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Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Buka Entertainment
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Action/ Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

If there's one place that Echelon really shines, it's in the graphics engine. Cranked all the way up, the game looks stunningly beautiful. Flying over an alien world has never looked this sweet. The way the water ripples, the slow movement of the sky, and the way the sun glints off of your cockpit if you look at it wrong really help the immsersivity of the game. Yes, a few of the ship designs look like they were ripped out of the Colony Wars/X-Wing designer's manual, but the game is still beautiful.

Even the graphics have problems, however. Weird white dots appeared everywhere when I used outside camera angles, and there were occasional strange pop-up issues. For the most part, though, the game is downright gorgeous.

Sound, on the other hand, is woefully inadequate. There's almost no music in the game--indeed, there's no music in the game proper, just in the menus--and the voice acting is horribly stilted. It seems to be generated by stringing phrases together, and while that allows for a large sound library, it also sounds like the world has been taken over by bad Terminator clones. Ugh. The sound effects are passable, but they're definitely too weak. When I blow up an opponent, I want a resounding thrum, not a weak, tinny explosion.


Unfortunately, Echelon 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.


Echelon's difficulty level is all over the map, but it tends to centre in the 'too difficult' area more than I'd like. It doesn't help that your companions generally get blown up in a matter of seconds; the fact that enemy fire can do the same to you is even more frustrating. There's a sliding scale for difficulty in the game that adjusts damage and such, but even then the game is more challenging than it really needs to be. Compounded with the fact that you have to do the missions all the way over if you lose--and they're not all that short at times--and you may get more frustrated than amused. It's certainly doable, if you give it enough time and consideration, but Echelon definitely didn't get balanced as it should have.

Game Mechanics:

Controls are fairly complex, as they tend to be for this sort of game, and the tutorials don't cover quite as much as they should have. Learning the finer points of the thrust and movement system can be frustrating, but it's not impossible--tinkering does better than anything else. The default setup for the mouse is probably the best you'll find, but of course you'll undoubtedly have quite a bit more fun with a flightstick instead of a mouse and keyboard combo. The menus are fairly navigable, although I thought the mouse sensitivity was a little too high on them. Load times were pretty minimal, and even though the game 'gapped' occasionally while you were playing, it was never too frustrating. The manual isn't as well laid out as I would have liked, and doesn't cover enough information, but it's manageable. A better 'cheat sheet' pack in would have been nice, but that's just getting picky.

Echelon isn't a terrible game, and there's definitely some fun to be had with it, but when all is said and done it's not going to be one people remember. Sure, the graphics are gorgeous, but the gameplay is strictly standard, and even substandard at times--the difficulty and AI come to mind. If you're a fan of the genre looking for something else to play around with, Echelon may be up your alley, but if you're just a casual gamer, there are much better examples out there to enjoy than this one.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/ME/2K, P2 266, 64MB RAM, 650MB HD Space, 16MB 3D accelerator, 8x CD-ROM, sound card

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Diablo II: Lord of Destruction Windows Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force Expansion Pack

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated