Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Your spine shakes with chills as your heart begins to race. Your mind wanders with the fear of the unknown, and just when you think you were safe from whatever hunts you, you feel it’s grip across your throat. It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means, a series of reviews on some of the scariest horror games out there today! Welcome to my 13 days of horror reviews, where we honor the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky side of video games, both past and present. Today, we look at Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.
It’s rare that video games actually go out of their way to be a cerebral experience on the gamer. It’s even rarer to see the games actively taunt you by basically ****ing with your mind. And when it does happen, it usually is some type of exploitative to help sell more copies or get recognition. It’s a good thing that Eternal Darkness is a good game.
The Nintendo Gamecube kind of has a dubious honor of being a weak system. True it lacked the real power of a Playstation 2 or the Microsoft X-Box, but it had some great experience if you knew where to look. The exclusive Eternal Darkness was one of them, combining a strong storyline with decent gameplay and awesome ambiance, proving that survival horror done right can be effective.
The story revolves around Alexandra Roivas, a young woman whose grandfather was murdered. While staying in his mansion in Rhode Island, she discovers “The Tome of Eternal Darkness”, which spins tales of an ancient evil by magical gods that spans thousands of years, with a select few individuals, including members of her family, becoming affected by this evil. While finding pages in the increasingly demonic-looking mansion, Alexandra witnesses the past lives of many individuals who have stumbled upon these evil gods, until a final showdown that I admit was so climatic I won’t spoil it here.
The game was unique due to the fact that you controlled several characters throughout different periods of history. These characters each had a degree of characterization to them, with their own agendas and missions when dealing with the evil they uncover. To do so there are standard attacks, as well as “magick” attacks that can be learned by some characters with a “rock paper scissors” mentality to determine its effectiveness on certain enemies.
The game’s most famous feature, however, is the Sanity Meter. In what is perhaps the most twisted thing Nintendo has ever invented, the sanity meter actually tries to gauge your overall fear and sanity while playing the game, literally messing with your head when your character is low on health, scared, etc. It causes effects in the game, such as headless enemies and characters, enemies not dying when they should be, even the screen going black, saying there is a disk read error on the game itself. It not only messed with your head, but it also tricked many gamers while playing the actual game, offering some pretty good moments that enhanced the experience.
And overall, the gimmick worked. “Eternal Darkness” is a game that didn’t need the meter, because the experience was, while by the numbers, pretty damn terrifying. The enemies are well thought out, the atmosphere is excellent, and the story, while dealing with mythical mumbo-jumbo that could have been pulled out of someone’s ass, fits with the world presented. A lot of good moments came from this game, making something more than what it was on the surface.
The game was also graphically and sound-wise well done. True, you only traverse four locations in the entire game, but the four locations change every time over the centuries, which do add a sense of time to the backgrounds. What was once clean and magnificent is now filled with rubble and weeds in some areas. I also liked the enemy designs in the game. Each had a distinct flavor to them, and some of them, especially the boss fights, were downright scary looking. The player characters also had a lot of personality thanks to good voice work. One of my favorite voices was done by William “Porkins” Hootkins, of Star Wars fame, who played a colonial doctor who “went insane” after discovering the ancient evil. And lastly, the sound design, from the sanity meter effects, to the typical moans and groans found in the genre, fit the bill perfectly adding more ambience to an already dark and brooding game.
“Eternal Darkness” was not a successful game, but it sure was a fun one. It’s one of those games that begs to be played because it did a lot of things different when it was released, and the risks paid off in making a great experience. Perhaps its biggest downfall was that it was a Nintendo game rated “M”, in fact their first ever rated “M” game. But the gloomy atmosphere, the clever, working gimmicks, and the overall presentation make it a totally underrated classic that I hope becomes more popular over time.