Don't Run Into Yourself in Echoplex

It's a little weird when you see yourself trailing behind yourself, with yourself behind you while you open a door. Then you see yourself walk through a door just after you've walked through a door. If you slow down, you'll run into yourself, and then you'll see yourselves blow up from a safe distance. Unfortunately, this means you've lost the ability to exit the small set of rooms you've found yourself in, just after leaving your ICU unit where you've left an IV of something called "Continuum" hanging off of your medical bed. This is Echoplex

Now that you're thoroughly confused, let me explain. Echoplex is a game where you play the escape artist. You wake up in a small room with an IV of some bright pink liquid called Continuum. You discover shortly after leaving the room that there's an "echo" of yourself that repeats all movement you do. That's the main mechanic of the game, and let me be clear: this game is not easy. The first few levels introduce the mechanic to you slowly, and then a few levels beyond your new adventure you discover that this simple mechanic can turn puzzles into maddening, hair-losing enimgas that make the hardest community-built levels of Portal 2 look like the "square block into square hole" toys that are everywhere in daycare centers. Every level alters the mechanic in some interesting way--multiple echoes, echoes that go in reverse, echoes that explode upon contact--you get the idea. This is Satan's puzzle playground, and there's more instruments here than just his poking stick.

I'm a fan of puzzlers with deep story and atmospheric environments, but Echoplex pushes the limit. Playing the game on stream for hours on end with being stuck at one level can really frustrate broadcasters. It's nice that Output Games put in a recent update, called Perception, that allows you to monitor your "echoes" and freeze time so you can plan out what you're supposed to do. But be forewarned when I tell you you will be stumped. This game is one smart cookie, and there's plenty of levels to lose your mind on explore with an echo of you trailing behind you by just a few seconds.

There's more. Every passing level is a tiny revealing of truth. There's an interesting video clip that plays after every level to reveal more of the madness. A clip of an epidemic with people picketing and rioting; an arm mysteriously jutting out of a strange, digitally-garbled portal; a few characters thrown into the mad mix; a phone number scrawled across a wall; and that mysterious pink liquid, Continuum. They're spoon-fed to the player level by level until the understanding sinks in. It's incentive-based gameplay, and while the narrative works as a breadcrumb servant to a starving player, the maddening levels almost drown out the potential for narrative.

Since the game is in early access, there's some design issues amongst the fray. First, a huge contrast exists between narrative clip mode and play mode. There's an eerie silence as you traverse the small rooms of whatever maze you're in. The narrative clips of the game are in full-sound, a stark contrast between silence and a world rich in sound--the latter of which almost functions as a jumpscare due to the contrast. They're two disjunct halves of a game that could see more potential in the coming months of development. To add, many levels are pretty barebones in appearance. Walls are flat grey. Doors have simplistic colors. There isn't much flair here and level design is something to be desired with this version. As for right now, however, the Perception update gives us a little more ease on the puzzle aspect of the game since figuring out the next escape room puzzle is maddening in it's own right. We see potential here in Echoplex, but it's hard to enjoy since the breadcrumb narrative primarily works to entice us to the next level, until we give up and decide more lighthearted games are in our immediate future. Echoplex appeals to atmospheric puzzle lovers and story fanatics, but it definitely ages us more than we'd like. Try it for early access if you're so inclined, but be prepared to spend hours on even just one escape room in this madness.

6.7

Promising, but not delivering.

It's interesting, but Early Access doesn't provide enough. To add, the puzzles are maddening and you'll certainly be stuck on one for hours.

8.0

Story

7.0

Gameplay

5.0

Graphics

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