kyle Ackerman

Some believe that ghosts are left in this world when a living person dies with some great task unfinished. That might be revenge, or a grave injustice that must be corrected. In the case of Echo Night: Beyond, it is often that the ghost has left something in the next room. And you have to fetch it. In truth, some of the tasks you need to fulfill are emotionally charged. At the same time, a cat might be important enough to an elderly woman to keep her from peace, and the first ghost you encounter really just needs a drink before he passes into the great beyond. Ghosts aren't always ready to demand you retrieve a treasured possession or show them an object when first encountered. Some ghostly residents of the lunar base have been driven to a maddened rage by a mysterious Lunar fog, and will pursue you relentlessly in an effort to reach through your space suit and send your heart racing, until it bursts in your chest.

More Adventure/Horror Than Survival/Horror

Echo Night: Beyond does something unusual. It brings a traditional adventure game to the PlayStation 2. The game is fully 3D, and plays out from a first person perspective, but still relies on conversations and finding and combining objects. There are some action-heavy moments, such as when your heartbeat starts racing and you need to flee from or avoid marauding ghosts. This ends up being the biggest flaw in Echo Night: Beyond. Other games in the survival horror genre have simpler action sequences, and are rarely as inventory driven. The slow pacing and large inventory of Echo Night: Beyond make it a prime candidate for traditional adventure fans, but the action sequences are so difficult as to alienate that fan base. At the same time, the deliberate pacing of the story makes the game unlikely to appeal to those who would enjoy the pulse-racing moments of ghost evasion.

If a ghost is pursuing you, you typically have a scant few moments in which to complete a specific action before your heart explodes in your chest. The game's plentiful security cameras will often clue you into your objective, but even when you know exactly what to do, it can take several frustrating tries to accomplish it. If you don't know what to do, it's really painful to explore a room a few seconds at a time, punctuated by a visit to the main menu and a re-load of your last saved game. Those aren't the only moments that won't appeal to adventure fans. Freeing one ghost actually involves a fairly challenging jumping puzzle, a long way from a save point. That the jumps are slow in an attempt to capture the feel of lunar gravity makes the sequence awkward even if you enjoy jumping puzzles.

Voyeurs Make The Best Parapsychologists

The game's best dynamic involves the security cameras that monitor every corner of the Lunar base. These cameras have captured significant events that have left a ghostly residue. By panning around with the many cameras, you will locate areas with a green glow that will trigger a sort of security system flashback. These are your clues to the location of helpful items, and often will have a clear view of useful items that can't be seen while just strolling around.

As with most adventure games, there will be times when the cameras, the ghosts' whispered words and inventory items just don't fit together in your mind. You'll scour the in-game notes and wander all around monotonous corridors, desperately hoping to discover some item you previously missed. To make matters even more difficult, ghosts are ... well ... ghostly. They can't be seen from far away, so you may find yourself chasing ghostly voices, desperately hoping to locate their source. That's really creepy at first, and then just mildly irritating.

Those moments when you are stuck lead to the 3D version of the "pixel hunt." Traditional 2D adventure games often have interactive areas or hidden objects that are only found by scanning the screen with your cursor, looking for that interactive pixel. As a 3D adventure game, Echo Night: Beyond requires you to search the lunar base for specific objects. Locked doors and damaged corridors typically herd you through the game, putting you in the right place to find necessary inventory items. On the other hand, if you miss a pass card on a bunk, or a video disc casually discarded on the floor, you might find yourself wandering the haunted hallways until you happen to notice the right object in the corner of your view. For example, if you miss a certain piece of blank paper in the security camera, you might well wander the corridors like a frustrated ghost yourself.

Gotta Free Them All

Some moments in the game are genuinely spooky, accentuated by a minimalist soundtrack that can be downright eerie. At one point, a ghostly child leaps upon your shoulders, slowing you down and regularly leaving handprints on your space suit's visor. The otherworldly remains of a priest even managed to startle me when I thought myself safely ensconced in a security station. At the same time, a lot of small issues with the language can make you laugh when things should be tense. Translation problems with the dialog are rarely as amusing as the station's signs, which direct you to locations such as the "Experimental Fishly Station."

The story is interesting, with a set of endings that will differ slightly, depending on your interpretation of events. You will, however, get much more satisfying endings if you free each and every ghost from the concerns that shackle it to the mortal realm. Watching the story unfold is engaging, but the pace of Echo Night: Beyond is already slow, and its easy to see how players who get stuck, wandering the hallways of a Moon base looking for a clue, could easily walk away, never to return. So, if you are curious to watch an even more curious tale unfold, keep a walkthrough close by, and be very wary of red stones.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 7, 2004 10:29 PM.

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