Here comes a post-review mini-rant, but I swear I'll try to make this interesting for those of you that have absolutely no interest in the gaming industry...
The gaming industry is a pig. Heck, that's an insult to pigs...
The gaming industry is a... nevermind... there's a lot of insulting to be done at this rate, so I'm going to cut through there like a diamond D4 cuts through glass and feet - but as I have said on several occassions, the industry itself has suffered through periods of all the best reasons for not being popular as a hobby or as a literary piece:
1> They're referred to as Rulebooks. When most folks seem to think of rulebooks, they think somewhere between a mathematics textbook with irrifutable, logical boredom and the slip of paper that explains how Snakes and Ladders works.
2> Once upon a year, the game Dungeons and Dragons caught on in an ealry interpretation of Viral Marketing - a sensation that even folks today are trying to duplicate with the occasional success. And those that tried D&D were the NERDS! Those folks that weren't in to football and going for a drink and a drive with their buddies...
3> If being Uncool was not enough, enter the corporate big-wigs who suddenly got this idea that the only way to make the gaming industry big was to create a universal rule system and then sell the license for its use to any company, thusly belittling the system mechanics of other games and their companies. What could be worse than telling a Geek whose system is being underwritten by some foul corporate type and effectively replaced by some stale and clunky 'rollplay'?
4> And then, in the Age of the Geek, when computer games, sci-fi and all things fantasy drama couldn't be any cooler, the fore-mentioned big-wigs have gone quiet, or WORSE, they released Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition that failed so badly they actually reversed up, cancelled 4th and published an edition referred to as v3.5!
And people wonder why there's so little faith in the gaming industry and why few people actually get their own ideas to print...
Enter POSTHUMAN STUDIOS!!! (can I get a 'Hell YEAH!?)
Posthuman Studios, whose tag line on their Google entry was 'We make amazing games', is a creator-owned company whose founding members include four veterans of the industry who go on to say, 'the future of hobby gaming is the hybridization of analog and electronic play–whether that be at the augmented tabletop or online play; that gaming has been and always will be a culture of sharing, and that we must build the creative future we want to live in. You’re invited!'
If you're a seasoned gamer with an eye for the bigger picture and want to get published some day, this is the kind of company spiel that may be enough to give you a roaring hardcover. Finally, a company that actually feels like they've stepped back to the theme 'by the players, for the players' and actually mean it! But then I hear those skeptics out there, the seasoned ones that have seen all this hype before and shook their heads and watched as the Old Gods have fallen and watched the suns burn out... and with good reason: there's many of a body littering the floor of the Archive of Dead Games, murdered each in their own personal way - from (the other) Star Trek's corporate executuon to MERP's slow and painful demise. But Posthuman did something entirely new, something that dropped the jaws of executives through the gaming corps. - they effectively made their debut title FREE!?!
What dark sorcery is this, you exclaim? What fiendish act of love-inducing, wallet-sparing altruism is this that you speak!?! That's right, the creative commons license, ladies and germs, has been used in such a way that any didgital copies of the game is free to share. Entirely! Having a copy of the .pdf file without having paid for it is... not a problem. Go on, grab a copy, it's not tough to get a hold of one... (I'd drop a copy on here, but I don't know how and I'd really like to have permission to do it and, frankly, go find your own for pity's sake!). If you want a copy of the hardback books, though, you're going to be pulling out your wallets / purses / subdermal flaps, but having said that to no greater tune than you would be for any other title.
Which brings me to the actual review... and, if you hadn't already noticed, I've given this game a 10. I don't tend to do that... but Satan commanded me to do it and I shall always obey my Lord and Master in all his divine power...
Eclipse Phase has a very unique tag:
'Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.'
This is an all new standard of science fiction storytelling in an absolutely brand-spanking new universe in a faily plausible future. Humanity has evolved and, effectively, has cured 'death' by result of the first major technological singularity - the ability to upload a human consciousness in to a computer mainframe and then download it in to another body, essentially allowing the individual to make copies of themselves or, more importantly, a Back-Up. It's true, it you were run out of bodies and somehow get your Back-Up erased you would die a Real Death, but generally speaking folks are just not up to it and psychosurgery can often help an individual to overcome such personal qualms... for a price, of course.
But this all came at a terrible price... Transhumanity was killing itself: the the final years of 'Earth that was' (see what I did there?) saw it ruined by warfare, political upheaval and environmental crisis as the planet heaved under our weight and stupidity. And while we threw ourselves out to our solar sysem in new bodies made of metal or biologically enhanced and altered variations to colonise and survey the darkness, the technology didn't stop improving. It got smarter and deadlier until one particular 'weapon', the TITAN, an advanced artifically intelligent surveillance entity designed to bring a winning card to table, suddenly instigated a holocaust that will forever been known as The Fall.
The game is set 10 years later. Earth is off limits - we lost the homeworld and anyone left down there is either dead or wish they were. Since the Fall, Transhumanity have found alien devices, creators unknown, that have been popularly referred to as Pandora Gates - the rest of the galaxy being only an Event Horizon away, and we have been colonising like crazy. It's the Wild Frontier again, but this time the predators out there aren't the odd coyote or rattler. Oh no, the TITANs are out there, along with other alien entities, most of which are being kept to some level of secrecy or another. And Transhumanity, in some instances, is becoming more and more diverse in it's social, cultural and physical appearances. With the development of nanotechnology and fabricators, new bodies and fewer physical limitations, there are floating cities on Venus, miners on Mercury, flotillas of drifting communities, remote asteroid habitats with cutting edge biomorph development developing Dolphins and Whales that can 'swim' in space. All of this, while everyone wondering the same things: will we ever get Earth back? Will the TITANs return? Why did everything go crazy like that? What will the next technological singularity be? Who will control it? Who will protect us?
The game is a science fiction conspiracy horror platform that comes in 400 pages of full colour, fantastically written, thoroughly engrossing hardback (or at least is was for me, after I'd taken a quick peek at the .pdf). To look at the cover, predominantly black with white lettering, the art band tells you everything you kind of need to know - a remote habitat in a sparse belt has an airlock opened and a segmented, prehensile tentacle-like limb protrudes with snake-like agility to grab a free-floating biped in a space suit who, if initial impressions are anything to go by, appears to have thrown themselves out of the airlock already to avoid some dark fate within. An inspired choice for cover-art - as it leaves the player / GM with the note that it could just as easily be YOUR character that's in that situation. And the book carries that sense of encroaching peril as you make your way through the source material.
The book opens with a a short story, 'LACK', to set a sort of tone and to make brief introductions to some of the features that are commonplace within the game environments, to then go on to a full and relatively thorough breakdown of the last 70ish years, the groups in play, corporations, The Fall, what is generally 'known' about the TITANs and where, what, how, who and WTF!?! Thankfully, the writing is engaging with the running theme of seeing the world(s) through the eyes of either alumni of the various cultural overviews or through, first hand accounts and interviews or from the perspective of Firewall themselves.
So that's the second time I've done that! Why do I keep dropping 'Firewall' in there like it supposed to make a difference? Character Creation, that's why!
The game suggests that your first character(s) may well want to consider being Firewall Sentinels so that you can get good and immersed in the conspiritorial nature of the game and who better to get introduced with than by the most enigmatic bunch o the lot. Firewall recruits secretly, over a considerable amount of time, using observational techniques that are so intrusive they know whether or not you'd betray them, shoot your own team-mates, sabotage the mission, go off on your own or any of the other 'non-comliant' behaviours players can get up to, and then, more often than not, hires them anyway. Because they've got a plan, yo... or do they? Perhaps... perhaps not... (GET ON WITH IT!!!)
Firewall hires from every walk of life, so your Barsoomian Miner to your Venusian Politician, from your Scum Barge security officer to your Hypercorp tradesman. No matter your political faction or your particular background, when it comes to doing a job for Firewall you may well have to put your personal vendettas and agendas aside in order to survive the job at hand. The Character Creation process thankfully gives you the sense of the sky no longer being the limit, and with my first character being an Uplifted Chimp who'd been created in a brinker asteroid belt lab, who now inhabits the body of a Bouncer Morph, goes on salvage ops and treasure hunting and hacks systems (a genius, treasure hunting ape that hacks... it was too good to be true!), I was left with the sensation that it would be a mind-blowing session to play with that character.
Choosing bodies, backgrounds, factions, gear and all the other variables that come with a diverse selection of potential character profiles can, for the beginning player, be a little daunting - this is not a game you can just throw yourself in: a GM could probably do with having a bit of experience under their belt to get new players on board and writing the stories for such a piece could prove quite challenging, especially when it comes to the magnitude of scope available. Having said that, though, the game prefers a more intimate style of play, and many factors in the game er toward story event as opposed to rolling dice to determine the outcome; space combat being the most notable - combat in space is a matter of attrition: there are no energy shields, no Star Trek teleporters, no take a few hits before the hulls get damaged - this is physics, baby, and if a chunk of metal hits your stuff in a zero-gravity vacuum with speeds and g's that are considerably in excess of your own, expect to lose your air. And your ship. And hope you got a Back-Up recently...
The system is a percentile system, predominantly, but D10s can come in handy for events like damage tests etc. It's streamlined and it's very easy to get to grips with for a new player, and the modifications to dice rolls are a playfully fudgeable element to the mechanic. While the game does spend a chapter on combat, it is not the chapter you'll need to spend a lot of time on: MESH hacking, Mind Hacking, Async powers, exsurgent virus strains and the extensive gear section require a LOT more attention due to the chapters really only giving the players a taster of what they could have and stressing that they could, if they can come up with a blueprint and access to the necessary facilities and resources, build ANYTHING! Your imagination is all that's holding back your story, character or campaign.
I'd say I would be careful about spoilers, but it's necessary to point out that there is a GM section at the back of the book that the casual player should consider NOT reading, but then that would be like saying 'here's an amazing book, but don't read between pages x and y because you'll screw up the stroy for yourself'. In the case of Eclipse Phase, the story is NOT CANON after a certain point. The session's GM decides why the TITANs went crazy, what the Exsurgent Virus is, who the Factors and the ETI are, what happened to the Iktomi, what Project Ozma is and all the rest of that. Each GM may have a different slant from where the game would like to offer, but if you are simply a player and wish to read through that section of the book, go in to it knowing that if you're looking for the vaunted Secrets of the Games Master, you're going to find yourself looking for a tin opener and the GM's cranium because it's simply not as clear cut as that.
Conclusively, this is one of those games in the culture that really should be part of any GM / Players collection. It is to Sci-Fi Conspiracy Horror what D&D was to high fantasy adventure, what Cyberpunk 2020 was to antidisestablishmentarianism, Call of Cthulhu was to steampunk horror and what Bobo the Dog Faced Boy was to Circus Freaks (thanks Robin Williams...). It's a necessary addition and if you don't have it, in one form or another, then I feel it is fair to say that you're either no longer THAT interested in RPGs or you've gotten too comfortable with having your mediocre, corporate-spun RPGs fed to you.
Get it... you WON'T regret it...
ISBN 10 - 9-780984-583508
ISBN 13 - 978-0-9845835-0-8