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|ECCO: Defender of the Future|
|Release date(s)||2000 (Dreamcast) 2001 (PS2)|
|System||Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation 2|
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future is the fourth title in the Ecco the Dolphin series. Released in 2000 for the Sega Dreamcast and later for the PlayStation 2, Defender of the Future is unconnected to the previous titles in the series and was designed by an entirely different team.
Defender of the Future is an entirely new game universe with virtually no ties to the original Mega Drive/Genesis titles; the team working on Defender of the Future was not the same team that worked on the original games. It was released in 2000 for the Sega Dreamcast, developed by Appaloosa Interactive (the company formerly known as Novotrade International), and its soundtrack is composed by Tim Follin. It was later published on PlayStation 2 by Acclaim Entertainment.
The gameplay is fairly similar to the old games, except in three dimensions. Ecco's sonar was kept as a means of interaction with other cetaceans (no longer called Singers in the game) and certain environmental objects, and a sonar map could be brought up but were often regarded as being inferior to the old 2-D version. The same style of movement is kept with slight alterations for the 3-D environment. The control stick now only changed the direction Ecco is facing; pressing left and right changed the direction he faced horizontally, and pressing up and down changed the vertical direction. To actually move forward, the player has to tap a button to gain speed and hold the same button down to maintain it. Out of the water, Ecco can perform the purely aesthetic flips in the air from the original games. Charging foes is kept as Ecco's standard attack, though the designers added a homing feature. The health and air meters is also kept, though the health meter can be increased by collecting power-ups called Vitalits, and the meters have a slightly different look compared to the Mega Drive games.
Some new moves are introduced in Defender of the Future. One is a quick 180º turn, useful for battles. Another is a means of stopping quickly; when Ecco has already stopped, the same buttons can make him swim backwards. A third new move is the tailwalk; Ecco can raise his upper body out of the water, able to look at things above the surface; this had limited use in gameplay but is a good way to see small graphical details.
The graphics of the game are generally regarded as being one of the most realistic ever seen in a Dreamcast game. Many reviewers have commented that Ecco looks like a real dolphin. There were still a few criticisms however. One of the most major complaints against the graphics is the high level of fog; other reviewers have pointed out that visibility in the ocean is often much reduced from what it is above the surface. There were also some pop-up problems with distant objects. This was apparently caused by the engine not being that efficient overall, and not being able to render as much on-screen as was desirable without the generation of too much slowdown. The fog was used to obscure the distance and decrease the number of polygons that had to be drawn. The few cutscenes uses the in-game graphical engine, and featured voice-over narration by Tom Baker.
Defender of the Future continues the legacy of high difficulty set by its predecessors. The levels are again divided up, but the idea of a password system was dropped in favor of a memory card save file. The game has few loading times in the levels; the levels load all at once just before they started, and these load times could be moderately long.
The "charge song" and "confusion song" returned in Defender of the Future, but in different forms. The "charge song" os given a name, the Power of Sonar, and is part of a set of five temporary power-ups that could be activated by collecting icons. The powers were:
- Power of Vigor: Ecco moves faster and does more damage when charging enemies, and is able to swim against strong currents.
- Power of Sonar: Sonar does damage to enemies, and is able to break apart certain stones.
- Power of Air: The air meter is temporarily doubled.
- Power of Endurance: The health meter was maxed out to double the normal maximum; it couldn't be replenished until it reached the level the player had already obtained, and would be lost if the player made it to the next level of the game.
- Power of Stealth: Ecco becomes temporarily invisible.
The "confusion song" was named the Song of the Shark, and it too is part of a larger set of songs. These songs were permanent and activated by singing at the right thing. They are:
- Song of the Shark: Confuses sharks, leaving them vulnerable to attack. This does not work on the great white or the white sharks in later levels.
- Song of the Turtle: Turtles will follow Ecco around.
- Song of the Fish: Schools of fish will follow Ecco.
- Song of the Ray: Makes manta rays go in the direction the song pointed; makes smaller sting rays panic and flee.
- Song of the Plant: Makes a certain kind of plant spray ink.
Defender of the Future bore a different storyline from that of the Mega Drive/Genesis games; it is generally regarded as an alternate universe. The story was written by science fiction author David Brin, who had already written a few stories about intelligent dolphins. The storyline and game were divided into four parts:
Isle of Tranquility
At the dawn of the 30th Century, dolphins and humans had been together in a cross-species society for 500 years. Together, they had set out to explore space, offering peace and friendship to all who would welcome it. But space had its dangers; a violent species known as the Foe decided Earth was a good planet to take over. However, the dolphins and humans drove them to the brink of defeat, and so the Foe sought vengeance on Earth. The few caretaker dolphins who had been left behind on Earth were not entirely defenseless; they were protected by a creation of theirs they called the Guardian. It was a gigantic, sentient being made of a crystalline substance; it projected a force field over the entire planet. Undeterred, the Foe began making suicide attacks on the field, searching for a weak point.
The player was given this background information before being thrown into the game. Soon after the game started, the Foe found their weak point, destroying the field and breaking the Guardian. Isle of Tranquility followed Ecco around until he managed to get to the dolphin city of Atlantis and repair the Guardian. He accessed the city when no other dolphin could by temporarily becoming a fish using the Ancient Power of Metamorphosis (obviously an homage to the Metaspheres from Tides of Time). He was too late to stop the Foe invasion.
A Foe ship caused a rip in the time continuum and headed back in time in order to stop dolphins and humans from uniting into one society. Ecco was caught in the wake of the time vortex, and ended up witnessing the Foe steal the Noble Dolphin Traits of Intelligence, Ambition, Compassion, Wisdom and Humility. Ecco used the Ancient Power of Metamorphosis to become a flying Foe unit and destroy the ship; this scattered the globes containing the Noble Traits across history. With the traits gone, however, the future was already changed. Dolphins became weak and gullible; humans enslaved and exploited them. When Ecco returned to 'his' present, 500 years after the Foe attack, dolphins were barely sentient animals, and humans had already long been extinct.
The Man's Nightmare levels were based around human technology, with heavily polluted water. The dolphins Ecco met were divided into three subtypes: the Crimson, dolphins with red paint worn on their flippers; the Circle, white dolphins who showed an eagerness to operate machinery; and the Movers, orange and white dolphins with the build of orcas that had once apparently been the muscle of the dolphins when they had been enslaved. The dolphins didn't know humans were extinct. Some of them thought they had been left to test their loyalty, and spoke of a great Engine of Salvation that the Chosen One would activate with the Labor Harness. Ecco managed to put on the Labor Harness, which allowed him to control human machines by singing at them, and headed off to activate the Engine of Salvation while looking for the globes that contained the Noble Traits.
After Ecco managed to find the Noble Trait of Intelligence and touch it, it was sent back in time and began affecting the Circle, Movers and Crimson. They figured out the truth of man's extinction and his "Engine of Salvation"; it was really a weapon that had been designed to fight the Foe, but man and the Foe had destroyed one another before the potentially planet destroying weapon had been completed. The player's new task became stopping the weapon from activating; the reward was the Noble Trait of Ambition and progress into the next section of the game.
With Intelligence and Ambition both sent back, history changed. Dolphins became aggressive creatures and forced humans from the seas, never to return. They built their own independent society under the waves, and some above them; this level set featured the Hanging Waters as an homage to the Skyway from Tides of Time. The dolphins seen in this section of the game were divided into two subtypes; the Clan dolphins were militaristic orange-and-white (lower ranking) or black-and-white (higher ranking) creatures who lorded over the green Outcasts. Both subtypes looked down their beaks at whales; the Clan, for instance, used a pair of captured humpback whales as living power generators for their Hanging Waters.
The level set started by throwing Ecco into an Outcast village that had been cut off from their food supply by the Clan. After getting fish back to them, one villager helped him reach the nearby Clan outpost. There, Ecco found and rescued the leader of a secret resistance group that had formed in the Outcast village. The Resistance, it turned out, had been keeping watch over the Noble Trait of Compassion, but were afraid to touch the globe. The Clan had their own Trait which was later discovered to be Wisdom; they wanted the Resistance's globe for themselves. Ecco sent Compassion back and infiltrated a large Clan base. He tattooed himself with the rank of general and managed to get the Hanging Waters activated so he could fight the Clan's leaders, the three Exalted Ones. The third Exalted One had the globe of Wisdom; Ecco sent it back, and history changed again.
Domain of the Enemy
With all but one of their traits restored, dolphins (evidently) united with humans. However, without the final Trait of Humility, the society was heedless of the Foe's danger, and was defeated. Earth was taken over, and the Foe Queen herself became the guardian of Humility. Ecco managed to destroy a Foe hatchery and slay the Foe Queen to gain back Humility and restore his own future.
In 2007 a beta for a game called Ecco II: Sentinels of the Universe was found on eBay. The seller proved its existence with videos on YouTube. Both the auction and the YouTube videos were taken down some days later. A lot of websites are trying to help the seller distribute it further on, as well as show the videos that were taken down.