"Why the fuck haven't I reviewed this game yet?!"
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Developer: Silicon Knights
That's the exact question I just asked myself about 20 minutes ago. "Why the fuck haven't I reviewed this game yet?!" I've been preaching to people about this game for about a year and a half, and my commentary has fallen on a nearly unanimous crowd of deaf ears. Well, here it is. My definitive, complete, exhaustive and unabridged opinion of this masterpiece of a game.
Millions of years before any form of intelligent life roamed the planet, millions of years before any documented species of creature eeked out a meager existence on Earth, a race of creatures known as the Ancients ruled the world. Their species was suited to living in the harsh, acidic evironment, and it was in that prehistoric world that they thrived. They were an abnormally intelligent and powerful breed of being, and as such, their species was in a constant state of war. They strove to best one another continually, always seeking more power, always feeding their own greed. They maintained their position of superiority for millennia, that is, until they nearly wiped their entire race from the face of the Earth. In the end, only a handful remained. Four, to be exact. However, it was not their dwindling numbers that halted their brutality, but the fact that each had become so powerful that they were locked in stalemate against one another. As centuries passed, each one foresaw the coming of the dinosaurs, the ice age, and the rise of mankind. Knowing that the world would change rapidly, and not in a fashion that would accomodate their presence, each one disappeared from the world, and since, not one has been heard from.
2000 A.D. Alexandra Roivas is a college student attending school in Washington state. She is in deep sleep one night, when a phone call awakens her. The voice on the end of the line informs her that her grandfather, Edward Roivas, has had an unfortunate accident and that her presence is required at her grandfather's estate in Rhode Island. She takes the first flight out.
Upon arriving, she already understands what she's going to be told. Her grandfather is dead. She simply wants to know how it happened and what the police plan on doing about it. When her questions are answered with more questions and half-answers, she decides to remain in the mansion and try to piece together what happened to her grandfather on her own. The ineptitude of the local police fuels her resolve, and the next evening, she begins to investigate the mansion on her own.
Her investigations bring up a number of interesting details. First, her grandfather was a fan of the occult. His personal library contains a large collection of works from authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. The majority of the art in the mansion is disturbing and dark. Second, and more importantly, Alex discovers a secret study hidden within the core of the house. Within it is a clutter of ancient artifatcs, and even more sinister pieces of art and literature, the most notable of which is a large book, bound in human flesh and bone. It is called The Tome of Eternal Darkness, and it is the key to the salvation of all mankind.
Upon opening the Tome, Alex discovers the history of the Ancients, and learns of a secret society of demons, devils and monsters seeking to awaken the lost beasts and restore them to dominance. By indulging further into the book, Alex gains the ability to cast powerful Magick, to identify and do battle with demonic entities, and most importantly, the ability to see and experience the paths of 11 other unfortunate individuals that have come into contact with the Tome and the 2000 year old conspiracy at work behind the shadows.
Pretty sweet, no?
Here is where a lot of people are initially skeptical. At first glance, anyone watching the game will see a Resident Evil clone. Yes, there are zombies. Yes, it's a scary game. But, those two factors do not a Resident Evil clone make. Resident Evil is a survival horror. Shoot the zombies, run away from the zombies, conserve your ammo, plan your paths, shit your pants when a giant Tyrant crashes through the wall. Eternal Darkness is a psychological thriller, and as such, is a vastly different beast.
ED is a thrid person action/adventure. You play as 12 different characters over the span of 2000 years. One chapter, you'll play a Franciscan monk during the Roman Inquisition, the next you'll play a firefighter during the Gulf War. You will play characters that are heavily prepared for combat as well as characters that have no battle training whatsoever. You will creep through the hallways of an ancient and ominous cathedral and will flee from traps in the paths of a Cambodian temple. All of the weaponry, fighting styles and equipment is 100% accurate to the time period. Historial events are also accurate, as you will quest against the impending forces of the Darkness during many important events and occurances.
The action in the game can seem a bit slow at first, and in the first few chapters it is. This is not a game that you can just pick up and jump right into. You have to give it time to grab hold of you. But, once it does, be prepared for it, because it will not let you go. Your characters use an array of different weapons and tactics for doing combat. A character in ancient Persia, for example, uses a pair of curved Tulwar swords and a collection of razor-tipped chakrams for long-distance damage. Another character can locate a civil war sabre and a pair of flintlock pistols. And yet another will use an assult rifle and grenades to flatten his adversaries. The combat in the game is rather fine-tuned, allowing you to target specific body parts and cripple an enemy selectively. You'll be seeing lots of severed heads and limbs in this game.
And I'm sure that many of you will be happy to know that this game uses full 360 degree control, as opposed to Resident Evil's first-person-shooter-in-a-third-person-environment controls.
The Magick system is the true gem of the combat engine however, it is also the reason why the first few levels are a bit slow. You don't actually recieve any magic until about the third level or so, but it's at that point that the game begins to unfold it's startling complexities. The Magick system in and of itself is brilliant. Here's basically how it works:
There are four different "elemental" alignments that you can choose for a spell. Red, Green, Blue and Purple. On top of that, there are three different power levels to set a spell at which will determine the length, power and effectiveness of the spell. Beyond that, each individual spell is constructed of a series of runes. There are two types. The best way to describe them is as "verb" runes and "direct object" runes. By combining these runes in the proper order, you can create different spell effects. Example: use the "Project" and "Area" runes together and you get the "Magickal Attack" spell. Use the "Protect" and "Self" runes and you'll get the "Shield" spell. With all of those factors in mind, there are technically 120 spells in the game. That's a fairly impressive feat, I must say.
The last pivotal aspect of the gameplay is a feature called the Sanity Gauge. In Eternal Darkness, you have three gauges. Health (Red), Magick (Blue) and Sanity (Green). The Sanity gauge works as such. The characters you controls throughout the game are, for all intents and purposes, average people. So, when Joe Schmo stumbles into a room filled with rotting, demonic horrors, how do you think his mind is going to respond to that? Probably not very well. Every time your character encounters a new monstrous threat, his or her Sanity gauge will take a hit. The lower the gauge gets, the more fucked up the game becomes. The camera starts to tilt at weird angles, statues turn their heads to follow your character, the walls start to bleed, inarticulate screaming and the sounds of bloody murder reverberate through the walls. It is a truly terrifying experience.
The best part, however, is the selection of various "Sanity Effects" that are programmed into the game. I don't want to spoil any surprises, but I will guarantee that these effects will screw with your head. I've played through the game four times, and I still get caught off guard by many of them.
To sum up the gameplay of Eternal Darkness is to say that it is one of the most mind-bending experiences you'll encounter in the realm of video games. It will have you constantly questioning what is real and what is a hallucination. If you immerse yourself completely in the atmosphere of the game, you won't think, act or respond to anything normally for weeks. This game can fuck you up...but in a good way.
Outstanding. Of course, the game is a year and a half old, so comparing it to current screenshots of Resident Evil 4 or Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes will show the signs of it's age. But, one way or another, it's a beatiful game. The lighting effects, particle effects and other special effects are all wonderful. The animations are all extremely realistic. Each character has a very distinct set of animations and physical quirks about their movement and actions. The game runs at a constant framrate of 60 fps. No lag, no hiccups, no skipping. It's crystal clear the entire way. Graphically, I can't find a single flaw. It's not an over-the-top showpiece like RE4 or Star Fox Adventures. The beauty of the graphics engine is much more subtle, and in many cases, much more effective.
My God. So good. SO GOOD. First and foremost, I have to mention the voice acting. I am a voice actor nerd to a certain extent, and this game is a wet dream for people like me. The game features one of the most professional and high-quality casts of voice actors in the business. Michael Bell (Raziel from Legacy of Kain) David Hayter (Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid) Richard Doyle (Moebius from Legacy of Kain) and Cam Clarke (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Tick, Metal Gear Solid) are but a few of the actors that lend their abilities to the cast of characters. In terms of the acting, the game is sheer gold. Quite possibly the most well-acted video game I've ever played.
The sound beyond that is amazing as well. The whole game runs in Dolby Pro Logic II, so for you audiophiles, that should be a treat. The music is perfectly matched to the enironments, usually keeping itself fiarly low-key until something particularly nasty happens. For example, when your Sanity gauge takes a plunge. In the mansion, for example, there is little in the way of music when Alex is sane. However, when her sanity starts to drop, a strange, halting wind-up jack-in-the-box tune starts to play with voices quietly whispering and taunting behind it. If her sanity drops low enough, the voices rise to frantic sobbing and occasional screams of absolute terror.
The sound effects are all top-notch as well. You sword clangs against walls if you try to swing it in a compat area, your footsteps clock or thud appropriately on all the right surfaces, and hacking into a zombie's torso connects with a sickeningly wet smack.
I guess my biggest complaint is that some of the earlier chapters are over too quickly. Although, it makes sense to do it that way, considering that those first few are a bit plodding. However, the really lengthy chapters don't come in until about the fifth or sixth, and there are one or two chapters before then that I really feel should have been longer.
My only other complaint is the compression of some of the FMVs. There aren't many of them, and the last few are actually pretty damned good. But, there are a few interspersed throughout the earlier parts of the game that are very compressed and kind of cheapen the feel of those sequences. In all honesty, I would have been fine with a 2-disc game had it meant that all FMV compression could have been eliminated.
I can't praise this game enough. I've played through it four times, and after writing this review, I'm seriously considering going back through it when I get off work (that is, unless KMart has copies of Twin Snakes in stock). I've been preaching to people about the brilliance of Eternal Darkness for over a year, and most people just look the other direction. If you have read this entire review, I would strongly urge you to pick this game up. Eternal Darkness (like Beyond Good & Evil, Viewtiful Joe and F-Zero GX) has not recieved the recognition it deserves. This game is truly brilliant, and what's more impressive is that the game can be found pretty cheap basically anywhere you go. IGN, for example, is selling the game (shipping and tax included) for about 17 bucks total. There is no earthly reason why this game shouldn't be garnering better sales than it has. So, again, I urge you to pick it up. You can thank me later.
Last edited by Raziel; 2004-03-18 at 07:07 AM.