never really rises above mediocrity in its gameplay either. While it's mildly entertaining at first, the frustrating difficulty level of the single-player campaign and the downright goofy AI will leave you frustrated more often than not. Gorgeousness does not a game make, and Echelon
is proof positive of this.
There's a plot to the whole thing, but you won't find it anywhere in the instruction book, which is overly terse and doesn't cover as much as it should. Instead, you have to either attempt to grasp the plot in the game--a difficult task at best, considering the quality of the voice acting trying to get it across--or read it on the website. It involves contact with a far-flung group of humans who have discovered alien technology, and their eventual assault on the Galaxy Federation once key technolgies are integrated into everyday life. Oops. While some of this gets through in the main game, most of it feels like a series of missions strung together 'just because', with no solid rhyme or reason.
Echelon plays like a cross between G-Police and a more traditional flight sim. The first craft that you deal with can hover; you control their throttle and movement with the keyboard and mouse or a flightstick. Later craft fly more like 'regular' aircraft, but the flight model is definitely not based upon realism. The ability to strafe without banking struck me as particularly bizarre, but I suppose hovercraft can do these sorts of things. Yeah. The controls definitely take some getting used to, but once you do it's simple enough to guide your craft around.
Like most games in the genre, the game consists of a series of missions that have you doing various things. You have to protect the convoy or blow up the enemy or defend or whatever; you've seen it all before in other games. Events may change in the course of battle, but the vast majority of what happens in the game is pre-scripted.
There are quite a few craft you can fly as--over a dozen--and a bevy of weapons to try out. When you start the game, of course, you don't have access to all of the craft and weapons; as you progress, you get to play with more and more 'toys'. Unfortunately, most of the craft feel very similar, with no major distinctions between the ways they fly, other than a rough segmentation into 'maneuverable' and 'slow'.
One of the core problems with the game is this sort of indistinguishability--you don't really care about the craft, you don't care about the missions, you don't care about the plot. It's all been done before, better. I remember playing Colony Wars into the wee hours of the morning, trying to see what was going to happen next. I didn't feel any such obligation while I was playing Echelon.
The game supports multiplayer, but it doesn't use any matching services whatsoever, so good luck finding some people to play against.