ECHOPLEX from developer Output Games is a bizarre gem of a puzzle game with a unique premise: the player must navigate levels while being pursued by an “echo.” The echo is, as the name would suggest, a clone of yourself that retraces your steps. The trick is that if you let your echo catch up with or touch you, the game instantly resets the level. Being a fan of puzzle games, I was instantly drawn in by the game’s concept. Other games have toyed with this kind of mechanic in their own ways but I have never personally seen a game centered entirely on it.
If you see someone who looks like you, stay away.
The presentation of the game from the very beginning is impressive to say the least, especially for a Steam early access title. In between levels of gameplay, there are cutscenes which reveal the backstory of ECHOPLEX. These clips are shockingly well-made and clearly have a somewhat high production value. The story that they tell is very intriguing and does a good job of “dangling the carrot” in front of you so that you are always hungry for the next bit of plot. My only complaint about them is that many are extremely short flashes of a few images, making it difficult to see what they contain (but the story is still simple enough to figure out for yourself). Also, as the game is not completely finished yet, the whole story of the game in its current state seems like more of a prologue and the setup for a larger story in the future, including a huge cliffhanger ending that left me disappointed with how the story has only just begun turning its gears. There is no resolution, the game just kind of “stops.”
Fragments of your memories await you at the end of each puzzle.
The puzzles of the game start off simple enough and when the echo is introduced, they can be rather anxiety-inducing. I found myself jumping in my seat when I suddenly came into contact with my past self. The shock value of seeing one’s echo in pursuit wanes quickly, but the novelty of using it to solve puzzles does not get old. However, the designs of the puzzles do, to a certain extent. This is mainly because every level requires the player to do essentially the same thing – figure out how to open a series of doors by passing through transparent walls which act as switches. There are no other gameplay features (aside from jumping and climbing onto high ledges), interesting abilities, or powerups. However, I did enjoy solving the puzzles in general and I felt a real sense of accomplishment whenever I was able to reach the end of each one.
Another minor hindrance to the game is that the movement does not feel as smooth as it probably should and the frame rate occasionally dips for no apparent reason. There are also some tiny portions of the wall textures that “flicker” where they meet in corners. Otherwise, running through the minimalistic corridors and rooms feels just fine.
Better get moving.
This early version of ECHOPLEX took me about two hours to complete while only having 15 levels. I must give props to the puzzle designers at Output Games; a decent chunk of the later puzzles are quite challenging and require you to think critically about how your echo (or sometimes, echoes) will interact with the level after you do so. I should also give them credit for clearly outlining their intentions on how to improve the game on its Steam Store page – they acknowledge the graphical bugs that I previously mentioned, the need for some improvements to the gameplay, and the addition of more levels in the future. It is almost as if we are witnessing a developer that actually communicates with the players/testers of their game and is continually working to improve said game…in other words, fulfilling the purpose of what the “early access” idea is entirely intended for? What a rare sight to see, indeed.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with this early access preview and I have high hopes and expectations for ECHOPLEX in the future. I applaud Output Games for all their efforts in supporting it and if you like puzzle games, you’ll probably like this one. Go ahead and pick it up if you have $10.00 lying around in your Steam wallet.
Here is the ECHOPLEX Steam Early Access Trailer:
ECHOPLEX is now available for $9.99 on Steam Early Access (Windows/Mac).