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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Sci-Fi Flight Sim

 

Publisher

Bethesda

 

Developer

Buka Entertainment

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q2 2001

 

 

- Very good graphics

- Sense of speed achieved

- Wingmen aren’t brain-dead

- Interesting craft

- Some good dogfights

- Varied mission types

- Choose your level of realism

- Static-filled radio adds to feeling of "being there"

- Accelerated time option is great

- Choose your load-out

- Doesn’t take itself too seriously

 

 

- Radio messages are too scratchy at times

- At times, "Mission Failed" for seemingly no reason

- Control is just above middle of the road

- Challenge can border on aggravating

- Multiplayer menu not friendly

- No "skip mission" option

- Devoid of character interaction

 

 

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Review: Sky Odyssey (Playstation 2)

 

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Echelon

Score: 8.3 / 10

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve played a flight simulation, let alone a sci-fi flight sim. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I played such as game. (It might have been the original Commanche.) As a result, I came into Echelon without any recent experience clouding my judgments or opinions. People with hardcore space flight sim experience will undoubtedly have their own opinions, but here I offer my own newbie perspective.

echelon-a.jpg (11656 bytes)         echelon-b.jpg (9464 bytes)

 

The back-story for Echelon (EN) is explained in a quick movie and sets up the ensuing action very well. While the story won’t win any awards for originality, it does give you an impression of the kind of challenges you’ll face. One of the challenges that isn’t hinted at, is how hard it is to keep your craft from cratering into the ground.

 

There are three main components of every game: control, story, and gameplay. And the greatest of these is control. (At least it is in my gaming bible.) Lack of control can kill just about any game. Echelon’s got medium-well done control. There are times during EN that players will wonder why they’re moving backward instead of forward. The majority of the craft available handle like big garbage trucks, taking their sweet time to complete turns. Most of this is due to the flying environment – namely ground level. In space, the effects of gravity are negligible but on the surface of a planet you’ve got all sorts of things to worry about, like gravity. Not to mention mountains and canyons. Getting a good handle on the controls takes a long time. The learning curve isn’t steep – everything’s easy to learn but it’s the required mastering that’s takes so long. Even after running through half the missions, I still didn’t have a good handle on throttle control. It seemed I was either going full throttle or not moving. Locking onto targets, issuing orders to wingmen, switching weapons, keeping track of targets, etc. is very easy to do and the training missions are quite good at equipping players with the basics. There are a variety of methods of control, but probably the best to use is a joystick / keyboard combination. The mouse just won’t do!

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Gameplay is varied and quite good. EN presents multiple mission objectives. For example, in one of the earliest missions, you’ll destroy a tank column after taking out their air support. And to help complete these objectives are wingmen that – get this – are useful. They actually succeed in blowing up targets more times than not, even when they take forever to do it. And they’ll even go about their objectives after you’ve died. Take notice, you will be dying – a lot. 

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Most times it will be a miscalculation that leads to your demise ("Where’d that mountain come fr"—BOOM! Or "Turn, turn, turn, TUR—" BLAM!) but sometimes you’ll get blown to dust by enemy fire. The flaw of course is that you’re not always notified when you’re killed. There’s not even a clip of you exploding. Your HUD will simply say, "Mission Failed" and inform you to press ESC for debriefing. It’s in the debriefing that you find out you’re "Missed in action." (If they missed, why am I dead?) One mission in particular had me really pissed since it took me forever to realize I was getting shot down by some tanks I was supposed to blow up. And sometimes, nothing happens. You’ll get an escort mission where a large chunk of time is just following a convoy using autopilot. Fortunately, the developers added an accelerated time capability, where you can put everything into fast-forward. (You can’t use this option when enemies are nearby.) While it does speed everything along, at times I wished it went faster. Also, damage affects your performance. Weapons become inoperable and turning becomes more laborious. Unfortunately, the enemy doesn’t seem to suffer this malady. Since EN comes from Russia, some of the translations sometimes don’t sound right. Some missions require multiple – emphasis on multiple – attempts to complete. (For the most part though, many of the missions can be completed in three or four attempts.) There’s no option to skip a mission or return to base when you’re "critically damaged," and just get on with the next mission. You’re stuck until all the mission objectives are successfully completed, at which time you have an option to save your game.

The enemy AI is all right for single-player entertainment. They’re aren’t pushovers, but after a while you’ll want to test your skill against other players on-line. Good luck! If you know the IP, no problem. The problem is that EN doesn’t have a good built-in multiplayer browser – unlike Tribes 2 or Unreal Tournament. I did manage to play a few multiplayer games and I had a good time with them. There are a few different modes of play, including Free-for-All, Team Capture Arena, and Team Flight. Overlooking the lacking integrated browser, on-line play is pretty good.

The graphics are great! Missions are wide-open and even when the action is intense, everything moves along at a good clip on the default settings. (But if you want more speed, there are a plethora of options to turn off and on.) Low to the ground, there is a sense of speed – going really fast and feeling that one mistake will kill you. Which is in contrast another wide-open game – Tribes 2 – that chugs along. There are loads of little nuances that add to the overall look and feel of EN. The distortion of the cockpit glass, the weather effects, the trails of dust vehicles kick up, plasma weapons splashing into the ground or water – everything adds up to pull the player that much further into the game. The on-screen HUD information is unobtrusive. You’ve got all the information you need right on-screen. (Plus there are several different outside views accessed by the "F" keys.) Add sound into the mix (minus the rapid-fire radio messages), and you’ve got a perfect blend of sight and sound. But I should mention that while the in-cockpit audio is very good, the radio needs work. The messages come through filled with static and make it feel like you’re there, but sometimes the messages come so fast and furious that they become indecipherable. (It’s like taking orders from a very angry Donald Duck via a CB radio.) The text of the messages comes up on your HUD but who has time to read while you’re locked in a dogfight?

 

echelon-c.jpg (11293 bytes)         echelon-d.jpg (11071 bytes)

 

Overall, I’d have to say I enjoyed playing Echelon. The environments look great, the action is fast, and most of the missions can be taken on the third or fourth try. Those looking for a deeper story, like Wing Commander, or interaction with other pilots in your squad, will be disappointed with Echelon’s meager story. However, in today’s market, Echelon is at the top of the heap of space sims. If it had a stronger multiplayer menu system and easier control, the score given would have been closer to 10 than 9.

I’ve strayed from flight sims as a genre, but, even with its flaws, Echelon has renewed my interest.

- Omni

 

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