Let it be said that Eternal Darkness has had a somewhat bumpy development cycle, but through it all the press has remained fairly positive about the game, no matter what company is publishing it. Maybe I should dictate what I mean by bumpy development cycle. ED started out as a Nintendo 64 game (and still inherits some of those roots, but more on that later), and through time and delayed releases, it was blessed with being transferred to Nintendo’s newest platform, the GameCube, when it looked like the N64 boat was about to go under. Another factor, not directly attributed to the development cycle, is this game is being published by Nintendo, a company who, up until last year, had never published a game over the Teen rating, now we see a change in the flavor at Nintendo and several Mature rated games have been, and are, being developed for release on it’s newest console. Eternal Darkness may just be the tip of the iceberg, but once gamers give this game a try for even just five minutes you will be hooked forever on the new Nintendo.
What really gets things going strong is the strangely engrossing introduction to the game. After the GameCube boots normally you are treated to a rather sinister quote from Edgar Allen Poe, and while you can skip it every time, I found myself each time I turned on the system reading the quote, listening to the voice over. There is no way that Poe could have imaged how literally this quote would be taken in today’s society coupled with this game. The voice over continues after the most impressive Nintendo logo introduction completes in a blood red race-track logo.
Welcome to Darkness…
I have to try really hard to be vague on my aspects of describing the game itself, because every little bit I reveal, I could be spoiling a huge part of the story for you, so beware, while I won’t try to post any spoilers, I can’t promise anything.
The game starts off with a dream sequence by our heroine Alexandria Rovas who is awakened by a phone call from the Rhode Island Police Department and is informed that her grandfather has been found murder, more specifically decapitated, at his home, cause unknown. After speaking with a lieutenant on the police force, and coming to the conclusion that the investigation is going nowhere, Alex decides to find out what happen to her grandfather herself, and in doing so she uncovers the Tome of Eternal Darkness a book that chronicles the past experiences of over a dozen individuals who have faced the coming threat dating back to the time of Caesar.
Through the game you will play as a variety of characters including a young girl in the Angkor Wat portion of Asia, a young Squire in France, a Roman soldier, and in between you will be a young girl exploring a mansion in modern day Rhode Island.
The most surprising aspect of the game is the Mature rating itself. This isn’t Mortal Kombat or a gritty First Person Shooter where the gore is used more as shock value and “coolness,” the gore in Eternal Darkness presents a whole new direction for video games. This game is rather M for the fact that it is very adult in nature, the themes are intense and the Insanity Effects themselves can send shivers down even the most jaded person’s spine. Of course, the game features a healthy amount of gore, but it isn’t overused or overplayed like some games. I would be safe in saying that when Nintendo set out to create a new image for itself, I don’t think anyone could have ever imaged the Big N could create the most adult feeling game ever published.
Many will compare Eternal Darkness to Capcom’s award winning Resident Evil series, and while the basic gameplay may seem very similar in theory, the two games are very different once you actually play them. While Resident Evil focuses on pre-rendered static environments and an endless flow of Zombies and other mutated monsters, Eternal Darkness features dynamic environments and while it does feature a good number of combat situations the puzzles are equally more complex and more rewarding to accomplish.
In Resident Evil you are to locate any set number of keys to progress through the mansion/city and then come upon another level with some levers and switches where you need to connect a wire, or find a handle. Eternal Darkness is different, puzzles range from seeing a picture on a wall of a room that contains doors you can’t see yet, and as the game goes on the puzzles will increasingly get harder and harder to accomplish, but with some thinking and with some mind torturing-head banging thought you will figure it out.
The game’s graphics range from sub-par to truly imaginative. As I stated before the game started out as a Nintendo 64 game, and some of that shows up in the final GameCube product. Character models are low-polygon representations of people and enemies that lack the general polish one would expect to see from Nintendo on it’s newest platform, but as the game progresses things get prettier and prettier which could be accountable to the fact that the later parts of the game were designed after it made the next-gen transition while the beginnings were originally designed on the Nintendo 64. While nothing looks horrible, there isn’t some of the awesome texture work we should expect to see from a powerful machine like the ‘Cube.
Sound and Music are amazing in themselves but when combines together they create an unstoppable mix that creates atmosphere so think you can cut it with a knife. The game really benefits from the highly-hyped Dolby Pro Logic II mix that enables the five distinct audio channels a way to make their voices heard. While I do have a surround sound system with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, it lacks a Pro Logic II decoder and therefore I was forced to run the game in normal Pro Logic, but even on the lower platform of technology Eternal Darkness really shines.
Most players have probably heard about the amazing sanity effects that occur throughout the game. You character possess a third meter in addition to health and mana. This third measurement is your characters sanity, and each time they see a monster they lose a bit of it, in due time they will begin to hallucinate and see things that aren’t really there, or are they? This is the greatest part of the game because it includes you, the gamer, in a way we never would have thought possible ten, even five, years ago. These effects range from subtle, like the walls bleeding, to very, very dramatic and frightening. To date I have experienced a number of these effects, but for the sake of keeping this review spoiler free, I won’t be able to let you know what I’ve seen.
Taking a close second place the Sanity Effects is Eternal Darkness’ expansive spell system. During the course of the game you will locate different Runes and the tablets that you need to decipher what they really are, by combining them together, much like you would combine a sentence, you create spells of healing, restoring sanity, replenishing mana, and environmental manipulation. I remember reading a quote on a website featuring an interview with some of the members of the development team where they are still surprised by all of the spell combinations they are able to come up with. You can nearly triple the amount of spells by using the three different alignments (Red, Blue, Green) that use a checks and balances system to cancel each other out.
So what does it boil out to? This is a game to make you buy a GameCube, there is no question. Like Resident Evil and Silent Hill? Good, this game is nothing like them, it is a truly unique experience from one of the best developers and publishers in the business. If anyone at Nintendo ever doubted the decision to buy Silicon Knights Eternal Darkness is proof enough that we are seeing a new Nintendo, and a new generation of video games full of intrigue, story, and content and relying less on flashy graphics and murderous rampages of over the top violence. Eternal Darkness is a testament to a new age in video gaming, and age of renaissance.