Wednesday, 26 October 2016

ECHO NIGHT: BEYOND


Echo Night: Beyond may be the third (and last) entry to From Software's excellent horror series, but it was the first to get an official release in Europe. Released in Japan and the US in 2004, it would be another year before it reached our shores and it was worth the wait. The previous entries may have been set in traditional spooky setting - a ghost ship and a haunted mansion - but Beyond relocates us to outer space. The Moon to be specific.

Set in the near future (2044 to be precise), you assume the role of Richard Osmond who wakes up on a crashed space shuttle with only a protective spacesuit keeping you from the harmful elements outside. The words "come to the facility" are mysteriously written on the chair in front of you, perhaps written by your wife-to-be Claudia. This is very disconcerting, not least because this trip was supposed to be for your wedding - the first to take place on the moon no less. Something is very off. The Lunar Station itself is deserted and in complete disarray. And ghosts wander the halls blocking your path, trapped in a twisted purgatory. As the only live person remaining, it is up to you to solve their unfinished business and free these lost souls.

As a mute protagonist, Richard doesn't really have much of a personality. His backstory, which comes to weird conclusion by the game's end, is interesting enough but during the game he could be a sentient android for all we know. The real meat of the story comes with the ghosts you encounter. Every spectre has their own little backstory that keeps you heavily invested. You care for each and every one, even those who were less than friendly to begin with. From unrequited love, unrealised artists to alcoholics they each tell their own tale and they each need a specific item to free them. You don't need to save them all to complete the game, but if you're anything like me you most definitely would want to.

Not all of these spectres are benevolent. Some areas are enshrouded in a mysterious mist signalling the danger lurking before you. As you creep around the room, your heart rate increases until the once invisible beings appear in front of you. They nevertheless still need freeing from their torment and more often than not the key to do so is just through that door on the other side. Although stealth is not a mechanic in the game, you can still attempt to sneak past them slowly. It's not always wise, thought, as if your heart-rate increases too much you will have a heart attack and die. Perhaps it's best to offer a distraction first.

There are several 'safe' rooms throughout the game where you can save or make use of the multitude of monitors recording each room. Moving the cameras catches the eye of any angered ghost, leaving them in the perfect position to walk past them. You could also scour other rooms too, which will offer clues on how to progress. If you're lucky, you may also witness a memory projected onto the screen which offers deeper context into the backstory. 

You have no means of attack the undead, but their anger is linked to the mist that surrounds them. Located in the same room, there will more than likely be a ventilation module. Activating them will suck out the rage-inducing mist, calming any spirit affected so you can talk to them. These encounters are some the most heart-pounding experiences in any game I've ever played. They are heightened by the thick, foreboding atmosphere of the rest of the game which includes some incredibly effective jump scares here and there. Your visor will occasionally be obscured by hand prints, especially if you're exploring a particularly spooky area. After a while, though, the effect does lessen. Angry ghosts will become more of a puzzle to solve than any real danger, but that's not necessarily a negative.

The graphics are superb for the PlayStation 2, perhaps the best I've seen on the system. The design has sterile monochromatic quality rarely seen. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey or the original Alien. The ghosts have a suitably unsettling blurry effect applied to them which has the added benefit of hiding any technical limitations they might have had. The only downside graphically is when you are required to exit the base and traverse the moon's surface. The straight, clinical rooms and corridors are replaced with natural rocks and boulders which looks a little odd to me. It doesn't help that the controls are changed during these segments too. In an attempt to add realism, the developers have slowed down your movement reflecting the planetoid's lower gravity and the only way to get around with some speed is to jump. It's mapped to the same button usually reserved for running, which gives you an idea of how slow it is out there. It's also a rather perilous method as the entire area is stricken with a copious amount of bottomless pits that are not easily avoided.

This is not an action filled game. It requires perseverance to get through it so the aforementioned segments on the moon's surface may not be an issue for more patient players. In fact, you may choose to bypass many sections if you're not to bothered about the souls of the deceased. The default controls also reflect the slow nature of the game. Even in 2004, twin stick controls were the norm for any first-person game. Here, From Software has stuck to a scheme that was more prevalent before the invention of dual analogue sticks. L1 and R1 strafe left and right while looking up and down is mapped to L2 and R2. It's awkwardly archaic by modern standards, so it's also worth noting that there's different methods in the option menu (type C is the one you want if using a controller - the custom keyboard controls uses the default).

Gameplay is mostly a series of fetch quests - find said item and give it to correct person.  It may sound a little unoriginal and monotonous but the puzzle of working out what they want and how to get it is satisfying. The locations are great fun to explore and the payoff is definitely worth it. Along the way you'll meet an android modelled after an old friend of yours named Kenneth. He resides in a holo-deck style room where he puts his artistic skills to good use by painting portraits of those you've helped on the walls. Not only does it act as a useful visualisation of your progression, it also adds an extra layer of melancholy. The room's hologram is set to a serene landscape of rolling fields with lush green grass and deep blue skies - a representation of heaven maybe? It certainly feels otherworldly not least because it's the only area to feature such vivid colours - a fitting end to the grey-filled lives of its inhabitants.

It's not all puzzling, though. You have to manage some items to keep you going. First of all, your health is presented as a heart-beat monitor (ghosts in and of themselves cannot kill you). If it goes too high, your vision will become impaired and eventually you'll have a heart attack and die. Thankfully there are syringes scattered throughout to reduce it during tough times. A handy torch is also attached to your spacesuit which can often be the only source of light in many areas. You'll have to keep a watchful eye on the ever-decreasing battery life. Double A's are generously scattered throughout the game so you don't necessarily have to worry too much about it, particularly if you're frugal when using it. You can dim the light or turn it off all together if need be, so manage it wisely.

Echo Night: Beyond was the first game in the series I played. It instantly captured my imagination, even if it did frequently stump me on many occasions. The graphics, setting and presentation are all top notch with a claustrophobic and unnerving atmosphere that will give you nightmares. Without a doubt, this is the best in the series. It may be true that no one in space can hear you scream, but it can certainly give you the chills.


To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses PCSX2 to emulate the game on PCs. XBox 360 controllers supported. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.

Download


Echo Night: Beyond is © From Software
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me  

Like this? Try These...

Echo Night 2: The Lord of Nightmares  Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure  RAMA

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