For quite some time now, video games have become a thrilling new means of conveying the aesthetics of subjective experiences. Nevermind video games as narrative, video games as games or video games as rules – video games adept at simulating presence in three-dimensional worlds. These dream-machines are capable of eluding senses into immersion by representation of sight and sound and interaction, conjuring the fantastical and the mundane alike. That such reality is so often forgot is the only explanation why such a long-time primordial dream of mankind and the human ego has been so mistreated in the medium. Amidst rows and rows of shooters and strategy games set in space, one would find a great deal of difficulty in chosing a game that could accurately represent the sense of being a space astronaut. Powerful and inspirational memories of the past, such as Kennedy’s famous speech or the iconic 1969 broadcast of Apollo 11 seem to have been utterly forgotten due to game designers’ strangling myopia. Herein lies “Echo Night Beyond’s” accomplishment, as more than serving as decent sequel to the horror-themed first person adventure “Echo Night”, it establishes a faint, yet palpable realization of what it would feel like to be in outer space.
Sadly, its legacy does come into place. As background scenario there’s an occult ghost-story set in space, which serves as narrative bridge to previous iterations, not to mention that the structural design follows closely on its predecessors, with exploration guided with means of quests attributed by wandering ghosts. Eventually, these awkward trappings become fully digestible because “Beyond” follows that golden rule of Japanese design which places all elements as functional complements to the establishment of an aesthetic experience. Indeed, the clichéd esoteric storyline and adventure template prove mere video game macguffins that justify players’ need to embark on a journey through an abandoned space station. The alpha and omega of the game is the voyage itself, as you wander through the cold metallic halls of an eerie, ghost-infected mining facility, encrusted somewhere on the face of the moon. And it is, as all survival horror games should aspire to be, a distressful, profoundly unsettling psychological journey.
You explore the game in first person view, with a claustrophobic helmet crushing your sight’s field of view, and a bulky space suit slowing your every move. The silence, in almost as dreadful manner as in Kubrick’s masterpiece, is ever present, with the howling trot of the space suit being your ears’ only companion for the majority of the time. Sluggishly plodding about the atmospheric surroundings, a small torch tenuously lighting the way through the darkness, you’ll feel just like a space explorer should feel: alone. The occasional metallic ringing of shutting doors and industrial machines will be the only presence you will encounter apart from the sinister (albeit somewhat lost in translation) encounters with ghosts. As they guide you through the adventure, you’ll even explore the exterior of the space station, thrust into the moon’s harsh surface, beneath the menacing black void of outer space, crawling ever so slowly, nigh standing still, or simply jumping as Neil Armstrong did, in a lethargic space twirl, flying across wide areas of white dusty terrain, only to find oneself perpetually trapped in the most desolate of landscapes.
Like its “King’s Field” brethren, “Echo Night Beyond” reminds us of how simplicity in the game design meanders and scarcity of resources are no barriers for devising superlative forms of player experience. Its technical excellence in audio-visual design make it an extremely immersive and moody game, and allow it to be a pioneer in capturing the imagination of all those who’ve always wanted to be a little bit closer to that vast dark mantle of unknown that covers the sky.