Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern
Set in Palaeolithic times and woven around the frescoes of the renowned Lascaux Cave in France, Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern felt a little like an old friend. Reminiscent of a number of historically based games (The Egyptian Prophecy: The Fate of Ramses and Pompeii: The Legend of Vesuvius spring to mind), and featuring voices that I have heard before, I slipped easily and comfortably into the role of Arok, a would be painter in search of his friend. Overcome some wild beasts, some hidden paths and a variety of hunter/gatherer tasks and tribulations, and you too can end up 12 or so hours later drinking hypnotic beverages and watching the cave paintings dance and twirl.
It's a colourful outing, the settings detailed and the details meticulous. Whilst a few more outdoor scenes would have been nice, given the caverns at the centre of the tale it isn't surprising that a fair chunk of your time playing Echo is spent inside caves and grottoes, dabbling in restoration and painting. So too several of your tasks involve finding the necessary materials to make paint and the tools of your trade. I could have done with fewer of these tasks, and found the cave painting the least interesting of the many little puzzles, but the finished result was certainly impressive.
Like many such games, there is a database available to give you more information on the life and times of the game period. A little shell icon will flash to indicate that a new piece of information is available and, should you wish to, you can then click to open the databse and read on. It's cross referenced, indexed, and accompanied by pictures and photos, and you can read as little or as much as you like. It might give you some insight into a particular conundrum, but you can ignore it completely should you wish to do so, as the game is not difficult and most of what you need to know is available from other aspects of the game.
The other characters for one, and there are several with whom you will interact. They will ask for things, and give you necessary items and information in return. There is also a game journal, another little icon flashes to indicate a new entry, and your current objective will usually be identified there as well. So if historical databases bring you out in a rash, rest assured you can remain spotless and still enjoy the secrets and sounds of the lost caverns.
Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern is a fairly straightforward game, with generally one puzzle or conundrum having to be solved or overcome in order to move on. Nor is it terribly difficult, so novice players will not be overawed. The majority of the challenges involve finding and using the right items in the right way, the rest being little self contained puzzles: reassemble some broken tablets, put a fresco back together slider style, scale a wall by manipulating handprints to find the correct route, rotate and slide branches back and forth to gain entry to a shrine. There is also a small maze with the added challenge of a sputtering torch that will only last so long, some musical stone puzzles in which the sound is not terribly important, and, believe it or not, a tower of Hanoi.
Several puzzles allow only a limited number of moves, but each move should bring you closer to the solution. Some of them are pretty much just trial and error, which I did think a little lazy, but nonetheless there is a certain challenge even in trial and error. Most were logical, and only once did I think a solution was a little silly. I thought, too, that the puzzles were all well integrated into the story and the setting, and reflective of that time. Fishing, cooking, tool manufacture, painting techniques and creating pigments are all part and parcel of what lies before you.
On a number of occasions you will be using what are called "construction zones", essentially just large flat stones on which you will be combining or manipulating various items. You also have to take aim a few times at a fish and a few other things, but fiddly dexterity is not required. Indeed, if you manage to solve one puzzle "out of order", you won't even have to fling stones at the wolves; they simply never show up.
The puzzles that are limited to a certain number of moves simply reset and return you to the start of the puzzle if you fail. These are mainly construction puzzles, the implement you have to build being indicated by a small image, and the number of moves being indicated by the number of images. There are other situations where failure results in the same restart ... I got too close to a bear and either died or ran away extremely quickly, whichever it was I simply found myself back before meeting the bear, considerably the wiser.
There is a mystical and a spiritual side to the tale in Echo, and in keeping with this several impasses are resolved not in the "real" world but by utilising the frescoes themselves. I particularly enjoyed these little byplays, and the stag puzzle was one of my highlights.
Cut-scenes and little animations run sporadically throughout, and the French countryside is alive with animals and insects. The character modelling is well done, not at all wooden or angular, and light and shadow is realistic. It's a nice world in which to spend the 12 hours or so it will take to complete your journey.
It's point and click all the way, with 360 degree panning in each location, and almost a full range of movement up and down. The cursor remains centred as you turn, and a right click opens the inventory and the cursor is released in order to use your items. The cursor is also used to select dialogue. Hotspots and a variety of icons will indicate something that can be done or an item taken, and a magnifying glass in your inventory lets you examine items in more detail.
There is a musical soundtrack, pipes and drums being what I remember, and you can play Echo with or without subtitles. The main menu is utilised to save and load, and you can adjust hardware rendering, the speed of the camera rotation, and the volume as well. There were no bugs or glitches (unless you count the wolves) and no disc swapping once loaded.
I did delve into the database and found it to be clear, concise and informative. It would be a shame if you played this game and didn't have a browse.
Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern doesn't stretch the boundaries of game making, and there is nothing really new to be encountered, but it is a polished and well made product that provides good solid gaming and a pleasant weekend adventuring.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2005.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP (XP recommended), Pentium III 800 MHz (Pentium IIII 1.6 GHz recommended), 64 MB RAM (128 recommended), 1.2 GB disc space. 16x CD ROM. 64 MB DirectX 9 compliant video card, DirectX 9 compatible sound card.