on October 28, 2007
One of the first handfuls of games to be released on the GameCube, Eternal Darkness (ED) promised an epic storyline and gory gameplay, and so kept many players eager to get their hands on this next-gen title. Its theme of horror and the supernatural made ED take a firmly mature stance as a game in contrast to "family-friendly" Nintendo titles. Originally conceived as an N64 title but cancelled, it was exclusively re-developed for the GameCube by Silicon Knights, the makers of the Playstation hit RPG Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Fortunately, ED lives up to many of its expectations; however, there are a few minor issues with the game. But these don't prevent it from being an outstanding GameCube title and an innovative horror classic.
The premise of ED is of an epic pschological-horror-adventure and one that is, for the most part, in the mould of survival horror titles such as Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark 4 (AITD). The principle character in the game is Alexandra Rovias, a student who becomes rapidly drawn into a supernatural mystery following the gruesome mutilated murder of her Grandfather, Edward Rovias. Without spoiling the plot too much, she delves into the chapters of a book called the Tome of Eternal Darkness. Upon reading the chapters, she learns of how other people throughout history have encountered the Tome and the ancients who persistently seek to destroy humankind. The great part of the game is that you get to play a diverse range of characters as you progress through the chapters. But I'll come to the gameplay later. The storyline, though, is one of the most successful aspects of ED. The plot is absorbing and its mature horror theme is very welcome considering the target audience of other GameCube games. The supernatural theme of the story is drawn from horror writers such as H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and there's plenty to show for it. With well thoughtout characters, detailed backgrounds and historically authentic scenarios, ED's concept triumphs as a hybrid in the survival/ horror/ adventure department.
The narrative is well executed through ED's visceral gameplay. Warning: this is not a game for the faint-hearted! You play in third-person perspective through many spine-chilling environments. You'll encounter a number of grizzly foes from the dead, mostly the ever-familiar zombies. The combat system in the game works great. Chopping up zombies' limbs has never been as fun whilst a quick shot to the head with a rifle will dispatch them easily. The adventure element is over-simplified, puzzle solving is simplistic but a more unique aspect of the game is the spell system. You can collect runes & codices to create and decipher spells that can be used for a myriad of vital functions. Some create a personal shield, others reveal hidden doors, some create magical attacks and others can even let you possess and control enemy creatures. Effective use of spells is the key to mastering this game. But many puzzles dissolve in actions no more complicated than pushing levers or placing objects in position to open secret doors. This I found to be a disappointing aspect of ED, more original puzzles would have set this game truly apart from other survival horror titles. Given the intellectual framework of the game, puzzle design should have lived up to it and also one that is enhanced with the RPG-esque spell casting elements. Also brilliant is the sanity meter. Keep you're sanity level high by quickly dispatching monsters. Otherwise you'll hallucinate and see yourself mutilated, shrunk, standing on the ceiling and even have your T.V switched off! Very original and tremendous fun!
The graphics of ED are perhaps its second strongest facet for its time, with meticulously detailed environments and lush texturing. The GameCube is pushed to the limit at many points with gorgeous lens flare and coloured lighting effects. But certain character textures are well done and others of lesser quality. The weapons and item details are good, so are the environmental details of the game's locations. These range from a grandiose and creepy Rovias mansion to underground tombs, cathedrals, also a jungle-infested temple complex in Cambodia. ED is a globetrotting adventure that subtly alters the games locations as they are revisited by characters from ancient times to the modern world. I do have one moderate gripe, though. The game could have had more varied locations rather than just levels that are a collection of tunnels, corridors and `box rooms'. Some outdoor locations would have added greatly to the expansive approach of ED. The main location is the Rovias mansion; packed to the brim with `haunted house' style secrets. Despite minor inconsistencies in the graphics and visual presentation, ED does a very good job in the `looks' department.
A key factor in survival-horror games is audio. Mess up on the sound and your horror game is nothing more than a tacky ghost ride. Thankfully, the aural experience of ED is punchy and stark, greatly reinforcing the gameplay. There is a rich variety of music, ranging from tracks that draw from chants of Franciscan Monks to a Middle-Eastern/ Arabian theme. Music is atmospheric and brooding but not highly original. It very much serves as `background' rather being used in a dynamic sense during gameplay. But some tunes are again, rushed through in creation. Sound effects are, for the most part, strong. Monster effects and weapons' sounds are audibly graphic and tangible. Little details of fire crackling and footsteps are very immersive. However, some effects have been blatantly attached from stock libraries, but this a minor criticism of an experienced gamer that has spent far too much time in game worlds! This only slightly diminishes the authenticity of the rest of the audio presentation in the game.
So far, ED has more or less delivered on areas of graphics, audio and gameplay to quite a high standard but there are other notable areas of the game that don't feel as well produced. Firstly, there is the clunky inventory. This is perhaps the most deplorable aspect of ED. It is reminiscent of Resident Evil and AITD and all those annoying `Mix' `Equip' and `Combine' options that you had to choose just to fire a gun! It has simply been tacked on with very little thought, straight from yesteryear Playstation games. It is outdated, outmoded and does the opposite of creating a smooth gaming experience. Nowhere is this felt more than in the cantankerous spell system! The inventory and menu system could have been refined a lot more and many screens could have been rid of altogether. Secondly, despite the evolutionary advance in console technology, games as a form of interactive art have not progressed beyond the `B'-movie scripting and voice acting. The dialogue is at some parts strong but in others mediocre. The voice acting varies in quality, and the dramatic tone is non-existent in the roughly edited cut scenes, occasionally reducing the game to a 2nd class horror experience.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem seems to be one of the most ambitious game projects ever. The scope and breadth at which it tells a supernatural tale is broader than many other games. But there are many inconsistencies throughout ED. Several areas of the game truly shine but others simply seem `hashed together', like the weak level design. Also, a few additions such as a first-person view and a moveable camera would have helped in giving more player control. The re-play value is supposed to be high. You need to play the game through three times in effect to destroy all three gods but I merely saw this as subjecting gamers to repeat déjà vu experiences. The difficulty is set on the easy/ intermediate side, and is not too draining on the reflexes or the cranium. ED is unique in many welcome ways but falls short due to graphical and audio cutbacks, a lamentable inventory system and mixed dialogue & voice acting. Overall, I enjoyed the game to a large extent and it is definitely a must try and a possible must own, for many open-minded GameCube gamers.