Echelon is an outer-space shooter in spirit, only it doesn't take place in outer space at all. It takes place in narrow twisting canyons, where you fly futuristic fighter jets. The story essentially concerns a single planet and the aerial war to control it. The Velians are the bad guys, and you fly for the good guys, meaning you pound the heck out of radar and other base installations, and fight in-canyon dogfights reminiscent of pod races from Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace and the particularly thrilling canyon chase in Independence Day.
To that end, developer Buka has given the game an admirable physics engine to make flying feel more realistic. If you drop a bomb or fire a missile, it affects the way your craft flies. Same with damage--the game really gives you a good sense of how much you're hurting simply by how the planes fly. But as admirable as this system is, it feels out of place in such an arcadelike game.
Part of the problem is that while you're subject to the whims of gravity and physics, the enemy is not. You can blast an enemy ship to 90-percent-plus damage, and you'll note no degradation in his or her maneuverability. Another problem is the control scheme. There's too much information on the screen (and a lot of it seems useless), and the mouse combat probably should have been scrapped, as it feels overall unresponsive. This is a joystick game and the box should say so. Also, the missions suffer from a certain sameness and a lack of inspiration: navigate canyons, dodge antiaircraft guns, kill bad guy fighters, repeat.
But that's also the bulk of the game's charm. It's a fun arcade shooter, and the graphics are simply stunning to behold. Explosions are thrilling and the low-altitude aerobatics induce an adrenaline rush. It's genuinely fun to turn and burn through a narrow gap in a wall in order to lose a missile on your tail, and, thankfully, you'll have to do that a lot. Sure, there have definitely been deeper and more intelligent flight shooters in the past, but that genre is neglected these days. This is the one you can buy right now. For adrenaline junkies it's a smash hit and a hell of a ride, but it won't please the simulation crowd it also seems strangely aimed at. --Andrew S. Bub
- Beautiful graphics
- Great physics
- Intense, nonstop action
- Somewhat awkward controls
- The physics don't seem to apply to the bad guys
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