The Lascaux Caves in present-day France are home to the most magnificent collection of prehistoric cave paintings in the world. Its frescoes of horses, bulls, stags, and other animals date back an estimated 15,000 years to the Paleolithic era. Echo: Secret of the Lost Cavern uses this stunning setting as the backdrop for a point-and-click adventure game set in the Stone Age.
The story begins when a young hunter named Arok decides to leave his clan and follow in the footsteps of the charismatic artist, Klem, who he met once as a boy. To find Klem, Arok sets off on a journey through the prehistoric mountains and valleys and explores many caves where the paintings actually seem to come alive.
Although I’ve never seen the Lascaux Caves in person (they were closed off to the general public long ago after it was discovered that the carbon dioxide from tourists’ breath was starting to damage the paintings), people who have actually seen them have often reported being moved to tears. The game goes to great lengths to captures this sense of awe and spirituality through a combination of convincing graphics, the ability to look around in any direction to get a full panoramic view of the area, and puzzles that involve manipulating the paintings themselves in order to change things in the "real world."
If this sounds a bit confusing, let me explain. In one of the game’s puzzles, for example, Arok is stuck in a cavern and has to figure out how to cross a wide underground lake. There’s a fresco that shows a series of stags, a body of water, and a man standing in the center. By clicking on the stags to move them into different positions so that they’re shown actually swimming through the body of water with the man, Arok will actually be transported across the lake too.
There are several of these "fresco puzzles" throughout the game, as well as your more typical adventure game puzzles that involve clicking on important items to add them to your inventory, and then figuring out how and where to use them for things like starting a fire, cooking salmon, or brewing tea. Whenever you find a flat slab of rock with tools, Arok can use it to fashion a variety of useful items like a harpoon or a waterskin.
The prehistoric theme is an interesting twist that will certainly challenge you to think outside the box. When Arok gets hungry, he has to catch his lunch himself. When he wants to paint, he can’t just go to the arts supply store – he has to fashion a brush out of horsehair and other materials, and collect different colors of "paint" by collecting naturally occurring pigments.
The game has an extensive database of information about how the prehistoric people were thought to live, their tools, rituals and customs. This is not only quite interesting to learn about, but the information also gives you clues about how to solve certain puzzles. The cutscenes, fully voice-acted, are a nice touch as well, and so is the exotic-sounding music.
Echo: Secret of the Lost Cavern is in first-person perspective, like the Nancy Drew games. You can move freely from scene to scene by clicking on hotspots, and you also have the ability to look around 360-degrees as well as up and down. The affect can be a bit disorienting for those who are prone to motion sickness, but it also greatly contributes to the game’s immersive feel.
Some of the puzzles are downright head-scratchers, and it seems like a serious oversight not to have a "reset" button in case you get so muddled that you just want to start the puzzle over from scratch. That’s really the only glaring issue I can point out. Although it’s easily solved by simply saving your game before you attempt any of the puzzles, and then loading that savegame if you want to start over, it’s not as elegant or convenient as simply being able to press a button.
Echo: Secret of the Lost Cavern is a challenging, though ultimately very rewarding adventure game that deserves kudos for its unique subject matter. Unless you’re a world-renowned scientist or anthropologist, it doesn’t look like you’re going to get a look at the real Lascaux Caves any time soon, but hopefully this game will help to showcase at least some of the cave’s magic.