Total Eclipse (3DO)
Like with my first Saturn review, I spent some time debating what I wanted to cover first for the 3DO. There are some great games for the system, but most of them are overshadowed by the overwhelming amount of crap that is available, too. I wanted to pick something that I felt properly represented the spirit of the 3DO, and I think Total Eclipse does that. It’s not because Total Eclipse is a particularly good game (or a particularly bad game). I think it’s just a good representation of the games that are available for the 3DO — it’s prototypical for the system.
Total Eclipse is a fantastic technical feat for its time. The terrain and enemies are all rendered in crisp, clear 3D with a slick, smooth frame-rate. It features CD audio, pre-rendered cut-scenes, and does a great job of making loading times virtually transparent. Unfortunately, it’s just not a very exciting game. The first couple of worlds drag on without much of interest to report. You’ll face straightforward terrain, easy enemies, and a soundtrack that alternates between dull, tired sounding guitar riffs and cheesy soap-opera-style saxophone.
Frankly, the whole time I was playing Total Eclipse, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just playing a polished but generic version of Star Fox. They’re very similar games — both are futuristic rail-shooters where you take on the role of a fighter pilot heading off to save the solar system. But while Total Eclipse excels in many of the technical areas of game design, it just doesn’t match Star Fox in terms of fun.
If you do manage to persevere through the easy, bland opening worlds, youâ€™re rewarded with more enemies and more challenging terrain to navigate. But by a cruel twist of fate, the game becomes even less fun. I have several gripes with the way the game feels and I think many of them extend from the fact that, for some reason, the designers decided to make the player’s ship a simple sprite while the rest of the game is all polygonal. As a result, the ship never felt like it was really part of the world it was flying through. Rather, it seemed as though it was a simple overlay that I was sliding around the screen. So, when the terrain actually became more interesting and varied, it also became unnecessarily difficult to traverse. It was too hard to tell where the ship was in relation to the ground, hills, walls, and ceilings, so I found myself constantly ramming into them and taking damage.
Another factor that contributes to this problem is that the camera angle is perfectly fixed. It never tilts or pans, even if you’re turning or traveling at an angle. So when I was required to dodge enemies or traverse a particularly tricky stretch of terrain, I found myself blindly ramming into hills and enemy fire because I simply couldn’t see what was directly to my left or right. This was constantly a problem in later stages and sucked the enjoyment out of what could have otherwise been a fun game.
It’s unfortunate that Total Eclipse has these problems, as it’s an otherwise promising game. I like that each new world introduces additional, more challenging enemies. I like that there are alternate paths through every outdoor level. I like how the enemies explode in a Tempest 2000-style rain of pixels. I like how there’s even a certain strategy to powering up your ship. But technical prowess combined with dull or frustrating gameplay is something of a common theme for the 3DO. It was a time when developers were just starting to get their feet wet with the concept of 3D games and control and camera problems were common. Total Eclipse suffers from the same growing pains.
Final Thoughts: Total Eclipse is a technical showcase for the 3DO. It features a generally impressive 3D engine with a solid framerate. But it seems that, while the developers were able to squeeze a lot out of the hardware, they weren’t able to squeeze out any fun. As long as I was playing Total Eclipse, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should just be playing Star Fox instead.