Don’t panic – you have come to the right blog! I don’t cover mobile games often but Dark Echo isn't the first and I’m sure it won’t be the last either. Unfortunately as is the fate of many perfectly decent iOS/Android games this one would have completely fallen under my radar if it weren’t for the lovely Gassi mentioning it and that would have been a real shame because this minimalist action-puzzle-horror game is damned good!
Wait - horror? In a game where all your enemies are “small cluster of red lines” and “big circle of red lines”? Seriously?
With the right frame of mind (and with the sound turned up) you’re not just a foot icon making white lines bounce off collision barriers when you move but a lone survivor stood in the dark, your only initial waypoints being the sound of flies buzzing around an unknown object or water slowly dripping from the ceiling on to the floor below. As you walk – sometimes crunching over gravel, sometimes noisily wading through water – the reverberations from your footsteps produce a fleeting image of your surroundings as you explore the dark. You appear to be alone – safe – so you stamp the ground hard to give yourself a better idea of your location, but these stronger sounds shoot down an unseen corridor and awaken a monster that makes a beeline straight for the source of the sound. Running’s no good – it’ll just keep chasing the sound of your footsteps through the dark – but perhaps ricocheting a stone off a nearby wall might distract it, or sneaking away quietly (and slowly) into the unknown and hoping you can tiptoe around it as you grope around in search of the exit.
I suppose the point of that previous paragraph is to try and illustrate that as with any horror game the “magic” only really happens when players make the effort to meet the designers halfway and try to let the intended atmosphere take over. But while the style may be minimalist and invite player’s to use their imaginations it doesn’t feel like anything’s being deliberately held back or obfuscated and the environment is always clear and easy to read: red things are dangerous, blue means water – it’s all very obvious and never needs explaining; death will come because you weren’t quick or clever enough, but not because you couldn’t interpret what was happening in time.
It also helps that the game introduces new concepts and abilities individually with levels designed to teach you how to use them effectively before upping the complexity or tinkering with the rules, and the cryptic single-word level names offer helpful pointers on how to approach new challenges too – for example “Pull” is a level that requires you to draw the enemy closer before giving them the run-around and sneaking off to the exit. Just as you think you’re done and you’ve got the game well and truly under your thumb after forty levels in the dark you find the light you escaped into isn’t the salvation you’ve been looking for but another trap – essentially a “New Game +” mode where each level has been redesigned to be more dangerous and difficult than ever before.
Then you find out that there are fifteen treasures hidden within the game, their location only revealed by the way sound passes through the fake walls they’re hidden behind (if that sounds unfair; fake walls are a concept introduced as a central part of the game’s progression). Finding them is completely optional, but it’s a thoughtful little extra in an already well crafted game.
Ultimately how much joy and terror you get out of this is determined largely by your own imagination and your willingness to turn the sound up or plug in some headphones, but even if you can only see this as the game where the red lines try to kill a pair of white feet you’ll find Dark Echo is still a damn good puzzle game at its core.
Dark Echo is currently available on iOS/Android for a mere £1.49 – I don’t know about you but I’ve definitely spent more than that on games far worse than this one.