Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem Gamecube
Roy Rossi / Aug 24th, 2002 No Comments
Some games wear their hearts outside their chests, and the heart of what makes Eternal Darkness (ED) an exceptional horror game is visible from the first screen, where a foreboding quote from Edgar Allen Poe is read in echoing splendor. Spawned from that kind of inspiration, ED spins a brilliant story that effectively introduces the genre to thrills and chills of cosmic horror mastered by renowned authors like Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard. The expected survival horror features are all present in ED of course: zombies and things that use humans as jack-in-the-boxes keep the game constantly tense. But the game’s ability to keep players riveted to the screen comes as much from the unfolding story, augmented by the effect such frightening encounters have on the character’s sanity.
Taking cue from Lovecraft (beyond the grave?), ED’s story revolves around a book of unspeakable evil. What could be considered the main plot finds Alexandra Roivas investigating the murder of her grandfather by exploring his mansion. This is only the story’s framework though, as ED almost immediately veers from being yet another story of spunky woman combating terrifying evil to a trip through a long, twisting, and disturbing history of the horrors spoken of in the book and the people who combat them. Players control a variety of these interesting historical heroes in a number of authentic, diverse, and accurate time periods, each doing the survival horror thang of zombie chopping and puzzle solving.
The graphical quality in ED is astonishing. Like the horror masters that possessed them, the developers used everything they could in the graphics to create a frightening atmosphere. The game even invites the player to view such subtly disturbing works of art by allowing close-up views of objects, especially in the main mansion. The graphic detail is everywhere from the character’s faces to the creepy, bizarre, and alien environments that even mighty Cthulhu would feel at home in. Animation detail is equal to the graphics; character movement is less stiff compared to earlier games in the genre.
More than any game in my experience, ED uses sound to magnify the horrific atmosphere, something that is especially apparent as the character’s sanity meter goes down. Player’s hear the maniacal ravings, voices, crying, etc. that are going on in their character’s heads as they encounter more sense-shaking horrors. The game’s magnificent script stands alone among video games. As with everything else, the writing is focused on advancing the horrific atmosphere and does so without becoming campy, monotonous, or ridiculous. The touches extend to include snippets of authentic language in the early historical episodes, something that left me stunned with wonder over how serious the designers took the story and how well they succeeded. Excellent, highly-regarded gaming voice actors read the lines impeccably; even the hysterics of Bill Hootkins as Dr. Maximillian Roivas are convincing. David Hayter (he of Solid Snake fame) and other members of Metal Gear Solid 2’s cast also provide some voice overs.
The sanity system was the most intriguing part of ED, and though it turns out to be a clever and fun addition, it overall has little impact on the overall game play. After one or two instances of the character (or player) “hallucinating,” it becomes pretty easy to tell when something is really happening or not. While the delusions are fun, often amusing, and occasionally will even catch a player off guard, they only work once. I figure it’s only a matter of time before I have seen them all and they consequently become annoying diversions from advancing in the game.
Yet aside from sanity’s effect on game play, ED’s most frightening moments are the result of running around with a character teetering on the edge of madness. As one example of many, the walls in the house will start to drip blood, and I don’t even want to think about what happens in the upstairs hall (let’s just say it tapped nicely into a childhood fear). None of these effects interfere with the game’s progression, but they make the game all the more frightening. As such, thrill-minded players may find themselves intentionally letting their sanity run dry to see what happens.
Much of ED’s game play and a good portion of the puzzles involve the game’s magic system. Players discover magic runes lying about and combine them to form spells. The game makes the magic system intuitive as all the runes can be deciphered upon finding a magical codex, and constructing the spells takes just a little thought and tinkering to master. Character’s have a magic meter that recharges which running around, which can lead to moments when a player runs laps around an unoccupied area to recharge. One thing I thought would have made an excellent, Lovecraft-compliant addition to the magic system was a cost in sanity for casting spells, but I noticed none.
The magic system is one example of ED’s only flaw; it’s a relatively easy game to beat, particularly for experienced and unflappable zombie hunters. After completing the first few levels and figuring out the basics of the magic system, it actually becomes difficult to die or even go insane given a little bit of care. Using magic, one press of the control pad is all that’s required to fix the character’s fragile body and/or mind. To make the game even easier, ED has an enemy creature whose attack is, more often than not, beneficial to the player! Giving a player a complete health or sanity recharge from a creature’s attack is not a good way to make the creature scary. Aside from that critter, the other creatures in ED are relatively easy to eliminate via dismemberment, especially with melee weapons. In fact, ED is the first survival horror game I’ve played where I wasn’t obsessively worried about conserving ammunition since the ranged weapons in the game are often less effective than melee against most enemies. The game’s ease allowed me to complete the game in about 20 hours – plenty of game to be sure, but I would’ve loved a difficulty setting.
ED does include a great incentive to replay it by slightly shifting the story to focus on a different evil threatening the world. I found this to be a more compelling reason to replay the game than the ability to acquire a secret item.
Despite its overall ease, the amazing production values in ED make it a must-have for any gamer who can handle the horrific content. Its story, written in the spirit of horror’s greatest authors, is worth the price by itself. Factor in the best in graphics, sound, acting, plus excellent survival horror game play with some fun twists, and it’s a game that stands as a prime example of video games as art (though it probably wouldn’t be the best to use in convincing politicians of that fact). With Resident Evil, it also convincingly establishes the GameCube as a gaming horror fan’s console. Here’s hoping ED becomes a long-lived undead franchise.
FINAL SCORE: 96%