Tuesday, February 10, 2015

IOS Review #92: Dark Echo

Title: Dark Echo
Developer: RAC7 Games
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $1.99
What do you envision when you think "horror game"? The jump scares of Five Nights and Slender? The otherworldly dread of Silent Hill? Or perhaps the nightmarish monstrosities of Dead Space and The Evil Within? The recently released Dark Echo boasts the most minimalist of visuals, instead conjuring horror from the unknown and unseen and an atmospheric soundscape.
Massively expanded and improved from the developer's Ludum Dare entry You Must Escape, Dark Echo is a sound-based horror game. While that may sound similar to other IOS games like Papa Sangre and The Nightjar, Dark Echo is very much a visual experience while those were audio-only. A black screen, with your white footprints the only color amid the surrounding dark. Every level in Dark Echo begins this way. Move forward and lines emanate in all directions, the sound of your footsteps visualized, bouncing off the walls and revealing the environment. Without sound, you are blind. Your goal is simply to find the exit. However, that task is easier said than done, because you are not alone in these passages. Things lurk in the darkness, drawn by the sound of your movement. Hunting you. 

What's most impressive about Dark Echo is how it builds on its core mechanic of seeing through sound. The beginning levels lay the foundation: walk around to reveal the surrounding, stomp to send out a larger wave of sound that lets you see more of the level. Soon you're introduced to the creatures that are attracted by sound, followed by the fact that you can tap slowly to take soft silent steps and throw stones as distractions, turning Dark Echo into a tense game of cat and mouse where sound is your only means of sight. Water that amplifies your footsteps and slows your movement, switches, crushing walls, deadly terrain, and more add to the challenge and complexity of later levels.
Dark Echo is a masterful execution of minimalist design. Each step is tense, drawing you forward through the necessity of sight and the need to explore. The visuals, stark lines contrasting against black, are simplistic yet work so well, reminiscent of splattering paint to reveal the world in The Unfinished Swan. But it's the sound design that truly sells the game's atmosphere. Your footsteps, hollow against stone and squishing against undergrowth. The guttural growls of those things lurking in the dark. Water splashing and sloshing, or dripping overhead. Flies buzzing in agitated swarms, croaking frogs. Heavy locks and groaning doors. 
Listen to the game's advice and play this with headphones, in the dark, alone.

You can purchase Dark Echo for $1.99.

1 comment:

  1. This looks great! Just might have to buy it. Thanks, Christian!