Eclipse: Edge of Light
Creators: White Elk Studios; Section Studios and Cecil Kim;
Released: Nov 1 2018
Platform: Oculus Go and Daydream VR.
Eclipse: Edge of Light is a puzzle adventure where you uncover the secrets of an extinct civilization, ravaged by a false prophet consumed by the moon’s darkness. While simple, its story does leave me satisfied. The player interacts with the world via a stone they carry in their hands. The stone lets them open/uncover environmental elements, open doors, reveal hidden objects, and move objects telekinetically. The game does a great job of balancing its many controls with the Go’s minimalist controller, relying on a comfortable combination of gaze, tossing, click sequences, and trigger pulls to map the player’s actions. To scan an object, for instance, you tilt your head up and down to get a good look at the object. Throughout the game, the controls never took me out of the moment and they were easy to remember and even master.
Because this game is for the Oculus Go and Daydream VR platforms, it cannot rely on 6 degrees of freedom. It must also use limited processing to portray as engaging an environment as it can. While the environment was easy to navigate and produced little motion sickness, thanks to the player’s helmet UI, there was not enough holding me to feel presence. I only felt immersion, in this case a drive to continue and find out what happened to the people that used to live here. However, as curious as I was, I did not feel like I was a part of this world, nor that I was in it; I merely felt I was following the directions in which the game pushed me. The story was engaging, but not memorable, and the mechanics were nothing revolutionary, as it greatly consisted of throwing a ball and moving around a map. If the puzzles were not as intriguing and difficult as they were, the gameplay would have felt very repetitive (instead, the puzzles allow old mechanics to be recycled in novel ways).
It is overall a smart game, with smooth gameplay and a fun environment, but it is neither novel nor particularly deep. The sound design is excellent, with subtle sound effects to alert you of environmental factors and as stereoscopic a sound as the Go can produce. The assets are well-polished and pretty, and I did not run into any bugs. But the story was predictable, and so thin that this struck me as an experience that was fun, but not memorable. If you ask me about this game a year from now, I will probably have forgotten about it.
Why is it so forgettable? There are other games with little story that persist. Perhaps it’s that this game lacks the touch of connection. I do not feel connected to other players or “living” NPCs, as there are none to speak of save for the Prophet and some bulls. I can’t interact with the Prophet’s hologram in any way, and I do not truly understand his motivations for his actions beyond the cliché of power hunger. The most touching moments in the game are when the bulls run after the ball after I toss it, and then follow me around and wait for me to toss it again. Seeing some astronauts in bloodied messes to disarm traps and allow me to go through was also very impactful, but I did not quite understand why they felt this planet was so important.
As a developer, I was struck with a couple questions as I played this game. First, what defines the uniqueness or memorability of a game? It is not polish, nor is it always gameplay. It can be story and art, but it doesn’t have to be. Second, what triggers presence? Simulating the feel of the human body certainly helps, but it is also deeper than embodied cognition: it is fascination with the world, freedom to do what I think is the best course of action, and influence over the world. At the least, these are my opinions on the questions, as they have no true united answer (if they did, most VR games would employ that answer!). This is still a good, immersive game, even if it lacks presence.