When the topic of voice control in games arises, the conversation rarely goes beyond the thought of a tacked-on feature that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. Shouting at a guard to distract him in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, voice commands in Binary Domain, and issuing orders to your squad in Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas are examples of when voice recognition wasn't really needed. So instead of making it feel like an unneeded component, Iridium Studios decided to base its second game There Came an Echo entirely around the concept. Originally released for PC in February last year, this real-time strategy game has now made its way to the PlayStation 4 – but does it prove that voice control still has a place? Unfortunately, we're not so sure.
There Came an Echo puts you in the shoes of Sam, a faceless voice who follows the commands of Val. The two of them begin the game by rescuing a software developer called Corrin, who is being chased by a gang of henchmen that are after a program he's created named Radial Lock. Upon escape, Corrin begins a mission to find out who is after him and why. Throughout the campaign Corrin is joined on his quest by Miranda, Grace, and Syll, all of whom play into the story in ways that you don't expect. The plot may seem simple at first glance, but as it develops, more sci-fi themes are introduced to help culminate in a genuinely entertaining final few hours.
When it comes to gameplay, things start off simple. You can control Corrin by selecting pre-determined locations on the map known as alphas, which he will then run to. This basic gameplay is very easy in the first level as we help Corrin escape, but as soon as Miranda joins the team things get a bit more complex. With a gun and a new party member in hand, you can place characters in different parts of the battlefield to gain a tactical advantage. You can opt to simply focus your fire on certain enemies, or have your partner sneak around to an alpha that gives them a better angle on a foe to dispatch them quicker. Using tactics such as these are pivotal to There Came an Echo, because it's what you'll be doing for the majority of its four hour campaign.
If this doesn't sound all that exciting to you, it's because it's not. Almost every combat situation can be dealt with by focusing your fire on one particular enemy and then switching to the next. Flanking does mix things up slightly, but we never felt like we were in a situation where we really needed to do it. We got by just fine by taking out one foe after the next, and that would be okay if it was just for the first few levels, but the gameplay never evolves beyond it. Things are shaken up a little mid-way through the game with a short stealth sequence and a tower defence mission that tasks you with defending a base, but these did little to improve the small amount of enjoyment that we were having.
Of course, the one thing that sets There Came an Echo apart from anything else on the market is its voice control. You can give characters commands that range from moving position, targeting certain enemies, changing weapons, and flanking. "Move to alpha 5" will make Corrin get up and move to that location; "Focus fire on target 3" will direct all characters to aim at that particular enemy, and; "Recharge Grace" will order Grace into recharging her shields. The commands available are simple enough to where you will rarely have to pause the game to look up what you need to say to perform a certain action. There is also some manoeuvrability within the phrases, for example saying "everyone" would be accepted as "all units" and saying "equip" or "use" could be used in replacement for "switch to". All of these commands work well in practise, but they can only go so far in covering up the tedious gameplay. Once the novelty of voice control wears off, the game does very little to excite or engage in any way.
Technically, it is sound, though. We used the microphone that is provided with the PlayStation 4 for voice control, and we generally had a good experience. We found ourselves having to repeat commands every now and again to perform an action, but overall the voice commands definitely do their job, so that's a positive.
Meanwhile, graphically, There Came an Echo is quite a striking game. Its art style reminds us of Tron with its bright blue colours, which coupled with a fast-paced soundtrack serves up a classic sci-fi setting. It won't win any awards for its graphics in a year that includes Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, but we think that Iridium Studios has achieved an appealing style both visually and audibly. We didn't encounter any glitches or bugs throughout our playthrough either, with a consistent 30 frames-per-second achieved.
There Came an Echo feels like more of a proof of concept than an actual game. The voice control does work well if you have the right headset, but it only goes so far in making up for the dreary gameplay on offer. And while the story is serviceable enough and the graphics are eye-catching, they don't do enough to turn this into a compelling game. If the idea of controlling a title using only your voice really does excite you then this may be worth a look, but if not, consider commanding yourself to buy a different game.