Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad Air
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Monsters aren’t what makes horror movies scary. It’s the idea of the monster that truly frightens us. The shrouded inhuman figure we can barely make out forces us to fill in the terrifying details with our own imagination. That’s why whenever the monster fully arrives, it just looks silly and the fear disappears. What makes Dark Echo one of the tensest, most ingenious horror games on the App Store is that it’s all about not seeing the monster.
Based on the development team's Ludum Dare game You Must Escape, Dark Echo puts players in the poor shoes of some anonymous victim stuck in a pitch black hallway. Virtually blind, the only way to move around is to rely on your other senses, particularly hearing. The game represents this Daredevil-style echolocation by showing sound waves as white lines bouncing around the black screen. Beyond just being a striking visual effect, this gives players enough information they need to progress while also leaving them incredibly vulnerable.
From that concept Dark Echo throws dozens of scenarios at players, forcing them to adapt to perilous situations using their limited movement in new and brilliant ways. Initially, enemies are static red patches, and the terrifically vague sound design suggests they are just spinning blades or some other deadly device. However, soon enough players begin encountering otherworldly creatures whose true nature is unknown.
These ghouls pursue players, creating frantic chases to the exit. Tapping loudly produces more sound and reveals more of the map, but tapping quietly prevents the monsters from detecting you and allows for stealthier movement. It’s an incredibly tense experience, and the manageable length and size of each area keeps things from getting too frustrating while scouring the map for keys and doors.
Conventional wisdom might say that piling on the gory details makes video games scarier. But Dark Echo rejects that and creates one of the most spine-chilling iOS games around through the horrific power of the unseen and the sheer force of creative, intelligent, and masterfully constructed minimalism. Fear is the mind killer.