ETERNAM / Infogrames / PC

A lot of bizarre adventure games came out of France in the 1990s, but not many gamers know about them, largely due to their being very experimental, often clumsy and usually badly translated (and thus never gaining any sort of a following.) There was an Amiga game called Drakkhen that was an oddball combination of RPG and adventure, which was later ported to the PC and SNES, and was one of the better-known games of this crop. The unique thing about Drakkhen was that it was one of the first RPGs to attempt a 3D world map, but switched you back to more of a traditional adventure game style when you stepped indoors.

Eternam is clearly very inspired by Drakkhen. It has the same sort of 3D overworld using big, often jaggy polygons, and it switches over to a more standard adventure game view when you go inside a location. The 3D here is a bit more advanced than that of Drakkhen, however, working like a primitive FPS and adding changes in elevation such as big hills. It also excises the RPG elements completely - there's combat on the world map, but it's more like a weird FPS as you fire laser guns at worms and bats, and there's no combat in the 2D adventure game portions.

And while Drakkhen was fairly bizarre, Eternam tries to outdo it in that department too. And succeeds grandly. This is one of the most absurd and non-sequitur games I've ever played. It really reminded me of Earthbound on the SNES more than anything, just with a more dark and violent "adult" tone to it.

Just bang bang bang all day my club up a dog's ass

The tone is set from the second the game loads up, as a porny beat plays while you get your first look at Tracy, the beauty who will be your virtual companion throughout the game (but who does very little except for commenting on your deaths.) You are Don Jonz, some sort of space army man from the future, but for some reason you cruise around in some ren-fest barbarian outfit with a weird mullet. It may be an outfit chosen for your vacation to the planet Eternam, which is a sort of an Epcot Center for the wealthy where different islands are made up to represent different time periods and cultures from Earth's history. They're staffed by replicant synthetic humans to make them fully immersive, maybe a little too immersive considering there's also all sorts of deadly critters that roam around and will rape the shit out of you if you don't run or gun them down. Well, that and half the population seems to be completely demented. You'll soon find out that your arch rival Mikhael Nuke has a hand in this, however, setting traps and stirring up agitation in an attempt to get you bumped off while your guard is down during your vacation.

You spend relatively little time on the 3D overworld, but what time you do spend there is hellish. The movement is sluggish and imprecise, especially when turning, which is great when one of the many flying critters or Speedy Snakes attacks and you can't locate from what direction they're buttraping you as you turn slowly. Fortunately you replenish health automatically over time, so hanging out and exploring a 2D interior location for a while usually fixes you up. Combat is basically just like a really clumsy version of X-Wing or something, pretend you're in a ground-skimming spacecraft that has serious problems turning and reversing while you fight off bugs and vermin pretty much.

The 2D adventure portion is a little better, but it's hardly one of the best interfaces the genre has ever seen. It tries to simplify things, usually a noble effort, but in this case it oversimplifies so that your interaction with the background is extremely limited. Don Jonz automatically eyeballs items of interest or use with a little vector line going from you to the item automatically from your position, which is a really neat feature, but you can rarely actually use the Look command to get information about anything, in fact I'm not even sure I used it successfully once the whole time I was playing this. Likewise, you can't take anything that isn't pointed out in this manner, and using items is a matter of "readying" them on the inventory screen, then most of the time they automatically get used when you walk close enough to the appropriate trigger point.

This makes the adventure portion of the game very simple and fairly easy by nature. The way that challenge is added, unfortunately, is by making it cheap - lots of random unexpected auto-deaths, huge locations to comb for items that you don't know you need until much later, wrong directions given by NPCs, red herrings and just being left to roam a huge area with no idea what the present objective is.

What redeems the game (somewhat) in spite of all this bad design is unexpected full-screen animation popping up fairly often, and completely random and often funny sequences coming out of nowhere. In the Duke's castle at the beginning, which serves as a sort of tutorial area, you can stumble across tons of stuff hidden on screens that you don't otherwise need to go on. There's a fellow adventurer who dives to his gory death because the Duke's quest is too hard for him, statues that gossip about soap operas, a train that randomly chugs through the halls, a guy hiding up a chimney (with fire lit) because he snuck into the guard's quarters, and my favorite, a random animated severed finger kept in a trophy room that is accompanied by heroic music when you stumble across it (and which serves absolutely no purpose in the game.) That's just to name a small handful. The game is full of little jokes, secrets and just plain WTFs if you explore it diligently.

So is it worth it? I can't say it really is a good game, but if you enjoy off-the-wall humor and general absurdity, it's worth taking this game a bit at a time (keeping pen and paper handy to note needed info and saving frequently.) It's certainly one of the most *interesting* games in the PC adventure genre, if not one of the best.

Videos :

* So Youtube got ahold of this game apparently

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