Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem


Developer: Silicon Knights
Platform(s): Gamecube
Release Date(s): Nov 2002

It doesn’t happen very often when you pick up a game which you’ve heard almost nothing about and are completely blown away by it. Games that good are usually talked about and become pretty mainstream. Therefore, when I picked up Eternal Darkness, I was expecting a half decent survival horror and not much else.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when it happened to be one of the best games I have ever played in my life.

The set up:
Alexandra Roivas has been contacted by the police to identify the body of her dead grandfather. Arriving at his mansion on Rhode Island, she becomes swiftly aware that the police have absolutely no idea where to begin looking for her grandfathers killer. So, she decides to explore the mansion herself, in the hopes of finding some clues as to what caused his death. In doing so however, she uncovers a conspiracy that extends back a millennia, concerns all mankind, and will push her to the very brink of insanity.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

It is, this game is as awesome as an octopus made of knives who can fly.

To begin with, the story itself is utterly incredible and truly epic. The game opens with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe, and this sets the mood for the game to follow. You can tell that the game developers took a great deal of inspiration from the short stories of Poe or Lovecraft (The Call of Cthullu in particular). The game is divided into 12 chapters, in which you will play with as many characters.

I was a little unsure about this aspect at first, as I thought it would not give me enough time to relate to any of the characters. However, with the exception of maybe the first chapter, the game is challenging enough that you will have plenty of time with each one. Every character comes from a different era and location, so you will find yourself playing as Roman centurions, Persian thieves, WWII journalists and even modern-day firefighters. It takes the full two thousand years to explain the grand narrative, which will give you an idea of the epic scale of the game.

The game itself handles exceptionally well. Being a survival horror, comparisons between it and Resident Evil will naturally be made. One place in which Darkness is massively superior is how well the game controls. Eschewing the tank controls from earlier Resident Evil games, the characters in Darkness move quickly and with fluidity. However, they are still made vulnerable to enemies as they have a level of endurance which, when it runs out, will cause them to slow down and gasp for breath.

The battle system is also an improvement from that of the early Resident Evils. A wide range of weapons are available to each character. Sometimes they are readily available, other times they must be found. Rather than just swinging your weapon randomly, or aiming sluggishly, you can now lock onto an enemy with the click of a button and aim for specific parts with the analogue stick. This even factors into a tactical approach, as most enemies have weak points in different parts of their bodies.

As time goes on, you will also learn magick. This is a central part of Eternal Darkness. Magic systems are integrated into quite a few adventure games, and there is nearly always some kind of issue with it, whether it is either too simple or complicated, some spells are plain useless or whatever.

Luckily, Darkness has none of these issues. It may seem daunting at first, when you see the amount of options at your disposal. But Darkness brings the player in slowly, making only a small number of these options actually functional at first. As you find more spells or magick runes (runes for spells are like bullets for guns) later in the game, you will find yourself more confident with using these abilities.

The magick system itself is incredibly deep. You create your own spells from a variety of raw materials. There are circles of power, which determine the strength of the spell. There is the spell allegiance, which determines what the spell will be most effective on. Then there are subject runes, which determine what to cast the spell on, and action runes, which determine what the spell does. A great deal of time will be spent investing in this system, which is both accessible and rewarding.

Then of course, there is my favourite aspect of the game. The players insanity.

Whereas most survival horrors will do their utmost to scare the players with jump scares, creepy atmosphere or monsters (not that Darkness is lacking in ANY of those categories), Eternal Darkness has a truly unique method which raises it from being a quality game to a masterpiece. As the player encounters more monsters and disturbing events, the looser their grip on insanity comes. Corridors begin to tilt to the side. Objects begin to move as if animated. And when you’re in the middle of a tough fight, the channel changes of its own accord.

You read that correctly. In a stroke of unparalleled genius, the game designers decided to break the fourth wall to really throw the fear into the player. Controllers pretend to stop working, fake glitches appear onscreen, all the while making you panic that you’ve broken it somehow. The first time this happens to you will be an absolute body blow to your nervous system.

Overall:

I cannot stress enough how exceptional and unique this game is, and it is shocking to see how it hasn’t pervaded the mainstream media. It is excellently paced, with stellar gameplay, an epic story and quirky little tricks strategically throughout. Playing on the fear of the player, rather than the character as in most survival horrors, is inspired. The graphics hold up well, unusual for an old 3D game, though it was only released in 2002, so this is to be expected. If you are a fan of survival horror games at all, this is an absolute must buy.

Awful Rating: 10/10

To think that once I could not see beyond the veil of our reality… to see those who dwell behind. I was once a fool…” – Alexandra Roivas

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

*SPOILER ALERT*
IF YOU WISH TO PLAY THIS GAME, BUT DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE TRICKS THE GAME PLAYS ON YOU, READ NO FURTHER! HOWEVER, IF YOU DON’T PLAN ON PLAYING IT, DO WHATEVER YOU WANT, SEE IF I CARE:

List of tricks the game played on me:

  • The first trick the game played occurred as I was running from a pile of zombies. In the heat of the chase, the tv ‘appeared’ to switch off.
  • While walking down a corridor at one stage, the game went to mute. Despite the fact that the mute sign on the TV looked nothing like it usually look, I still turned the volume back up.
  • After nearly dying, I cast a spell to heal myself. When I did, my head, arms and torso fell off, leaving me with just a pair of animated legs. This lasted about two minutes.
  • At one point I walked into a room and for some reason, I had become a zombie. This lasted about two minutes also until I eventually died and FLASH, I was back where I’d started.
  • One of my favourites, after finishing a particularly epic chapter, the screen went black and said “To be continued…”. It then began to advertise what looked like a sequel to the game.
  • At one point I went into a room and found about twenty bat thing creatures. (Impressive considering I had only ever fought two at a time). When I hit one, they all disappeared.
  • When walking into a new room, I slowly began to get smaller. Only noticed this when I got to the other door and realised I was half its size. This also happened only where I got bigger.
  • At another point, I saw the volume bar beginning to go down. At this point I was wise to the trick, which is just as well because a loud bang went off as soon as the hallucination ended.
  • A fly walked across the screen. It wasn’t real.
  • At one point, in an empty area, the screen went black, with the word video in the corner. The sound was still there and I heard the sounds of my character being attacked before it went back to normal.
  • Opening my menu screen, a blue and white screen (a pc error screen) comes up, saying a bunch of files are not found.
  • Head falls off at one stage. If I walk over, I can pick it up, at which point it says “To be or not to be”.
  • And the meanest trick of all!:
  • In the very very last chapter, after more than ten hours of playing, I went into the menu screen only to see my own save file get deleted.
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