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ECHO: Secrets of the Lost Cavern

Reviewed by  Mr. Bill and Lela

What a surprising and refreshing change this game is!  We had almost forgotten how good it can feel, how satisfying, to play a first person game that is not just beautiful, but also has an intriguing story, interesting characters, unique puzzles (that you can actually solve without using a walkthrough!), and is a hands-on learning experience to boot.  We came away from it feeling more like real gamers than we have in a very long time.

Both the story and the game itself are based on fact.  In 1940, a cave was discovered in Lascaux France that has caused us to completely rethink some of our preconceived notions about what so-called 'primitive' man was like.  For the cave was an art gallery, its walls and ceiling covered with colorful, stunningly beautiful and lively depictions of animals, many now extinct, sometimes shown alone, sometimes in herds, and sometimes even interacting with man himself.  And yet, both Carbon-14 dating and archeological evidence indicated that they had been painted in the Paleolithic or Stone Age era, almost 20,000 years ago, by what we have called Cro-Magnon man!

So what were these men really like, their culture, their society?  Were the artists specially selected, or could just anyone paint?  And were they and their work considered important by the society in which they lived?  Subsequent discoveries of many other caves worldwide, with similar paintings, show that the practice continued for several thousand years, so it was apparently thought to be essential for some reason.

Why?  Was the painting part of their religion, some sort of shamanistic rite designed to ensure good hunting, and/or for protection?  Or was it some kind of pre-written tribal history, perhaps used for teaching?  Or was it done simply for the pure joy of creative expression, in an era that also saw the first development of jewelry making, decorating objects and music?

No one really knows for sure, and unfortunately the original cave had to be closed to the public to prevent deterioration.  But its discovery certainly changed what historians thought about prehistoric man, and more recent evidence has only added to that surprising picture.  Now, thanks to Echo, we too can see that picture.  For the developers have worked closely with the National History Museum, and the latest known facts, to produce an accurate database and to re-create, in painstaking detail, not only the wilderness area and the people of the times, but also even the renowned cave itself.

You play Arok, a young Cro-Magnon male who wanders far afield one snowy spring day while out hunting for a stag.  Suddenly you are attacked by a lioness, and have to take refuge in a small cave to escape.  Unable to leave while the beast is still there, you light a fire to search for a means to drive it away, or for an alternate exit.

But to your surprise, the light also reveals several paintings on the wall, one of which awakens a childhood memory.  It reminds you of a talisman you carry, a small painted stone that was given to you long ago by an artist named Klem who once visited your clan.  He prophesied then that the day would come when you would use that stone (his mark) to find him again...  because you too were meant to be an artist.

That memory awakens a long dormant creative urge in you, and suddenly the hunting no longer seems important.  So, after dealing with the lioness, you set off on an almost spiritual quest to find your mentor, Klem...  and your destiny.

This is a linear, 1st Person, 360-degree view, point & click game, with a smart cursor, optional subtitles, volume control, and unlimited saves.  And up to 5 different players can each store their own personal saves in the game.

Almost everything has been thought of, and designed for ease of access and use.  The inventory is brought up with a simple right click, and it is labeled and includes a magnifying glass for easy item identification.  The game journal updates itself automatically with your latest objective, and flashes a hand signal onscreen whenever a new entry has been made.

And the documentary database is the best design we've seen for a game.  The subjects are indexed and cross-referenced, and include illustrative pictures with short, to-the-point articles.  Information only gradually becomes available as the subject comes up during gameplay.  And an icon flashes briefly onscreen, with a direct link, whenever there is pertinent information for a current objective.  But you can read it or not, as you choose.

That same sort of attention to the smallest details is apparent throughout the game.  Great care has been taken to make sure that the characters look as realistic as possible, both in their 3D modeling and in their historically accurate dress and possessions.  Voice acting is good, and conversations have been kept brief and helpful.

The graphics are gorgeous.  The primeval countryside is alive with animals, birds, insects and fish, with falling snow and rushing water or nighttime flickering torches and a full moon, and of course all the caverns are spectacular.  Ambient sounds are rich and varied (dripping water, crackling fire, bird calls, and howling wolves).  Plus there are many excellent short cut scenes and animations to add to the feeling of realism.

But the music, composed and directed by Yan Volsy, is really extraordinary.  For he has used ancient instruments (shells, drums, woodwinds, lithophons, garantang, even a didgeridoo), combined with voice and strings at times, to create a soundtrack that is the perfect backdrop for the game.  It is almost hypnotic, strangely melodic... and very moving.

The game is absolutely filled with puzzles woven into the fabric of the story, and all by themselves they would be reason enough to play this game.  They are unique, and can be challenging at times, but all are doable with a little logic and trial-and-error.  If you don't know what to do, you can usually get ideas from conversations or your journal or database.  And you can only die once, with the game automatically restoring you if that does happen.  Only one puzzle, near the end of the game, is especially difficult, and you can even solve it by yourself with some keen observation and patience.  And that is a very satisfying feeling.

But what reallly makes these puzzles so wonderful is that, without realizing it, you are 'learning by doing'.  You are learning about prehistoric man simply by doing things the way that he would have done them.

So among other things, you will learn to make some of his weapons and tools, how to build his fires, interpret his symbols and unlock his gates.  You will learn how to cross a river, catch and cook a meal, and outwit an angry cave bear.  You will learn how he played his music, told his stories, made his art supplies...  and even how he painted the animals on the cavern walls.

And then you will stand back in amazement, as he must have done, when you see that your painting has brought the spirit of the animals to life...

This isn't just a game, it is a real eye-opening experience...  one that we are so glad we did not miss.

  March 2006  Mr. Bill and Lela

Full View Screenshot

Visit the  Official Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern Website  to learn more about the story, view more beautiful screenshots and download the demo.

Developed (2005) by  KHEOPS Studio  and published by  The Adventure Company.

Rated:   E   for Everyone  (mild violence)

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows

Where To Buy This Game:

Walkthroughs or Hints:

"MaGtRo's Walkthrough" available here!

"Malcolm Schmidt's Walkthrough" available here!

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Copyright  March 2006
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