Originally created for Ludum Dare 26 as “You Must Escape,” RAC7’s Dark Echo is an inventive and unique indie game where you use sound to navigate your way through an obstacle-filled labyrinth. Though the visuals are minimal, they’re exactly what you need—instead of providing you a lush, realistic setting to traverse, Dark Echo puts you in the shoes of someone who can’t see. It’s a fascinating, inventive game that proves you don’t need realism for immersion, as the game’s darkness provides the perfect setting for this creepy, tense adventure.
Dark Echo’s Simple Mechanics Encourage Suspenseful Atmosphere
While Dark Echo isn’t the first game to play with a lack of sight as a mechanic, it does so with a good deal of style. Playing the game with headphones is highly recommended, as the noises in the game are incredibly visceral—the echoes provide as much depth as if the rooms you explore were lovingly rendered in three dimensions, and the gut-wrenching sound of your character being caught by one of Dark Echo‘s monsters is enough to give you nightmares.
At its heart, there’s a good amount of horror and suspense in Dark Echo. Horror is something it’s hard to get right in games, as dread is often replaced by cheap jump scares, but this game has you constantly on the edge, holding your breath for fear that monsters (represented in a brilliantly simplistic manner by jagged red lines) might hear you.
Because as much as you rely on sound to explore, that same sound can also be your downfall. Like you, the game’s monsters (which feed on souls and sound) follow the reverberations to their goal—devouring you. With complications like water, which both drips and splashes when you walk through it, and the ability to throw rocks to distract them, there’s a lot of opportunity for both death and escape.
The mechanics are simple, but the game isn’t. You may have to creep past enemies, misdirect them to another area as you traverse through water, or simply run and hope—Dark Echo is intense from beginning to end as you rely on the tools you’re given as well as your own hope to make it out alive.
Dark Echo‘s Simplistic Visuals Enhance the Reliance on Audio
At first glance, Dark Echo might look simplistic. Your character is represented by two little foot icons that leave footprints as you go, helping you keep track of where you’ve already been. When you walk, lines shoot out and bounce off of walls, just like sound waves. As you gain different mechanics, such as the ability to clap and send out larger sound waves and rocks you can throw to misdirect enemies, you can find out more about the dark, undefined world you inhabit.
These lines are crucial to navigating, and their color-coding is spot-on for what they represent. Sound is white, a stark contrast to the game’s black backdrop. Enemies are red, a jarring sight in comparison to the black and white you’re used to. Water is, as always, blue, and creates its own set of rippling sound waves when you step into it. Yellow represents trapdoors and switches, as if they are raised from the ground and their waves return a different kind of sound.
This is minimalism at its finest, as all of these choices are deliberate and serve the game exceedingly well. You know immediately what’s going on at first glance, requiring no tutorial and no handholding.
Also excellent is the sound design. Because sound is so important, the game lacks music, but does occasionally play around with ambient noise, such as croaking frogs, dripping water, or the growl of your enemies breathing down your neck. The echoes give you a sense of how open the cave is, and the layering of sounds creates an impressive audio experience best heard through headphones.
Dark Echo‘s Innovation and Attention to Detail Make it a Must-Play
Overall, Dark Echo is an incredible achievement. Its gameplay is inventive, its design minimal yet effective, and its use of audio is purposeful, unique, and clear. The minimalism leaves the real horror to the player’s imagination, making its frightening moments even more effective. Dark Echo is best played in small, adrenaline-pumping doses, as repeated deaths are more likely to lead to frustration, and the stealth mechanic can get tiresome. But for just $2.99 through Steam, with 40 levels to creep through, it’s an absolute steal, and well worth a try.
Dark Echo is available now for $2.99 for PC, Mac, Android, and iOS.