Review: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Posted 28 Dec 2002 at 06:35 by Franklin
It has been in development for many years now. Originally intended for the Nintendo 64 but then moved over to the Gamecube to give the Cube a bit more edge and appeal to the more "mature" games consumer. We have heard a lot about this game over the years it spent in development mostly about the "Insanity System" which was said to have the gamer questioning what he/she was seeing and doing on screen was happening or not at points.
Many had thought of Eternal Darkness as a "Survival Horror" style game along the lines Resident Evil, mainly due to the facts that it featured Zombies aswell as moments and atmosphere that would attempt to scare people. And well lets face it, it was always going to be compared to RE as will every game that contains such features. But that belief couldn't be further from the truth. Eternal Darkness is something new, fresh and doesn't seem to fit any genre in fact it's developers (Silicon Knights) call it a Physiological Thriller. One thing is certain, it is finally in stores; so does it live up to the hype, does the statement, "You don't play this game. It plays with you" hold up…
Outstanding to say the least. The backgrounds are done with real time graphics and all the levels are well thought out and detailed. In some levels such as the Cathedral you get a tremendous sense of realism and you can tell a lot of attention was given to building the areas. Sometimes you may stop and think, "I wonder did they recreate an actual real location?" It's easy to get lost in the magnificence of each location thinking about how well imagined and detailed they are to give a true belief that you are inside a temple in Cambodia in the 12th century. And then to return to that temple centuries later and see how it has decayed over the years since it was lost and forgotten.
The many characters that appear are all built brilliantly and although they don't look as real as the characters in Resident Evil (well Capcom did have a lot more space to play with since they pre-rendered their backgrounds) they still look very solid and real in their own unique way. Silicon Knights put a lot of effort into researching for they characters looks and clothing for each time period and location to give a believable feel of authenticity. Making the characters truly look as though they did come from the time, place and background in which they appear in the game helps draw the player into the game and ultimately the story. Weapons are another thing that were both well rendered and heavily researched to appear totally real, especially projectile weaponry such as crossbows and early guns. Where in real life these weapons took a fair bit of time to reload so they do in Eternal Darkness, obviously they do it a lot faster in the than in real life but they still take time and you can see the characters actually reloading the weapon. One of the best examples of this would be the guns used in the Max Rovais chapter.
All the cinematic sequences in the game are done using the in-game graphics and not FMV. Obviously this is done to both save space and so the game would retain the same look and feel all the time. Whereas had FMV been used the graphics would have been taken up a few notches and I feel would have hindered the gameplay experience slightly, in that you may become distracted by the FMV and begin to think the in-game graphics might not be up to standard. There are many cinema scenes in the game and all serve to present a bit more of the intriguing tale that the game has. Luckily they seem to stay just below the point of overuse and don't lead to the game turning into a movie. The characters expressions and movements are all well done and lip movements and expressions are almost perfect.
The lighting is once again nicely presented, in most levels there may be very little light and you may find it hard to see, but don't worry chances are you either have or will soon find a torch to light your way, but remember this is done to build the right mood and tell the story of the level your in. One lighting effect that is too impressive really is the ones used when casting spells. Usually when one thinks of magic (or magick as it is here) you would think of a dazzling light show. The effects used for the spell casting here are simple quick and not dramatic. Most likely this was done to prevent players getting carried away and casting spells constantly just to see the effects (and probably to save space aswell).
The music within the game is as expected very moody and atmospheric in an attempt to add some tension to the experience. Sometimes however there won't be any background music and all you can hear is your own footsteps, fire burning, insects/birds as you carefully walk down a dark passage listening for signs of unseen terrors lurking in the darkness. The sounds of your sword cutting through flesh or scrapping the walls is very nice and let's not forget the sometimes chilling moans, groans, shrieks and roars that the various enemies let out. All the sounds in the game are perfectly captured and well integrated.
Then we come to the voice acting, something that has the ability to make or break the entire gameplay experience no matter how well everything else is. Thankfully the voices in Eternal Darkness are most likely the best ever in a video game, one wonders how many takes it took to get it absolutely perfect as they did. Well I guess they did have a number of years to work on it didn't they. Every voice is unique and fits the look and aura of their respective characters perfectly. Some of the actors did voice more than one character and you really can't tell this at all, just goes to show how well they where done. The one and only flaw I could find in the acting within the cut scenes was Alex Rovais' poor crying and sobs in the intro, which I didn't find believable at all. There is some talking during gameplay but not when you "talk" to minor characters, you just get text when you talk to them, most likely to save disc space. If you have a big hallucination when it ends you'll hear your character say some like "This really isn't happen." A few characters sound believable but most sound a bit stupid. One very nice feature with sound in-game involving characters is that if you run too much the character becomes tired and you'll hear them panting and trying to catch their breath.
In my opinion one of the best moments for voice acting is when you read the autopsy report on enemies that one of the characters can do (read it after you complete the level the autopsies are preformed in). As read the reports for each enemy you'll hear the character that preformed the autopsy talking about them and you can really get a sense of fear and insanity off his voice, a chilling moment indeed.
Sound is also used a lot in the insanity effects. When you lose a bit of your sanity you may start to hear things. I'll try not to spoil it for you but let's just say sometimes these sound can be quite freaky.
Expect a lot of sword slashing and many puzzles to solve in this epic of a game. The early puzzles are very easy to figure, find hole, and find some that fits in hole and hey presto. But they get exceedingly more difficult round the fourth chapter once you've got the basics down. Of course even the easy early puzzles could be quite hard if you don't take time to explore everything in the rooms to make sure you don't miss anything. As you walk around you'll notice a "B" icon appear in the top-right corner of the screen with "Examine" under it. Press it and then it will say "Detail" (not always, just when there is something to learn) and you might soon figure out what you need to do. Magick will play a big part in the many of the puzzles, so make sure you figure out the significance of the different "Alignments" or colours of Magick. Sometimes if your not pay proper attention you could end up running around trying to figure out what to do for ages and become very frustrated, so make sure you pay attention of what happens, what you find and what you can do.
The combat system is very easy; you have two choices when you encounter enemies. One is continually press "A" to rapidly slash at them, but this is actually very weak and can take some time to kill undead scum. The second option is to hold "R" to target an enemy (note: you can't run or walk while holding R) but not just an enemy but a body part of it. You can target the head, the arms (one at a time) and the torso not the legs however. You can use this to learn weak points of the various enemies so you can take them out faster. Remember though if you cut the heads off zombies they don't always die they may start waving their arms around trying to hit you and sometimes they'll attack their own kind, which is funny to watch.
Now the infamous Sanity Meter. If an enemy sees you your sanity meter drops, the amount depends on the type of enemy. You can regain sanity by performing "Finishing Moves" on fallen enemies. Once you lose some sanity the insanity effects begin. They will start off a small like strange sounds and blood dripping on walls. As you lose more the sounds will become more intense to a very freaky point at times (you'll know what I'm taking about) and the camera will go at an angle, don't worry it don't look too bad. Once your sanity meter drops below half that's when the game will really try to mess with you. Just be wary when you enter rooms as you may find you never actually entered at all. Most of the effects will be designed to seem as if it's your character that is losing it but there are some really big ones that will actually mess with YOU. One example of this is a volume icon appearing on screen and going down to zero so that there is no sound making you think someone turned the sound off on you. This might not work on everyone if the icon they use is not the same as the one you'll be familiar with on your TV (like mine) but they do use a very common one so I'd expect it to catch many people. That's the only one I'll reveal as really don't want to spoil it for you. In the beginning these effects work well but as you progress and you find spells to help you recover sanity you won't come across the real freaky too often (unless you don't recover sanity of course) and you'll end up repeating some of them and when you do you'll know it. This can become frustrating after a time and you may find yourself saying, "not this again. Just let me play the game damn it". The insanity effect was defiantly a brave gamble to make and it seems like it paid off. One wonders if it'll ever be used in future titles and to what extent. (I wonder can Nintendo copyright it so other developers can't use it on games for other consoles?)
In the first chapter of the game you'll have to choose one of three artefacts. This is not like choosing between three different paths to take. No matter which one you choose the overall game will remain the same, the only things it will effect is the ending (of course) some slight changes to some cut scenes, the kind of enemies you'll encounter most and the order you find the "Magick Runes" that represent the Ancients and which one you'll be using most to solve puzzles. And if you finish it three times with the different artefacts (make sure you save when prompted after finishing the game each time) you can get the "super" fourth ending.
The game is very easy to play, and learning the control set up will take no time at all. The only thing that you might forget with regards to the controls is what spells you have set to the five "Quick Spell" buttons, but that's all your fault really not the game. The combat system is very good and you'll be using with no problems, almost like a sixth sense. The "B" button is context sensitive and will be used for many different things during the game. You'll know what it can be used for when it appears in the top-right hand corner of the screen and what it will do in the situation you're in will be written under the icon.
The camera is what I would call fixed-moving, in that you have no control over where the camera is. As you move it will follow you and will more often than not give you a prefect view of your area and thankfully it will never go behind walls blocking your view or allow you to see through walls like can happen in some games if the camera is too close to a wall. There are however a few moments when the camera will be in front of you (your walking towards it), this will lead to you being unable to see too much ahead of you so if there's enemies you won't know how close they are till they're on top of you. Thankfully this only happens a small number of times and not when there are too many enemies to deal with.
B: Context Sensitive
Y: Quick Spell #1,
R: Target Enemy
C-Stick: Rotate items
D-Pad: Quick Spell # 2 to 4,
Control Stick: Movement
In all likelihood it might not last you too long. The first time you play it will probably take you around fifteen to complete give or take. But with three different paths to choose from and guessing it would you half as much time to finish it again so it has about 30 hours of play to fully finish it. After that I guess it all comes down to, do you want to go through it all again? And weather or not you liked it. Maybe after you haven't played it for a while and find yourself in need of a good story. Hell some people (me included) may even just sit down and watch all the cut scenes over and over just for the fun of it.
Eternal Darkness is most defiantly something fresh and new and not a game that should get overlooked by anyone. It won't be as scary as Resident Evil was, but there are a few moments that will certainly make you jump, especially if you're playing alone and in the dark but there aren't that many really. The insanity effects will affect you, some of the best ones first time round are the sound ones that you'll encounter early on and you think you're hearing things. Most of the supposed full-blown hallucinations will freak you out the first time you see them, but after that if/when they happen again you'll know it and just sit back waiting for it end. The real big freaky ones seem to be few and far between but will likely get you more that once and have you out of you r seat.
"To think that once I could see beyond the veil of our reality, to see those who dwell behind. I was once a fool…"
N-Europe Final Verdict
Good game, great story, great characters. A definite classic. A whole world apart from Resi.
Frustrating in parts
Annoying insanity effects?