Echo Bazaar: Dark, Delicious and Definitely Worth Playing
In a nutshell, Echo Bazaar feels like the jaunty love child of H.P Lovecraft and Terry Prachett. There's something about a game that allows you to delve into it sans a gender because of squid-faced people.
[Crossposted from TK-Nation. TK-Nation's a South-East Asian gaming site that plays home to news about quality underdogs from the gaming world, indie cosplay and video game collectibles.]
I can't help but feel a little thrill of pleasure each time I hear mention of some microscopic, indie endeavor suddenly seeing an influx of attention thanks to the press.
Before this, Andrew Plotkin saw enormous support for his upcoming Interaction Fiction title thanks to the collective efforts of his own self-powered PR campaign and the various sources he contacted. Today, we find that the Gothic browser game Echo Bazaar has seen exponential growth thanks to The Escapist. To be honest, I've known about Echo Bazaar for a while now but I've never paid it too much time. Today, I regretted my stupidity.
According to the press release we received, The Escapist made favorable comparisons between the game and multi-million dollar blockbluster successes like Call of Duty and Left 4 Dead. As completely implausible as that might sound, it's at least half true. Echo Bazaar makes up for its simplicity with sheer, unadulterated story and a brilliant sense of narrative.
In a nutshell, Echo Bazaar feels like the jaunty love child of H.P Lovecraft and Terry Prachett. There's something about a game that allows you to delve into it sans a gender, citing the squid-faced people as the basis for your refusal to confess to the nature of your genitalia. Echo Bazaar is dark without being overwhelmingly so, one of those few titles out there capable of balancing salacious jokes with negotiations with Hell. If London or, well, anywhere in the world for that matter, were to some day be overrun by terrible creatures beyond mortal ken and things were to somehow go back to a relative state of normal, this would probably what things would be like.
At its core, Echo Bazaar is no different from any of your standard social network-oriented time sinks. You'll have statistics to raise, events to unlock, tasks to accomplish, levels to gain and action points to limit your enjoyment of the game. To restore your action points, the game provides you a variety of options, ranging from the expenditure of fate points to 'echoing' a statement from Echo Bazaar to a social medium of your choice. As always, of course, there's also the option to conduct real world transactions for more fate points; a rare commodity, for obvious reasons.
Those hoping for hard-hitting action should probably venture elsewhere as gameplay, in some ways, is near identical to things like Mafia Wars. Depending on your location, you'll have a variety of tasks that corresponds to a specific task. More difficult tasks and rewards are unlocked by possessing the relevant stats. To succeed in a task, you'll either need stats that match its requirements or a heck of a lot of luck. It's an extremely pedestrian approach, something that would normally demote a game to 'non-entity' in my eyes but Echo Bazaar's uniqueness rescues it from itself.
One of the most powerful moments that I encountered in the game happened while I was busy working on my Persuasive quality. I had been telling salacious jokes for a while now and had grown rather bored. I decided then to take a gander at my Opportunity Cards - they're basically random events that offer anything from items to purchase to new stories- to see what the future might hold. My latest card revealed a gibbering madman clutching a horse's skull in his hands. Intrigued, I chose to pursue the Opportunity. As a result of my decision, I gained a new 'characteristic' and a few other rewards but that wasn't what got to me. It was the tiny blurb that came with it:
He speaks of a forgotten quarter of the city where devils play and kings died. He eats sugar lumps by the handful. You hush his raving, and encourage him to talk of earlier, better times. Slowly, he begins to remember who he was. He will never sleep well, but at least now his dreams do not stray into his waking life. He leaves you with a headful of secrets and an old amulet from a place he wants to forget.
I hadn't been expecting anything like that. Without extravagant prose or the assistance of a thesarus, that single paragraph had somehow managed to convey a wealth of images in my head. My interest in the game was ignited; I wanted to know about the world things were unfolding in. I wanted to know what was going on, what the game hid amidst its countless choices and random events. I was hooked.
Moments like this abound in Echo Bazaar. There are investigations to be conducted, a nemesis to destroy, recurring dreams and a hundred other things to tempt your intrigue. From what one of my Opportunity Cards slyly indicated, it seems that there will also be dealings with the devil.
Echo Bazaar is the very embodiment of the 'Show, don't tell' mentality, one of those few games that manages to spin a world into life without inunduating you with its plot. It is a living, breathing world delicately encompassed in text and sparse images. While this isn't the sort of game that hardcore FPS players might appreciate, anyone who even remotely thinks of themselves as an intellectual might find a lot to love here.
P.S: Andrew Ting and I do play on Echo Bazaar and are constantly open to games of chess.