This product was received for free.
An upcoming indie visual novel/adventure game by the name of The Mind’s Eclipse has shown me that this same level of thought-provoking speculative content is alive and well in the realm of video games.
Being that The Mind’s Eclipse is a heavily narrative-based visual novel more than it is a traditional adventure game, I will refrain from divulging any major plot details. Playing the game and naturally discovering the twists and turns the narrative takes makes for a much more compelling first experience. Thus, this hands-on preview will be a worthy exercise in avoiding spoilers.
However, I do need to talk about the game in some capacity, so there will be minor introduction spoilers ahead, both in text and in picture, though I don’t believe they will significantly detract from the organic experience.
You play as a man just awakening from a decades-long slumber in a hospital, with total amnesia, found by an AI that informs him the oxygen is quickly escaping. Time to get a move on. Such a simple, primal premise leads the protagonist down a rabbit hole, exploring the ruins of a supposedly abandoned colony on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and trying to discern exactly what took place and what their role was in all of it, if any.
As the game progresses the protagonist discovers that many of the inhabitants of the colony on Europa were seduced by the promise of eternal life through advances in technology, and the people that weren’t so sure about the prospect were persecuted by the established government.
The game touches upon very primal themes, the most obvious of them being that of the meaning of both life and death. Similar to a Black Mirror episode from season 3 (“San Junipero”), the game makes you question the unyielding acceptance of eternal life, with the appropriately critical gaze that perhaps it ought to be questioned with.
The world-building going on in the background, through the terminal messages and various other interactable objects, is simply phenomenal. Some of the best I’ve seen in any game. I truly wish to see this world, and the obvious passion that went into creating it, extrapolated further into more games or other media.
The music in this game is brilliant. It’s not going to wow you with its sweeping melodies, or it’s impressive orchestral score. What it will do is haunt your entire game experience with a seemingly endless ambient soundscape. It’s absolutely brilliant and I highly suggest a decent set of headphones to fully immerse yourself in the very detailed and emotional world they’ve created. The best way to describe the soundtrack is – ‘varied in style, consistent in quality’.
The varied soundtrack becomes even further diversified as the game progresses. There are some segments featuring a deliberate back beat, others that have some consistent melodies, and still others that even feature acoustic instruments and singing. So it does shy away from the pure ambience at times in favour of immersion – when it does shy away, it’s to support the narrative. There’s always a good reason.
Most of the game features black and white sketch-style art. It’s a very unique art style that I think benefits the game. The sharp lines and hard, cross-hatched shadows gives everything an uncanny valley feel, which contributes to the creepiness of the game. Something as benign as a cow or a teddy bear looks hideous and menacing when it’s features are as edgy and angular as something you’d find in a sketchbook, where geometric shapes dominate.
There’s one part of the game where you are able to get a glimpse at the popular VR system that exists in this world. This is a particularly magical moment, as everything becomes colourful, with much more definition, including the AI companion. This part of the game was reminiscent of scene from The Giver wherein the protagonist experiences the sensation of colour for the first time.
I often found myself wondering about the stylistic choice made by the developer to feature such a sketch-based art-style. It’s unclear if the world is truly as scribbled it appears to the protagonist, or if his vision of reality has been distorted. But I think this effect could also be read into the narrative. The colony on Europa had become a community obsessed with embracing progressive and controversial technologies in pursuit of pure hedonism, heading further and further down the descending path of life, ultimately into pure bliss. The disparity between the world as it exists in reality (monochromatic, dull, lifeless) and how it exists in the VR world (detailed, colourful) could be indicative of how this community has come to value experience in general. The luxuries provided by VR on Europa, though ultimately unreal, are so advanced that they become preferable to reality due to their increased fidelity. Within a community that values simulated perfection over authenticity, the real world might indeed resemble something hastily scribbled on a sketchpad.
The Mind’s Eclipse offers only a few hours of play, but the value of this game cannot be expressed through the quantity of it’s content. It’s value lies in the quality of the experience – and what a high quality one it is at that.
The Mind’s Eclipse will be uploaded on January 25th 2018 to the Steam servers and Itch.io; you really ought to check it out if you are a fan of visual novels and text-heavy story-driven games. The Mind’s Eclipse offers you eternal paradise – who could say no?