Seeing is not always believing

Lost Echo is a modern point-and-click adventure in every sense of the word.  Its near-future setting focuses on technology over fantasy, presenting even mysterious occurrences as explainable scientific phenomena.  Puzzles emphasize logical conclusions instead of random item combinations, and its streamlined gameplay allows players to concentrate on the stunning world around them rather than hunt-and-peck quests for things they’ll never need again.  Beside its modern upgrades, though, Lost Echo is missing some of the heart that defines the genre: its characters and plot feel rushed and incomplete, able to carry us through to the end but not fitting of the otherwise immersive game they exist within.

Which is a shame, because Lost Echo‘s story starts off strong.  Greg, our protagonist, meets his girlfriend Chloe at Highway Park.  After a very brief introduction with little time for filler, a bright light suddenly fills the park, and Chloe vanishes as Greg passes out.  Greg awakens in the hospital and is informed by his close friend Tom that an arc flash occurred, and most visitors to the park were knocked unconscious.  Insisting that he’s fine, Greg inquires about Chloe; Tom responds that he’s never met this “Chloe,” Greg’s long-term girlfriend that Tom has had dinner with numerous times.  Confused but unable to make sense of the situation from the hospital, Greg shrugs it off and decides to seek out Chloe once he’s back home in their shared apartment.

Lost Echo

At home, Greg quickly finds that Chloe has essentially been erased from his life: pictures of her are missing from their apartment, a birthday card she gave him is now signed from his mother, and any trace of Chloe even existing is impossible to find.  What follows is Greg’s attempt to uncover what happened to Chloe, piece together the events in the park, find her and return life to normal.  The strange events that surround Greg are a fantastic pull into the world of Lost Echo; from only a few minutes into the story, players are presented with a mystery that will guide the rest of their actions.  Chloe’s disappearance is surreal yet weighted in science, as is the major plot change encountered around the halfway point. 

The problem is that—despite being wrapped up in an engaging plot—Chloe, Greg, and the other characters we meet throughout the game are flat, with little development or incentive to care much about them.  Even upon first meeting Greg and Chloe, it’s hard to tell they’re in a relationship; their dialogue is distant and cordial, consisting of niceties like “How’s work?”  This is partly because Chloe is avoiding a more serious topic, but as the first scene in the game, an establishment of their affection—something to help encourage players through later, desperate-to-find-Chloe moments—would have been helpful.  Even when we do see bits of characters’ personalities, they’re usually negative: Chloe is too lazy to get her own ice cream, Tom is distrusting of his best friend and pretty shady, and an old colleague and mentor openly considers Greg a failure and borderline imbecile.

This lack of development also burdens the plot after the midpoint twist.  We’re offered an unexpected, fascinating rotation that affects not only the game going forward, but everything that has led up to that point.  However, just as the game introduces a hauntingly deep philosophical outlook on the entire plot, it throws a final wrench in the works that undoes this and leaves us with a completely nonsensical cliffhanger.  It had the potential to end on an almost Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Memento level of profundity, but threw this away in two unsatisfying final minutes that seem to exist only as an episodic placeholder option.

Lost Echo

This frustration with Lost Echo‘s dropped plot and mediocre characters is greater thanks to the juxtaposition with itscompelling gameplay and stunningly gorgeous environments.  While it may be difficult to find an incentive to help Greg, actually doing so is still fun.  The puzzles in Lost Echo favor ease over complication, as well as natural logic.  Greg carries a cell phone that comes in handy in multiple situations, from recording audio to providing light and, yes, calling people.  A crowbar is used to pry open doors, while a sharp piece of glass is used to cut things.  Much like The Silent Age, puzzles in Lost Echo are a welcome break from classic designer dream logic.  Even the quests and assignments Greg takes on make sense in the grand scheme of things; he doesn’t have to create a mustache to imitate someone who doesn’t have a mustache.  He searches for clues about Chloe, seeks out characters that can help him do so, and completes sensible requests that actually pertain to these two goals. 

The game itself makes it easy to carry out these actions by including a hot spot indicator and tossing away used items once they are no longer necessary.  Greg rarely has more than five objects in his possession, so even trickier puzzles seldom require much item combination guesswork.  Characters are surprisingly unhelpful in reminding you what needs to be done, but there are only a few locations available at any time, keeping the possibilities limited.

Lost Echo

Those locations are one of the obvious stars of Lost Echo.  The modern park set in the center of a metropolis, the darkened bar with neon accents, and even the grimy back alley with a flickering florescent sign are all crisp, alive, and richly detailed.  The world is futuristic yet recognizable, channeling an updated Deus Ex from “Highway Park” to the eerily empty laboratory.  Not every scene is a masterpiece—the kitchen in Greg’s apartment is barebones beyond bachelorhood—but the main locations are consistently interesting and worth taking in.

This is true of Lost Echo as a whole: while its plot stumbles in the final act and its characters never fully get off the ground, the surrounding build-up and adventure is worth experiencing.  Greg may not be the greatest protagonist adventure gaming has ever known, but his world and its challenges are beautiful, engaging, and deserving of exploration.