ECHO captures the horror of being replaced by yourself
It’s awfully hard to make player death scary in games. I adored this spring’s Resident Evil 7, but it’s hard to maintain a sense of dread when you know in-game “death” just means restarting from a nearby checkpoint. The impermanence of death in games—this virtual save-and-reload immortality—doesn’t capture the terror of uncertainty and discontinuity that death provides us all at least once in our lives. It can’t.
ECHO, from developer Ultra Ultra, doesn’t try to make death itself scarier than your standard survival horror title. The nominally stealth-driven action game instead takes one of the usual coping mechanisms surrounding death and twists it against the player. This makes ECHO, intentionally or not, one of the more unsettling games I've played this year.
But ECHO doesn’t present itself as a Resident Evil-styled horror game. A good 20 minutes of conflict-free dialogue and world-building set the stage, as the game’s two main characters—professional gambler En and a sentient, bounty-hunting spaceship called London—go on and on about genetically engineered “Resourcefuls,” the regal "Palace" where the game takes place, and a couple of other proper nouns I’m probably forgetting. It’s all preamble to En being hunted through the stark white mega-structure filled with humanoid constructs out to kill her.