Jan 222013
 

There’s always one criticism I seem to keep making when it comes to indie titles of late: “This needed more work.” Whether it be development time, play-testing or even just streamlining the playing experience they always seem to need that bit more tweaking. UltraVision Interactive’s Deep Eclipse is unfortunately yet another case of this, a title which you can feel the untapped potential but needed that bit more work to make everything run smoothly. A game which isn’t bad so much as unfortunately flawed.

Your usual shoot ‘em up space game (or multi-directional title if you want it to sound like a proper genre), Deep Eclipse offers much of what you’d expect it to: Lots and lots and lots of enemies, bosses, and upgrades to big guns. It’s a simple formula-arcadey enough for anyone to enjoy and fairly hard to screw up. Unfortunately UltraVision Interactive managed to find a way to do just this.

Unlike a lot of these games you’re not in a shooting corridor so much as an arena with monsters spawning constantly on from all edges until you kill them all. Okay fine, but unlike say Geometry Wars you can’t see the entire map and much of your view is actually restricted by the game’s design. You have a top down view as you’d expect but the camera doesn’t stay centered on the ship you’re playing instead sliding about all over the place when you move or get too close to the map edge. This will frequently result in you getting blindsided by enemies directly ahead of you and killed, leaving a lot of your success in each level down to pot luck. This might have been helped by the mini-map which, unlike your actual screen, it does remain fixed on your position and shows much more of the area around you. The problem is that you can’t fly by it because it doesn’t indicate different enemy strengths or which direction your craft is facing. Atop of this the HUD itself takes up a irritating large chunk of the upper right of your screen, leaving even more opportunities for you to be jumped by giant flying beetles.

Let’s talk about the enemies for a second. Most shoot ‘em up titles, even bullet hell shooters, will tend do give you enemies which hover around and fire at you repeatedly combined with a few kamikaze foes. In Deep Eclipse the developers decided to go with the reverse. And make them more annoying. Not only that but they don’t either A – die when they hit you or B – pass though you. As a result if you’re not too careful you’re going to end up surrounded by enemies hammering into you over and over again, draining nearly all your health bar in seconds. Worse still, atop of reducing most of your tactics to relentless circle strafing as you pitifully chip away at the swarm nearly all of them are smaller than you and harder to hit.

All of these problems are only made worse by the size of your ship and it’s elongated rectangular shape. Rather than being small or having an even sided craft to make you harder to hit it’s about the size of one of the larger early enemies, and any hit on any part of your ship will do damage as opposed to the usual dead center shots only counting. This combined with your shape means you will constantly get brutalized by enemies charging from the left and right. Even with the fairly meaty health bar your ship has, the lack of any natural regeneration between levels and the near constant collisions means you’re going to be spending all your points on lives or defense. Something which is a real shame because if there’s anything the game got right it was the RPG style upgrade system.

Yeah it might surprise you to find that for all the bad here there is one really good gameplay element in the form of purchased upgrades. One major thing you get from enemies is moolah in the form of crystals which you then exchange for guns, armour, bigger guns, health, upgrades to gun, more life and increased heat efficiency. Each is fairly highly priced and due to the limited amount of cash you seem to get per level, 3-6K usually, you need to be very tactical in your upgrades assuming you even earn enough to buy them. Picking up the crystals in question is one very risky part of the game because of how close you need to get to the inevitable swarm you form following you and actually feels like one of the moments where you’re having fun even with the camera issues. Along with this your limited choices and what is effectively a tech tree split early on allows for far more replayability and tactical thinking than you’d expect for such a genre as you try and test different combos to see what works. It’s a relatively inventive addition to a very old genre and one which did work really well, giving me some incentive to keep playing despite all the problems.

At least up to the point where I ran into the brick wall which is the first boss in the campaign.

Oh lord, the bosses. If there was something which could be singled out as the straw which broke the horse’s back it was definitely the design of the bosses in the campaign. Most games like this feature bosses which allow you a chance, that they have patterns of fire you need to learn and require skill to eventually beat through dodging their fire. That’s not so much the case with the campaign of this title. You know that annoying attack in most bullet hell titles in which the boss will fire a spiral of bullets for several seconds requiring you to avoid them? Well that happened here with the first boss. Only the “bullets” were moving several time faster than I could go, there were no gaps small enough for me to evade between shots and he did this non-stop with no different attacks or cool-down period. And if you beat it via some herculean effort? Congratulations, that was the easiest one. They only get cheaper and harder from here.

Even with all the previous problems I would have been willing to give it a tentative recommendation, but with a borderline impossible fight so early on the campaign atop of all that? One that even with unlimited continues feels like you’re slamming your head against a brick wall? It’s just not worth it. The real shame is that there is visible skill behind this title. It ran smoothly without too many problems, I encountered no bugs nor glitches while playing it and there did seem to have been a lot of thought behind what had been included in the game. With so many flaws and problems building up from one thing to the next however, the game just became a monotonous slog over time rather than the rapid action which should have been present in the title.

Unless you’re a really big fan of shoot ‘em ups I’d suggest passing on this and looking for Geometry Wars or if you’re after an exceptionally bullet hell title Jamestown.

Deep Eclipse can be found on Gamersgate for £9.99 and on HMV for £6.99.

 

8/10

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