Space Themed Shooters – Total Eclipse, Wing Commander 3

The Cosmos. The void above. The milky way. Infinity. All phrases used to describe the unknown vastness of outer space. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with outer space (anymore), but it certainly causes me to pause each and every time I think about it. There is so much we don’t know, yet we know more now than our species ever has before. Even within our own solar system, we’ve established facts that weren’t in place even 20 years ago (sorry Pluto). It’s no wonder that for as long as certain artistic mediums have existed, outer space has been a major source of inspiration. As I consider video games yet another artistic medium on par with music, films, television and literature, the obsession with what we don’t know about outer space and can only speculate repeatedly bleeds into the games we play. From the earliest arcade titles all the way to today’s epic adventures, the concept of what’s out there continues to be a heavy focus of our games. So what exactly am I getting at by attempting to prove the notion of space as video gaming inspiration? The two games for the 3DO that I’m going to briefly highlight in this post can be considered “space themed” and I suppose that’s good enough of a tie in for a blog post.

Total Eclipse is a Crystal Dynamics developed title released on the 3DO in 1994 and then ported to the PlayStation a year later. Space themed (obviously), Total Eclipse is a 3rd person, on-rails, shooter set just off the surface of various planets as well as their underground tunnels. You must fight an alien enemy determined to wipe out all Earthlings before their powerful weapon, the Sun Dagger, ends life as you know it. You can power up  the weapon you are currently using or you can upgrade to a different weapon to fight the enemy. This is a common trope in shooters, so the concept will be quite familiar to anyone who’s played one before. I generally enjoy “on rails” shooters such as Panzer Dragoon and my initial reaction to Total Eclipse was favorable until I noticed that the controls were a little buggy. I ran into the sides of mountains on accident due to poor collision detection more times than I would like to admit. I did become more proficient at figuring out exactly how far I needed to stay away from the edges but that came with practice and many deaths. I also found the movement of my ship to be a bit touchy. Meaning that I would intend to make very slight and subtle movements but instead went wildly higher or lower than desired. As a result I would miss power ups or  mis-fire at enemies that I was intending to kill. In short, Total Eclipse is far from a perfect or even great game. For me, it’s a nice looking and exciting but difficult shooter that could have been good but instead is just acceptable.

Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger, as the name would imply, is the third title in the Wing Commander series that got its start on PCs in 1990 and was eventually ported to numerous home consoles. Wing Commander 3 for the 3DO was also a port of the original PC version and was released in 1995. WC3 differs from the first two space combat simulation titles in the series by incorporating FMV scenes into the storyline, essentially creating a playable movie. As with most titles of this nature, the FMV scenes provide dialogue, plot development and an opportunity for the player to influence the outcome of the game by deciding how characters interact with each other. This is done primarily by giving the player one of two choices during dialogue scenes and the choice made will lead to the FMV scene that corresponds to that decision. Beyond watching the scenes unfold and making simple decisions on how the player should act, what weapons he should use and what ships he should fly during missions, you must eventually get into your ship and fight! The action scenes are done in a first person mode, which when done properly, can really be fun and immersive. I think WC3 did a good job with these and I had a lot of fun with this aspect of the game. My only gripe is the complicated controls. There are a lot of options and referring back to the reference card is crucial until you have them memorized (if that ever actually happens).

Wing Commander 3 is likely most well-known for its use of established actors. Mark Hamill plays the lead character and protagonist, Colonel Blair. Additional actors of note were Malcom McDowell, John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones), Tom Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future), Ginger Lynn (adult film actress) and a then unknown Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama). I cannot claim that I’ve made it all the way through this multi-disc game but I do enjoy the A-list acting talent combined with solid gameplay and interesting decision making options. I think Wing Commander 3 is one of the better FMV heavy games I’ve played and would recommend it to anyone with a 3DO or a passing interest in these types of games.

Currently in my collection:

Total Eclipse – game, manual, long box C

Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger – game, manual, reference card, strategy guide, long box B+

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