While getting into VR is still a pricy investment, three or four years ago, diving into new worlds was almost exclusively the realm of the rich (or those who got decent tax returns, which is how I bought my Vive system). The initial notable offerings, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, would both run you over $500 (with the Vive being nearly a grand) and require a fairly beefy PC to use it on. Sure, there was also the option of PSVR, but that cost the same price as the then recently-released PS4 Pro and was much more limited in use compared to its PC-based counterparts.
However, there was another option to at least get a small taste of the virtual reality experience: smartphones. A number of companies developed headsets that would allow you to slot your smartphone in and use that as your VR screen. While extremely limited compared to full systems, they also came at a fraction of the price. Google’s Daydream headset and Samsung’s Gear VR (created in collaboration with Oculus) both marketed for around $100.
The game we’re looking at today is one that was originally created to be played with these mobile VR headsets. Over the years, though, it has been ported to more and more platforms, receiving graphical and input upgrades along the way. The version released recently brings the game to PSVR and Steam – the latter meaning that I can finally put my Vive back to work again.
Developed and published by White Elk Studios, Eclipse: Edge of Light was released for PS4, PSVR, and Steam on January 14th, 2019. The PC version was played for this review, through the use of an HTC Vive.
After The Collapse
Eclipse presents us with a sci-fi tale, with you taking up the mantle of someone who has crash-landed on an alien planet. Shortly after landing, you stumble across a sphere-like object known as the “Artifact,” which gives you access to strange powers like telekinesis and the ability to find invisible objects in the world. With your only way off the planet destroyed, you set off to explore, finding the ruins of a civilization long gone…one that has some kind of relation to this Artifact that you are carrying with you.
The story doesn’t feel very key to the experience and, in fact, can be mostly skipped completely. Plot is almost never given to you directly; you have to actively seek it out by finding and scanning statues and objects around the environment. If you’re focused on finding and scanning as many of these as possible, they give enough bits of info and lore to piece together a vague idea of what’s going on.
However, even though I went out of my way to scan as many of these objects as I could, I still found myself lost and confused as some of the late game “twists.” I would like to avoid spoilers, but there’s an area near the end game that seems to be acting as some big “reveal” for what’s actually going on in the game, but it’s presented almost completely visually. None of it linked up with the lore I had been discovering throughout the game, and it’s completely forgotten about once you pass through that section on your way to the finale.
Gameplay here is fairly light as well, although it’s somewhat to be expected as Eclipse is originally a mobile VR game released in 2017, when modern virtual reality was still in its relative infancy. It’s one of those VR titles that’s more of an “experience” than a “game.”
The core of Eclipse has you walking around and exploring an alien world, throwing the Artifact at objects in the environment to solve puzzles. The puzzles themselves are fairly simple, typically variations on “figure out how to throw the Artifact at a certain point.” Some late-game puzzles require a bit more thinking, including one or two that actually prey on how complacent you’ve likely become from doing similar puzzles earlier in the game, but I did not encounter any that slowed me down for longer than a minute or two.
Aside from tossing the Artifact around like a baseball, the rest of the game has you walking, flying, and scanning things. For a game so focused on walking around, though, character movement is painfully slow. I’m guessing it’s to cut down on VR motion sickness as smooth motion is the only available movement mode in this game (although you can snap turn 90 degrees at a time), but actually moving from point A to point B feels more like I’m crawling than walking.
I can say, though, that the controls for Eclipse work well, something I wasn’t entire confident about once I learned that this game was originally developed for mobile VR. Movement is mapped to the left controller, with walking on the touch pad and activating a jetpack to fly on the trigger. The right controller is devoted to the Artifact – throwing it, scanning objects, and various other functions you unlock throughout the game. Throwing the Artifact at specific objects is surprisingly easy, as it seems to have a gentle lock-on if you throw it in an affectable object’s general direction. Scanning objects, especially small ones, was a bit more finicky; you have to be looking at a scannable object in just the right way in order to activate your scanner.
The False Prophet
As a game focused on experiencing a new world, one would hope that the environment would be intriguing and fantastical. I can say that Eclipse mostly hits the mark…eventually.
The first half of the game is mostly travels through canyons with occasional ruins to dig through, to the point where emerging from a tunnel into yet another large area full of rocks and ruins elicited more fatigue than wonder from me.
After around the halfway mark, though, the environments and setpieces start becoming more interesting. With rivers to raft down, planets tumbling across the sky, and increasingly alien architecture to navigate, Eclipse managed to grab my attention back just as it was beginning to wane.
As far as actual detail and graphical quality…well, again, this was originally a mobile game. The developers do state that they upgraded the graphics for release on full headset platforms, but it still feels like playing through a game from a few console generations back. I also encountered some weird lighting – the differences in lighting in short areas was often swift and sudden, rather than gradual, with these differences visible as I walked toward them as a kind of “wall” of light.
The soundtrack here, though, is incredibly interesting. Composed by Andrew Prahlow, who also wrote the music for the recently released Outer Wilds, his work on Eclipse takes the player through a series of ambient soundscapes that do a greater job of expressing the cold and empty feeling of the game’s world better than the plot or visuals ever do.
Lost in Time
If I had played Eclipse back in 2017 on a mobile VR headset, I would likely be singing its praises right now. What White Elk has created here, while somewhat shallow, is an excellent display of technology for a piece of plastic that presses a smartphone against your face.
VR has been a fast-moving medium, though. In 2020, on full room-scale hardware, especially in comparison to recent releases, Eclipse just doesn’t stand out. As I mentioned earlier, it’s more of a “VR experience” than a game, which is something that we’re finally starting to move past in the medium.
At $14.99 it’s priced about right (although it’s a bit short at three hours to complete), and the game isn’t offensive, it’s just that there’s so much better available now in virtual reality, and things in Eclipse that would have been impressive at the time are fairly standard now.
Review copy provided by White Elk Studios for PC, game reviewed on HTC Vive. Screenshots taken by reviewer.