Really, this whole review just needs one sentence. Echo Squad is a Derek Smart game set in the Battlecruiser 3000AD universe. Whether those words make you shiver in orgasmic ecstasy, or shudder like you just walked in on your dad experiencing the same, they say it all. The BC3000 series is simultaneously a glorious example of one man’s desire to make the perfect game, and as much fun for the average mortal as having your toenails ripped out. The original premise: control every system on a huge spaceship.
Echo Squad is little different, meant as the dashing wingman to BC3000’s stern uncle. Even so, it’s hard to think of a more player-hostile shooter. Jump into the campaign and you just get dumped in deep space with a million keys, abbreviations, pop-up menus and trips to the manual between you and a good scrap. Stumble around and instead of taking pity on you, the game berates you for not following orders and fires your incompetent ass. There’s a tutorial, but don’t expect much help.
It’s staggeringly dull, to the point that one objective – remember, this is an action game – is ‘Leave the controls alone and for about five minutes watch as the fighter performs an escort flight profile around the carrier.’ Christ. It gets worse: showing you the ropes simply consists of a computer voice rattling off quickfire instructions without bothering to check you caught them. After slogging through all this, your rewards are a military campaign filled with vague instructions that leave you constantly flicking through the manual, incredibly dark graphics, and combat that starts off difficult and wastes little time getting harder.
The most satisfying bit is the game’s core idea: the command system, which hooks into your ship’s autopilot, and can automatically handle everything from dogfighting to navigation. Yes, technically, you’re letting the computer do your dirty work, but the feeling of control can still be very enjoyable. If you’re a hardcore BC3000 fan – and is there any other kind? – wipe the foam off your chin. You’ll likely love this stripped-down, more focused tour of duty. Everyone else: Freespace 2. eBay. Now. It’s the game Echo Squad so badly needed to emulate, and even idiots like us could enjoy it. And there’s still more of us out there than the grognards.
Jul 8, 2008