“Eternal Darkness” Video Game Review (Gamecube)

One of the most anticipated games for the Nintendo Gamecube, but why you ask? Well, perhaps it is because it is a much more macabre game than Nintendo’s spot-free history and yet completely original and all new. Straight from Silicon Knights with the up and coming Denis Dyack at the ‘helm’, they have fully managed to create the first full “Psychological Thriller” where the person who holds the controller is at risk of losing their marbles, all at the hand of the newest innovation “The Sanity Meter”. This meter measures exactly how much of your sanity is left whilst encountering villains who also happen to be dead already, details on this magnificent idea to come.

Now probably one of the biggest questions from consumers is “How similar is it to Resident Evil?”, and as an enormous RE fan believe me, they are in two different leagues, only similar in the way their desire to scare, and they both use a mansion. That’s all. Storyline, weaponry, objectives and puzzles are all totally different.

As far as storyline goes, Eternal Darkness (ED from here on out) has one of the most impressive in-depth storylines I’ve ever seen. The premise of it (without giving too much away) is that Alexandra Roivas has just found out that her grandfather has been brutally murdered and since her parents died years back she is the sole inheritor of a mansion, and also takes on the task of finding out what happened to her grandfather since the police are clueless. She soon discovers an ancient book made from human skin called The Tome of Eternal Darkness, and she goes about finding missing pages of the book which act as chapters of the story. Each chapter deals with the history of an old war between humankind and The Ancients, the original rulers of Earth who desire to rule once more in the darkest of fashions. When a chapter is found, instead of merely reading it you get to act it out from the writer’s perspective, slowly revealing the history of the war and how it relates to Alex and her family. To say the least, the storyline is simply amazing and is interwoven with dark poetry such as Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. In all there is roughly twelve chapters, the first of which reveals your enemy and how he got to be what he is. I will leave the rest of the storyline for you to discover, since it is quite in-depth and fun to watch unfold.

Now the game mechanics are vastly thought out, seamlessly woven into the game, from the controls to the assorted meters. First off, the controls are so easy you will soon forget that you’re holding a controller, everything is where it should be and responds the way you desire. I know, I know, sounds too easy to be true, yet it is. You move with the left analog stick, the D-pad is used for storing quick-spells, the left trigger is used when you want to run, the right trigger is used for targeting, the Z button is to reload (if you don’t want to wait until you run out of ammo, otherwise your big green button will do that), B button is used for an assortment of tasks such as viewing an external item or picking up an item, and likewise is the A button which is primarily a button used for fighting, the Y button is used for storing spells for quick use, X is used for sneaking, and the Start button opens/closes the menu, the other analog stick (C stick) is rarely touched, used only to rotate items in the menu screen and move the map around once again within the menu screen. My only wish is that they would have flip-flopped the Z and X buttons to make reloading a tad easier, but it doesn’t make much of a difference since you spend little time with any weapons that require ammunition.

There are three meters, health (duh), magic and sanity. Health is just what it sounds like, it measures how much life your character has left. However, the less health you have the more your character’s speed slows to a grinding halt (just like real life), let’s face it, if you’re an inch within your death you won’t be running a 4.0 second 40 yard dash like some other games. Also, even when you are fully charged with life, if you run a lot your character will still slow down from fatigue, how quickly your character’s energy drains (and how big the life meter is) is directly tied to each character’s physique and role. For instance, your old fat uncle may get tired fast and might not have a very large life meter, but perhaps he will have a bigger magick and sanity meter. You can refill your life meter by casting a spell, or finding an item that replenishes your life. The magick meter is straight forward, when you cast a spell, it depletes the magick meter, the only way to refill your magick is by walking or running around (there were times when I was forced to run in circles, kind of funny), pretty simple. Now the fun part is the sanity meter, every time you are spotted by an enemy, you drop a little on your sanity bar. The lower it gets the more “things” will start to happen, the punishment fits the crime, that means that if you’ve only lost a little of your sanity then the effects will be minor, they won’t go into the bigger dramas unless you’ve lost a whole lot of your sanity. I won’t spoil any of the effects for you since it is such a huge enjoyment throughout the game and adds some *serious* depth and levels of fun. You can refill your sanity by A) killing your enemies and executing a fatal blow to them, B) cast a spell that replenishes sanity, or C) if your character happens to have an item that refills your sanity (few and far between though).

The spell casting part is a bit more complex at first, but simple once you play with it a little. There are three levels of casting power controlled/used by three different circles of power, a three point circle of power (looks like a triangle), a five point (hexagon), and a seven point (septagon?). You collect these circles of power as you progress through the game. You also build a collection of Runes, which contain magickal powers, each Rune covering a different magickal area. For instance, one Rune will relate to “Creatures”, and another to “Summon”. There are three prime areas of coverage for Runes, 1) Alignment/Color, 2) Action, 3) Object it effects (could be you, an item, a room, etc.). Just finding a Rune is not enough however, it must also be deciphered through the use of a Codex before you can attempt to use it in an incantation, so you have to not only find the Rune, you must also find the Codex that matches the given Rune (each Rune has a matching Codex). Once you have at least one alignment (Red/Blue/Green), and at least two Runes, it is possible that you can create your first spell. To create a spell open the menu, go to the spell area and select the Create New Spell option, select a Circle of Power, then an alignment Rune and if it’s a 3-Point Circle of Power then you have a remaining two Runes you can add to try and create a spell. Not every combination of Runes and alignments creates a spell, and just because you do create a spell does not mean you automatically get to know what that spell does. Once you find a spell scroll it will tell you the correct combination of Runes and the spell’s effect to create ____ spell (the ____ being whatever spell scroll it is that you picked up). So basically, you could create a spell without a scroll, and even use it and not even know what it does (I experienced that quite a few times). It is definitely fun to play with though.

The graphics are pretty nice, of course at this stage of technology it’s pretty tough to make crappy graphics, ya know? My personal opinion is that game play overrules graphics (i.e. I’d rather play Dr. Mario than play Xbox’s Fellowship of the Ring). Keep in mind that this game was originally intended for the N64, so some of the graphics had to be ported and slightly upgraded (turned out rather nicely still though), but late in the game you will see some pretty extravagant graphics in comparison to some chapters, but the bottom line is that all the viewing is easy on the eyes. There is no control over the camera, which actually is nice, because Silicon Knights used it to their advantage to make the game a little more unpredictable. There are a few times when it creates a problem, but not enough times to get worked up over.

Not missing any details, Silicon Knights definitely did well on the sound portion. Any composer will tell you that music is the key ingredient in movies, and it’s no different here. While there isn’t much music, there are still tons of sound effects that will etch into your mind to tense your muscles and make you question what’s really happening. Very creepy stuff.

The attention to details is downright astounding. Each character you come across as you read the chapters has a distinct appearance, and even has a unique lineup of weapons all of which match the character’s era and status. The voice actors get an ‘A’, and they even throw in some Greek for added effect, very well done. The storyline is awesome, plenty of cut-scenes but not too many to make it boring. The game play is sweet, losing your mind is highly recommended, yet it will effect how you play and will be more than an added piece of candy. Lastability is there, even after you defeat the game, you can play through twice more to uncover something secret. Will you want to play through it twice more? Yes, it’s that doggone fun. This game is a massive sleeper hit and a soon to be cult classic. Would I buy a Gamecube just to play this game? Yes, but I’d also probably buy RE, Zelda and the upcoming Final Fantasy. This game is not only recommended, it’s a must. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

4.5 out of 5