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Echelon Preview

Shawn_Sanders By:
GENRE sim/flight 
E Contains Animated Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Sometimes You Just Want to Fly.

It seems that flight combat sims (and I use the word 'sim' very loosely) are getting further and further away from what really makes these games fun - the flying and shooting. Take an excellent game like Freespace 2. Although I have had more fun playing that game than opening Christmas gifts (I always get socks!), it took me a while to get accustomed to all the extra features, such as transferring energy, managing the shields and matching speed toggles. Sometimes, you just want to fly and shoot. Will Crimson Skies be the sole title to free gamers from the tyranny of the congested HUD?

For a while there, I was beginning to feel like the only gamer who just wanted to have an old-fashioned dogfight. But then a package arrived containing a very early build of Buka Entertainment's new sci-fi flight combat sim, Echelon.

Whether or not you dig the story is inconsequential. I don't want to spoil it. You just need to sit back and enjoy the huge, well-executed cinema which will bring you up to speed on the massive 300+ year history of the Echelon mythos. Just know that in the 2300's, humans go to war with a lost offshoot of humanity known as the Vellians. And no, this not another episode of Deep Space Nine.

The ship design is second to none. If you thought Starlancer had some good-looking crafts, then you'll want to pick out curtains with these babies. The pre-alpha build we received contained 17 ships, most of which are fairly standard. You have the carrier classes, larger bomber/fighters and the light fighter attack crafts. Luckily, Buka promises a much wider array of vehicles to choose from in the final game, ranging from traditional fixed wing aircraft and helicopters to gravity-defying, futuristic hovercrafts and over 50 types of friendly and enemy crafts. Ah, the thought of piloting a beautifully rendered hovercraft has gotten me all emotional.

Speaking of beautifully rendered, this game looks stellar. The gameplay takes place within the atmosphere of the various planets. Players will fly over lush landscapes and around large metropolises. Hardware accelerated 3D graphics allow for spectacular dust and particle effects, a realistic water and reflections feature, highly realistic environments and detailed building models. No more empty, featureless open space with a few poorly done nebulas here and there. Now you will have actual obstacles and structures that you can either crash into or use to your advantage, provided that your piloting skills are up to snuff.

The game features several branching campaigns and a well thought out storyline. The player will be able to advance from Lieutenant to Commander during his/her battles and assume greater control over how each mission plays out. Multiplayer options include Deathmatch and Co-op modes in a variety of game types, including Capture The Fort.

Echelon is shaping up to be an excellent game. It looks incredible, the control is smooth and the ship design is out of this world (no pun intended). Quite frankly, I don't know what I'm more anxious for; Crimson Skies or Echelon. Mom, can I have both of them?

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