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Echelon By John "Award" Del Percio, June 29, 2001
Developer :Buka Entertainment
Publisher :Bethesda Softworks
Release Date :June 2001
Demo Available : Yes - Download
Table of Contents

· Introduction
· Closer Look
· Facts
· Final

I Can't Believe it's Not Simulator!

The game is something of a bizarre hybrid of a classic fighter simulation, and the good old fast-paced arcade shooters. Most of the elements of a simulator are there. The large amounts of radio chatter, a radar map, blips for other units, flight controls and the like. Where it stops being a sim, and starts being a shooter is the lack of insanely confusing detail. Sims, even the largely easier space sims which drop things like flight controls for wind direction and stabilizers (they don't need them since in space, you float), usually contain targeting data about your opponent. They require target lock, and give you distance, hull integrity, and all sorts of measurements and ranges. In Echelon, once you've found your enemy, you just track them down and pull the trigger.

In my sights
Firing away
Going somewhere?

Another simulator feature refreshingly absent from Echelon is the usage of the entire keyboard for controls. In a simulator, every key is used, frequently even two or threefold using shift or alt, you control things such as weapon toggles, shield settings etc., in more conventional sims, rudder, ailerons, engine adjustments, weapon controls, radar settings, countermeasures etc. In Echelon, there are only basic sim controls such as speed, weapon bank toggle, etc. There are no countermeasures since most enemies won't be firing guided missiles. It's sort of a fast-paced Descent game placed in a simulator environment.

Perhaps the most endearing quality of the game is it's overall uniqueness. I can't say I've ever played anything quite like it, and I can't say that I ever will. Buka really blended some very unusual genres of games to begin with, and the end result was something totally unexpected, and something twisted and unusual in the game. In the single player campaign, in many battles, the Velians (the enemy) erect SFGs (Suppression Field Generators) and activate them in the field of battle. As soon as you enter the SFG field (a rather cool looking sphere that warps all terrain around you, darkens the horizon, and leaves you wondering what direction you're really facing) your entire HUD disappears. You have no targeting information whatsoever, and worse, your plasma cannons cease to work. You're restricted to your highly limited ammo draining weapons such as machine guns and rocket launchers. Worse, you're typically out-numbered, and are attempting to defend a target. It makes for some fast shooting, that's for sure!

Beautiful sunset
Ugly Velians
More beautiful terrain

Multiplayer is quite intriguing as well. In addition to the single player campaign, there is a single player deathmatch mode with bots. You get to play on the standard deathmatch maps, but you can fight it out against bots. The way multiplayer works is a bit like Quake deathmatch in the skies. You continue respawning until the frag limit is reached, and each time, you begin with a full compliment of weapons. Actual multiplayer operates similarly, though I was unfortunately unable to test it out. There is no central server list for it, so it's geared more toward LAN matches and playing with people you know.

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