The Mind’s Eclipse is a Hard Sci-fi fan’s dream. It grapples with questions regarding immortality, artificial intelligence and the moral pitfalls of scientific progress; a sublime visual novel expertly told through harsh images drawn in black and white.
The Eclipse is a mystery to solve. The players will uncover it by exploring and searching through data logs, snippets of newspapers and diaries. I was initially skeptical as to how all this would work but this is one of the most absorbing experiences that I have played through in a long time.
This is an evolution of the point and click adventure genre. Not exactly reminiscent of LucasArts classics, but more in line with the tone of System Shock 2. The game is presented in an elegantly simple style with text prompts and beautiful illustration guiding you through the experience. A critique levelled at this title is that it’s more story than game. While it’s true that it’s is narrative heavy, you have tasks to solve and items to search for.
Early in the game, you need to get out of the initial section of the space station – oxygen is depleting. You encounter a heavy metal door, the access panel to the right of it has short-circuited. Your AI companion helpfully states that in order to progress you need a hydraulic jack to manually open the door. Knowing this, you search through adjacent rooms for the item, eventually finding it beside and engineer’s corpse.
Each item you collect has detailed descriptions which aid you in working out what task you need them for. Initially this is fairly obvious with your AI helping you solve puzzles and discover items. Eventually however things become a little more complex and you must thoroughly search through areas to find what you need to progress.
You travel through the space station and from scene to scene via a clickable map system. Clicking on each area you wish to explore as you progress. The one critical flaw with this is that you must move through each area sequentially, moving from room to room until you get to your destination. Although you may have visited these rooms before, you can’t simply click on the map and travel there. This becomes tedious and is really the only issue I have with the title.
The game lasts for roughly four hours and while absorbing, there’s nothing to entice you to play through it again. This isn’t a game with choices in an RPG-like manner, you reach the end of the title and are presented with a binary, Deus Ex type decision.
The Story (Spoiler Free)
Plot is something which most modern games struggle with; how to integrate high octane action sequences with plot mechanics which equally captivate the player. The Mind’s Eclipse is an especially superb piece of Science Fiction writing. This, if it were a novel, would absolutely be worthy of the Arthur C Clarke award. There are influences from games such as Bioshock bleeding through – the emphasis on nanotechnology, human augmentation and advances in medical science coupled with the disasters of advancing too far, too fast.
Waking up in a hospital bed, with oxygen rapidly depleting, you have no memory of who you are or why you’re there. This is a cliched method of having the player begin to piece together the backstory and the world of the game, but it’s handled effectively.
The plot advances through exploring and interacting with data pads, dead bodies and broken down mechanical droids. You do so through interacting with your BOSy System, a collection of nanites which can pull data from computer terminals and the embedded chips in the cybernetically enhanced brains of the recently deceased.
The plot which begins as a simple escape takes sinister turns as you learn more about yourself. As you open doors and race through corridors you find dead bodies positioned in gruesome ways. You witness crime scenes and hints of physical and psychological horrors that have been committed in the short time since you awoke.
As I progressed through the story, my mind raced but not because the scenes were shown in explicit detail. Rather the opposite is actually the case. Rough outlines of slumped bodies are glimpsed in the shadows. This approach of allowing the player’s imagination to ‘fill in the blanks’ shows a very mature approach to crafting what is essentially a tale in the science-fiction-horror genre.
The story revolves around the mysterious eclipse. A techno-cult obsessed with the idea of immortality. The Mind’s Eclipse does a fantastic job of both introducing the player to key bits of information regarding the plot and using that information to draw you in. I found myself heavily invested in the story after fifteen minutes of gameplay, compelled to move on through the game.
Afternoon passed into night as I moved towards completion. I became obsessed with piecing together the information needed to uncover the full back story. I compulsively picked up memos, letters and personal journals written on datapads, starting to fully understand the enormity and tragedy of the clever, nuanced narrative.
The pacing of the Mind’s Eclipse is another aspect of this ambitious title worth praise. The player is given enough information to intrigue and fascinate but never enough to overwhelm. You’re first introduced to an AI character, L, who is wonderfully written. She is funny and informative and a refreshing antidote to most other game’s companions who add little to the narrative experience. L offers commentary and urges you to leave the Space Station immediately. She also calls into question the truth of what you actually see making you choose whether to trust her.
The striking art style is what especially attracted me to Mind’s Eclipse. The black and white sketches fit the atmosphere perfectly, both complimenting the fuzziness of memory which you suffer through the plot and helping you begin to question the nature of your reality. The wonderful visuals also bring a dream-like feel to the experience, at times stark and eerie. The two colour palette brings out the details in the visual design and the science fiction environments are suitably strange but not alien enough to be inconceivable in our own world.
Donald Campbell (director of The Mind’s Eclipse) recalls: “I suggested we try a black-and-white scene a few weeks into production. Diane Yingst (one of the game illustrators) passed me that first piece. I knew we had found our unique look”.
Sound design is an another surprising highlight. It sets the tone for this space mystery incredibly appropriately with mixtures of synth music and electro complimenting the atmosphere.
Should you buy it?
The Mind’s Eclipse is a must play title. An especially engaging visual novel that will pull you deep into the story. It’s full of captivating characters, dialogue and locations. I found myself confronted by themes dealing with the conflict between morality and technology and the quest for immortality. All conveyed spectacularly in stark, detailed, black and white visuals set in a highly realised science fiction world. It’s beautiful, disturbing to look at and will haunt you long after you reach its climax.