Review: Dark Echo (iOS)

Now as a rule we don’t really ‘review’ games as such here at the Lolocaust. This is down to many factors, most of which involve strong moralistic attitudes or a lack of pork pies. But that is going to change soon as we really ramp up our output. So expect reviews of the games we try as often as we can. It may not always be the AAA titles, but then there are already approximately five million other enthusiast media blogs covering them, but it will always be something that caught our eye for better or worse.

This week I was introduced to Dark Echo by a man on a bus who was playing it with headphones on, got frightened, stopped playing and noticed that I was amused by his fear. His exact words were “It’s worse than it looks” which either suggests that the game was creepier than it’s limited visual flair suggests, or his fear had seeped from some private orifice. Of course I immediately downloaded the game, paired up a set of bluetooth headphones and jumped into the grim world of Dark Echo.

It’s very easy to summarise Dark Echo given that you don’t really *see* anything. Instead sound is represented in a number of ways in the game, from footsteps to growls and beyond. Starting each level with the outlines of two feet you are tasked with navigating a pitch black room to locate and travel through the exit. Seems easy enough, but as the levels progress so do the risks that you have to face. Stamp your foot and sounds will bounce off of every nearby surface creating an image of your location, while also revealing enemies or pathways. It’s kind of like being Daredevil, if Daredevil was a superhero stuck in a maze with bloodthirsty creatures.

In fact it’s also a bit like being Batman. Not the DC superhero, but a man with in-built sonar.

The game ramps up it’s difficulty in a couple of ways, firstly by adding risk – be it creatures or areas of the map that will hinder success) – and then ensures that the skills you’ve relied upon the last few levels are no longer of any use to you whatsoever. Early on we learn that enemies exist and we can out run them. This is pretty much what you will do for a few levels, but then the corridors become narrower, you can’t simply run past a foe, or maybe there will be some water in your path that not only creates noises that attract the evil in the darkness, but it also slows you down. Water is simply represented by blue lines on the screen, while the player sounds are in white. Yellow represent switches/buttons required to progress and red is obviously for the enemies/threats.

Abstract lines that all make sense as part of a greater whole.

It’s an absolutely fascinating concept that while not entirely unique – Papa Sangre did ‘blind gaming’ very well – is fun, challenging and rewarding like any mobile game should be. More importantly the difficulty is balanced at such a curve that you never feel like you could easily walk through the game, but you don’t feel that the journey is too complex to bother with either.

At one point in the game I was faced with the challenge of navigating the area with light taps on the screen only. These steps are the equivalent of tip-toeing, but come with the negative effect that you aren’t making sound to be able to decipher the layout of the map. In the end I died a few times to reveal enough of the map that I could mentally recall the layout. This felt great, I had been building up to this for a while, narrowly escaping one level before stepping into another tense layout and yet I wanted more.

At the time of writing this Dark Echo is currently free on the iOS app store and £1.49 on the Google Play store. It’s the perfect way to have a horror game that isn’t graphic or gory, and can be as challenging as anything else on the market. The fact that the game is almost entirely made up of lines that abstractly represent a level is an added bonus. It’s great that these games are now at our collective fingertips, something that wouldn’t have happened on home consoles. I would love to see this adapted into a first person VR game, with all the tension of the app, but in an immersive format that would allow the true horror of the design fully envelop the player.

In short I cannot recommend this game highly enough, go get it.

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