ETERNAL DARKNESS / Nintendo / Gamecube

I get the feeling that Eternal Darkness was conceived when someone played the Psycho Mantis boss fight and was like, "Woah ... what if we made a whole game like that?" It's a horror game with Lovecraftian overtones, which is far from unique; what is unique is its "sanity system" that increasingly breaks the fourth wall to screw with the player as the character gets more and more off the rails. Nintendo actually managed to patent it, though that hasn't seemed to stop any number of games from implementing a variant of it since.

Nominally, the game is survival horror. You got lots of shuffling zombies to kill, gradually more powerful beasties are introduced, and all of this is tied together by exploring dark and dank environments to solve basic puzzles. There isn't much resource management; you're usually more than adequately armed, most areas of the game giving you a powerful melee weapon that's better than the range weapons. At first the game is just plain easy, and in the later reaches the challenge centers more around filling out a magic tome and knowing which buff and debuff spells to cast when.

It mercifully has free movement instead of the genre's standard tank controls, however. And it doesn't have the "recursive unlocking" style in a sprawling environment of a Resident Evil game; instead, the game is divided up into 12 self-contained chapters that each take you into a different period in the past to play as a different character.

The setup is basically the beginning of obscure 90s horror game D; young blonde hottie Alex Roivas is called home from college to her family's Rhode Island mansion due to the gruesome murder of her grandfather. There are no clues as to who did it or why, so Alex decides to stick around and investigate the joint. She soon finds a creepy, magical tome that gives her flashbacks to the past when it is read, these flashbacks constituting the gameplay chapters. In between the chapters in the past, Alex has to search the mansion to find the next chapter. She usually comes out of each chapter with some new item or spell that allows her to access a new area of the mansion or solve a puzzle.

If you want an indication of the game's general level of quality and polish, Nintendo opted to publish this and put their name on it even though it had nothing to do with their in-house R&D teams. It's from Silicon Knights, talented mercenaries of the 64-bit and 128-bit eras who did the Metal Gear Solid remake for Konami and Legacy of Kain for Activision among other titles. It is also the only real horror game they would ever publish until the Wii U and their first M-rated title, and it's a doozy by their usual family-friendly standards. In addition to just being fairly gory in general, it's almost Game of Thrones-ian in that the characters you play in each chapter are never safe from meeting a grim and sudden end as the ultimate reward for all of their adventuring. Some make it, some don't, but the ones that don't make it REALLY go out with a bang. The game doesn't pull any punches in that regard.

It's a very good game, to be sure. It's polished, it has a solid and engaging ongoing story with good pacing that drives the action, great atmosphere and an innovative central gimmick. You see a lot of talk online about this being one of the best horror games ever, though, and I think that's going a little far. While it's worth playing, there are some substantial issues.

The main one is uneven difficulty. The first 3/4 of the game is too easy, but then there's a sudden spike in the final 1/4 and it becomes way too obnoxious too fast. This begins at chapter 10, which is the absolute worst of the bunch with a ridiculously weak character with ridiculously weak weapons forced to contend with a hacky Nemesis knockoff in an overlong sequence in which you're not ever allowed to save.

And though the sanity effects are cool, they feel more tacked-on than they do integrated properly into the natural gameplay. You only see them when your sanity meter drops below 50% or so, and the really neat ones only appear when it's near empty. So that means that if you're playing the game like you're "supposed to", being competent and keeping your sanity meter full, you could easily miss most of them. Running around with a low sanity meter is the best way to experience the game, but that puts you at constant risk of it emptying out entirely which means you start taking damage from sanity loss instead. In some chapters and areas, health is at a premium and you really can't afford to do that.

Aside from the sanity effects, the horror content here is really kinda hackneyed. Zombies that try to grab and bite on you, Friday the 13th "chk chk chk sha sha sha" type sounds in the background, sudden LOUD NOISES, etc. It also has the Resident Evil issue of your character being so well-armed and competent most of the time that the monsters rarely seem like a real threat.

Though I think it tends to be a little overrated and is not one of the absolute best horror games of all time, I do think Eternal Darkness is worth playing. It tells a very good story in a polished game engine that is way more brutal and surprising than you would ever expect from something with Nintendo's name on it.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video