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publisher: Bethesda Softworks
developer: Buka Entertainment
PII-266, 64MB RAM, 700MB HDD, 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: E
release date: May 16, 01
|» All About Echelon on ActionTrip|
Branislav "Bane" Babovic
After the success of Microsoft's Crimson Skies I don't think we had a chance to see any new flying simulations. Echelon appeared at the right moment to avoid all competition on the market. With its fantastic graphics engine, it seemed as though its success was certain. However, many agree that Echelon is much less of a success than anybody expected.
The fact that Echelon came from Buka Entertainment, the renowned Russian developer, seemed pretty disappointing. Echelon is a traditional dogfight game with a worst possible clich' of a SF story for a background plot. The story takes place in far future, somewhere in the middle of the 23rd century, after a great civil war. The faction that won established the Galaxy Federation. Many years later, the Federation is somehow contacted by the mysterious Velians. The Velians are in fact descendants of the faction that lost the war and got banished, and eventually mutated due to their exposure to alien technologies. As a sign of their good intentions, the Velians offer their Null T technology (used for rapid transport over huge distances) to the humans. When the people finally relaxed and started to trust Velians, they attacked and conquered all Zero T stations, which turned out to be their initial plan. They used this technology as a Trojan horse so that they could quickly transport their fleet into the federation. The federation decided to stand up to the fiends, and you have the honor of assuming the role of one of the pilots in the federal fleet.
You will be able to control some fourteen different crafts. Depending on how successful you are, you will progress through the game with higher ranks and get better vehicles.
The only difference between this game and conventional flight sims is that Echelon has two different flight models. On one hand you will control well-equipped fighter-bombers, which have a flight model similar to classical aircrafts. On the other hand, there are also vehicles that act like a hybrid between a chopper and a plane. These are very handy when you have to fly through narrow passages as they can easily be maneuvered.
The designers wanted to make the campaign the core of the game. Most of the missions come down to shooting at various Velian crafts, tanks and SAM sites. Targeting and maneuvering has been made quite easy, so that the whole thing seems like an arcade game (or Crimson Skies for that matter). The thing is, what you do in the game doesn't seem to have much to do with the story. You are just a nameless pilot, and you wont see any of the names from the excellent intro in game. All you get to do is take off and shoot a couple of Velians. The sterile atmosphere will leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
The battles look impressive, mostly thanks to the great 3D engine, which renders scenes smoothly, even with highest detail settings. Every scene looks fantastic with the glowing skies of alien planets in the background. Everything in the game looks highly detailed, and the weapon effects and dynamic shadowing create a perfect combat ambience. Still, one of the most popular graphic chip-sets, Ge-Force 2 seems to have problems with this engine A number of other chip-sets also have minor problems with the engine, but Buka Entertainment keeps diligently publishing new patches on their web site.
Echelon's main problem is that it appeared too early. It looks as though the programmers just rushed to wrap the game up, eliminating any possibility to get a good background story, and incorporating only the basic Multiplayer options (LAN or Internet, but you'll have to set the IP addresses manually). The scenarios are fun as they offer instant combat, but you still have to bear with enemy and wingmen AI. Computer controlled crafts will frequently crash into terrain or other crafts for no obvious reason.
Beautiful graphics engine, an odd fight;
Bugs, lack of story, sterile atmosphere.
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