These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.
It’s dark. Pitch blackness, all around you. You can’t see anything. You take a step.
It’s deafening. You hear the sound travel through a long hallway, and come back to you. You hear it bounce off the—concrete?—walls, and come back to you. You take another step. You hear something—you’re not sure what—moving toward you. It’s chasing you. You can’t see it. You run.
You’re playing Dark Echo, a cleverly-designed minimalist horror game by RAC7 Games. The game works on one premise: Sound is everything. You, the player, are represented on the screen by a small pair of white footprints. As you move through the pitch black world (by tapping), you make noise, which is represented by white lines radiating from your footprints. The noise-lines bounce off of things—walls, water, doors…and, of course, evil things that lurk in the darkness—to give you a better visual understanding of your surroundings.
Aside from your footprints, lines represent everything in Dark Echo. Your footprints on the floor create white lines, while water is represented by blue lines. Locked doors radiate yellow lines, while exit doors (the goal of each level) flares off thick white lines. The things that chase you, that want to kill you—those are the red lines.
Intrigued? You should be. Dark Echo is one of the most creative mobile games I’ve ever played. But “creativity in execution” isn’t the only reason you should give this title a look.
The soundtrack is excellent: Visually, Dark Echo is extremely basic to the point of being a little dull. I mean, it’s just footprints and lines. As you play the game, you’ll start to “see” things that aren’t there (e.g. the walls and the shapes of the rooms you’re in), but visually stunning, this game is not.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is incredible. While this game isn’t actually pure audio—you can’t play it properly if you’re legitimately blind—the soundtrack does an excellent job of bringing you into the world of Dark Echo, as it syncs up with the limited visuals until you feel like you’re actually in pitch blackness and you have to rely on your ears to find your way around. When you’re not moving, the soundtrack offers up just enough creepy horror sound effects (dripping water, howling winds) to keep you sufficiently on your toes; when you are moving, the soundtrack is what pushes you to the edge of your seat. Who knew footsteps on concrete could be so deafeningly loud? “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” was the mantra running through my head as I played this game.
It’s clever in more than one way: Sure, Dark Echo’s perceived reliance on sound is a pretty unique—if not completely original—way to approach the horror game genre. This visually simple game is different from most of the other games you’ll see on the App Store. But the game isn’t something you should play just because it’s all audio and no graphics—it’s also a pretty challenging puzzle game.
The first challenge, of course, is navigating your way through space without being able to ever see a complete picture of the world you’re in. You can see snapshots of where you’re standing, thanks to your echolocation, but you can’t see what’s coming up or what’s coming from behind. You’re basically running blind through hallways with your arms out.
The second challenge, however, is figuring out how to solve puzzles while running blind through hallways with your arms out. For example, in one of the earlier levels you will find that water— blue lines—slows you down significantly. However, it doesn’t slow down the evil things—red lines—that are chasing you. So in order to trudge your way successfully through a river (or something), you’ll first need to distract the evil thing by getting it to chase you into a dark corner. Oh, by the way—in this game, you can tiptoe by quickly tapping the screen. Tiptoes let you pass evil things undetected, but they also don’t give you a great picture of the world around you (because the sound you’re producing is so small).
There are plenty of other challenges throughout the game’s 80 levels, and you’ll have plenty of close calls (and deaths) before you figure them all out.
It’s irrationally scary: You wouldn’t think that a game that never even gives you a hint of what the bad guy looks like could be scary. But you’re wrong: Dark Echo is one of the creepiest games I’ve played, and I can’t even tell you if the evil things chasing me are zombies or monsters or serial killers.
The game uses its soundtrack to thoroughly creep you out, and then relies on your imagination, which is far more creative than fancy graphics, to scare you the rest of the way. In a way, Dark Echo is all about imagination—after all, there are no actual walls in Dark Echo, and you’re simply inferring them from the way your visual sound bounces around. Trust me, though, this game is dark (literally and figuratively).