Total Eclipse review

After a slight delay, the game all 3DO owners have been waiting for finally arrives. Total Eclipse is the second offering from Crystal Dynamics – Crash ‘N Burn being the first – and once again, the California-based company has shown other developers how to really use the 3DO’s hardware.

Graphically – in case these screenshots haven’t convinced you – Total Eclipse is way ahead of anything seen on any home machine currently available. The rendered spacecraft looks great and the lightsource shading is impressive, but it’s the texture-mapped planet surfaces that you’ll find quite simply astonishing. They move so smoothly, and at such speed and with so much detail, that you’ll walk away from your 3DO system utterly convinced you’re finally entering the next generation of videogames.

The craft you control – the FireWing fighter – is highly manoeuvrable and capable of some really impressive stuff. You can perform barrel rolls, but unlike StarFox, your craft doesn’t rotate while the screen stays put. When you perform a barrel roll in Total Eclipse the entire screen rotates – planet and all – around your FireWing, creating a truly arcade-like experience. And unlike Crash ‘N Burn, all these brilliant visual effects are not being pulled off the CD: everything is being drawn and calculated in real-time, on the fly. In fact, the only thing being pulled off the CD this time is the irritating rock music – somehow the in-game tunes don’t manage to suit the game as well as they could have.

Enough of the aesthetics, what about the actual game itself? One of the biggest worries most people had when they first heard about Total Eclipse was how much freedom the game would give the player. Would you be able to interact with the background and fly in between thse gloriously detailed mountains? Well, although you’re not given the freedom to fly wherever you want – you can’t turn around – you can fly within a fairly wide perimeter.

Total Eclipse has been cleverly structured to give the player the feeling that they can fly wherever they want: into and out of canyons, over mountains and through hills – but ultimately you’re limited to one of two or three routes. Impassable mountains – the ones that border both sides of the play area – are also used to create ‘paths’ which you must take during a level. Okay, so you can choose which path you’d like to go down, and during some levels you can even change from one path to another, but you still feel a little restricted.

Total Eclipse is made up of 20 levels which are basically split into two sections. The first takes place on the planet surface, and the second in serpentine-like tunnels that run underneath the planet surface. Here, in typical Star Wars style, you have to fly under and over many obstacles while shooting at the enemy. Luckily, you do have a degree of control over how fast you go. And through these narrow, curling and twisty tunnels, it’s essential that you go slowly as it’s very easy to hit the sides.

Which brings us on to the next problem – collision detection. No matter how good a gamesplayer you claim to be, there’s no way you’re going to get through any of these tunnel sections without colliding several times with the walls or obstacles. This is a problem that could so easily have been avoided: all your ship needs is some kind of shadow, so you’d know where you are in relation to objects around you. It’s something the programmers did in the outside sections – a map helps you here – but neglected for the tunnel ones. The end result is a very unplayable section.

Any good shoot ‘em up needs power ups, and Total Eclipse has them – only they’re not very effective. It’s mainly due to the 3D perspective, but no matter how tooled up your FireWing is, hitting the enemy is always very difficult. You do get better with practice, but there are times when you can be shooting literally hundreds of bullets towards the enemy, only to see them all miss.

It’s hard to criticise a game that looks and moves as well as this, but it’s the way it looks that matters. At the end of the day you don’t feel like you really ‘have’ to play Total Eclipse, instead you feel more compelled to have a session with it. It’s a definite move in the right direction for this system, and it further strengthens Crystal Dynamics as leaders in the 3DO market. But, as most of us are aware, this is no mean feat at the moment.

This review originally appeared in E6, March 1994.