Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Horror Review: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Platform: GCN
"What might seem normal to some, would appear, to most, to be acts of total insanity,
Those who are, to you, so far detached from, what you consider to be, `normal realms of reality', Wandering from, what you believe to be, the path of common sense and morality

- Peter Russell

It's the middle of the night. A rather attractive blonde woman is in the middle of a rather disturbing dream where she must stop a group of rotting corpses from making a meal out of her. Before she wakes up she's greeted by the spectral figure of her grandfather. She awakes and then suddenly recieves some bad news. Her grandfather has been murdered. She hops the next redeye to Rhode Island and begins to look for any clues as to what exactly he was into that would lead to his untimely demise. Of course, this only eads her to a strange leather-bound book which claims to know the truth of the matter.. and as we all know The truth is stranger than fiction.

The Darkness comes..

The game begins with Alex Roivas, the last of the Roivas family line, and as the story progresses you control 11 other characters from Roman Centurion, Pious Agustus, to a firefighter in the persian gulf during Operation Desert Storm. As Agustus, we learn about the game's combat system - An interesting mechanic where you target specific areas of the enemy's body in order to disable and defeat them. This is just one of the many things you'll learn as more information is presented to you in small doses to create a more natural playthrough that isn't tied down by long tutorial sessions. The game's Magickal system is presented in the same fashion, being slowly built up over each chapter to slowly groom you into a capible adventurer to face against the coming darkness.

Gambling with Sanity

On first play you'll notice Eternal Darkness isn't your average survival horror game. Sure, like Resident Evil, you have your undead, your monsters and your sinister figures, but this leans more towards H.P. Lovecraft. For anyone who isn't in the know on Lovecraft here's a short wikipedia blurb.
Lovecraft's guiding literary principle was what he termed "cosmicism" or "cosmic horror", the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble with sanity.

And in this game gambling with sanity is exactly what the characters do as they find themselves coming to terms with the fact that the world they live it is not quite what it seems. In fact, the centerpiece of the game is it's sanity meter which depletes when confronted by unnatural things. If the sanity meter gets too low you'll start hallucinating an instead of playing the game the game will start playing with you! How? well I don't want to give too much away, but nothing...NOTHING is what it seems when your sanity is at it's lowest. There are two ways of rebuilding sanity, one way is through the eventual learning of rune manipulation (magick), the other is by finishing off these creatures one-by-one. Depending on the conditions you choose at the beginning of the game you could lose Vitality, Magickal ability or Sanity more rapidly through the course of a particular chapter (If you want to find out the true ending of the game you have to play through all three circumstances in any order).

Sensory overload..

Going into Eternal Darkness you tend to notice how crisp the graphics are, and how much detail there is it's period based backdrops, paintings and such. You can easily tell that Silicon Knights have spent an impressive amount of time on the game's visual elements (actually the game was in development during the 64 era but was put on hold by suggestion of Nintendo until the release of the GC). Of course due to the limitations of the time the cutscenes can look a little dated, but the in-game footage bests a lot of the current generation efforts shown on the Wii. This revelation is nothing short of amazing for this and many other Gamecube games, and sad for the state of third party companies, currently.

The music is very much compelling and very atmospheric, but the icing on the cake is the strange noises that you'll hear as you're travelling through the mansion. You'll find yourself going back to look for certain things because you'll hear something, or think something is going on where it isn't, and it's merely another instance of the game playing it's own tricks on you.

You will come to understand fear as I have...

If you've enjoyed playing Clock Tower, and the tricks that game plays with you, then you'll love Eternal Darkness, which could clearly be called a worthy successor to the genre of "mind fuckery" established by the former. The game is both cerebral and intelligent for the subject matter and story, and yet never resorts to mere cheapness to accomplish it's goal of disturbing or scaring the crap out of whomever plays it. Additionally This game is even more polished in terms of using story and character development than recent survival horror games. I don't even have to mention that this game also features multiple female leads who aren't belittled or objectified for the sake of it's audience. This only proves that true horror can be achieved in games without having to shoehorn explosions, guns and half-naked women in to snare in players. The only question I have for you, reader is this? do you have what it takes to fend off the coming darkness?

Next Time:  James Sunderland is a bad husband.....

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