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Eternal Darkness

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Silicon Knights
Publisher:  Nintendo
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Survival Horror
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  10-16-02

I am going to take back everything I said. Those of you who saw my preview for this game before it was released will understand me when I say that I was so wrong. It’s true, I may be flush with the bloom of new (and unanticipated) discovery, but I can say with no small exaggeration that alongside a select few, noted classics (Resident Evil for the Gamecube; Final Fantasy 7, Parasite Eve and Silent Hill for the Playstation), and admittedly looking beyond the reasonable, if unspectacular (even, at times, blocky) visuals, this may be one of the greatest survival horror/RPG games ever released.

Right from the start, you know it’s going to be a hairy trip. Like reading Grant Morrison, you just know it’s going to be wrong to like this; but you know just how much you’re going to. Basted a tad too liberally with the trappings (if thankfully little of the substance) of nasty old school ceremonial magick, this is a Lovecraftian tour de force through the corridors of time, with the influence and presence of the "elder gods" becoming all the more real and present throughout the course of your unwholesome occultic studies. Needless to say, this game wasn’t designed for the kiddies; Reaganite yuppies would be apoplectic over exposing their sanctified little ones’ minds to this sort of heavy reverse-metaphysics. This one’s strictly for the goth, the adventurer, those with a twisted and dark bent.

The atmosphere is thick and tense. A sense of foreboding, the unknown, an essential wrongness strikes you even within the first few minutes of gameplay - and it just gets hairier from there on out. You play as Alexandra Roivas, called in to identify the body of her recently deceased grandfather, who has been horribly mutilated under mysterious circumstances in the otherwise undisturbed environment of his quaint New England home. After the forensics squad make their departure, Alexandra begins her investigation of this eerie estate, eventually stumbling upon a thick and ancient tome bound in human flesh. And this is where the fun begins.

There’s no point in spoiling the whole unhealthy experience by reciting sundry elements of Eternal Darkness’ plot. Suffice it to say that through Alexandra’s progressive studies of the evil tome, you are taken through the first person experiences of several characters throughout history whose lives…and afterlives…have been fouled by their contact with the book and their subtle (and not so subtle) exposure to the underlying forces and machinations its study, perhaps even its mere presence, reveal to its unwary stewards...

Like a true occult study of things one should have left alone in the first place, Eternal Darkness enfolds and entwines its characters, and the viewer, in its myriad grasping tentacles, only to spit them out perceptually changed. The game’s oft-maligned utilization of the sanity meter (which drops in direct proportion to one’s exposure to certain…unwholesome forces) is a stroke of genius, and a knowing tip of the hat to its Lovecraftian derivation. Indeed, it would not be unheard of to find one’s nightmares peppered by the myriad discoveries, denizens and general atmosphere of the game; particularly after a long stretch of gameplay, reaching deep into the quiet solitude of the night…

Moreso even than its closest progenitor, the eerie Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness draws the gamer in bit by bit, subtly involving to the point where literal hours pass like seconds – and more to the point, where the omnipresent whisperings and titterings, the oppressive mood and shocking misdirection of many of the game’s hallucinatory "illusions" begin to affect one physically, emotionally, mentally. Like Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness is one of the only games of record to offer one the perverse pleasure of leaving one looking over one’s shoulder throughout, a subtle induction of primal fear and jittery paranoia that entries so blunt and visceral as the much touted (if equally excellent, for very different reasons) Resident Evil could never dream of approaching.

The sole weak spot, an overly long and difficult chapter involving a young Bedouin fighting his way through a time-lost tomb, is hardly a detriment to the game as a whole; and indeed, had its length not been so unnecessarily extended by multiple deaths and restarts, would not even have merited as a detraction from the Eternal Darkness experience.

As you might expect, each "chapter" of the game features its own nicely designed historical (or pseudo-historical) milieu, peppered with often fascinating detail and colored by moody lighting effects. Beyond an occasional Dreamcast-game style blockiness to some of the characters in certain keyframe sequences (nee: D2, Shadow Man, etc.), the character design is essentially well done; with the added bonus of some reasonably appropriate dubbing, for a video game. You can play the game in either widescreen or standard TV format.

One of the more interesting innovations of Eternal Darkness’ gameplay is in its use of a combat situation targeting system. During fight sequences, you can target certain parts of your enemies’ bodies, allowing you to, for example, knock the heads off of monsters surrounding you. While it does not quite result in a finishing move, this headless state has the amusing (and practical) result of leaving enemies standing around confused, swinging blindly, and often enough actually lashing out at (and taking down) fellow enemies in their immediate vicinity (in effect, doing your work for you).

God, I love this game. Forgive me.

Highs:

  • Awesome, unwholesome atmosphere
  • Excellent storyline
  • Lovecraft fans, apply here

Lows:

  • Some blocky graphics in spots (particularly during FMVs)
  • Too many foes (i.e. resets) during Bedouin episode

Final Verdict:

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is one of those rare games that will leave you heart pounding, pulse racing spooked. It may not be Resident Evil in terms of graphical perfection or gameplay difficulty, but if you’re looking for a good scare or a psychological kick in the ass, this is the one. Highly recommended.

Overall Score: 9.5

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