A schizophrenic's jackpot.
People who hear voices and think they're being watched by inanimate objects will feel right at home with Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. The rest of us won't, and that's what Nintendo is hoping for with their creative and creepy offering for the Gamecube.
This third-person adventure into horror involves the Lovecraftian story of the Roivas family's eons-old struggle with the minions of evil as they plot and scheme to resurrect Ancient gods and win their favor. Of course, one look at the name Roivas and you know you're in good hands.
While investigating the heinous murder of her grandfather, Alexandra Roivas stumbles across chapters of the dreaded Tome of Eternal Darkness. The pages tell the tales of a host of people throughout time who have found themselves charged with protecting humanity from rotting zombies and the even less attractive and unhygienic gods they herald.
The chapters are playable. You will travel across the ages to assume the form of one of a varied cast of do-gooders - twelve in all - each of whom comes to the horrifying realization that not all literature is good for your mind.
The look and feel of the game is dark and foreboding, and certainly not your usual Nintendo kiddie fare. The background textures are nicely done and well-detailed. Dark, menacing passageways filled with lurking horrors - this is the kind of atmosphere just right for scaring the bejeezus out of yourself in a dark room at two in the morning.
You will battle wave after wave of evil-eyed ugly, defending yourself with magic and muscle...if you can. Trappers, Horrors, Bone Thieves - you'll find there are things worse than zombies shuffling around in the dark. In fact, sometimes a zombie is merely a vehicle for something even nastier.
The creatures you encounter do not need a formal introduction; they know they are not your friends and will proceed to let you know it by any means at their disposal. For the most part, it is possible to evade the majority of the pursuing horrors and simply solve puzzles to progress through the game. The reason why you won't want to do this is where Eternal Darkness' uniqueness kicks in.
The minds behind Eternal Darkness know that being attacked by slimy, decomposing corpses is apt to affect your mind. As I have never been knowingly accosted by the deceased, I cannot attest to the validity of that in reality. However, in Eternal Darkness your character is given a 'Sanity Meter' and you will have to pay close attention to it.
Just the evil eye from some of the creepy enemies is enough to cause your sanity to plummet. Finishing off the creatures or magic spells and items can help you to recover your precious sensibilities, and without this limited comfort you will notice your character begin to suffer the effects of dementia. In fact, this is unavoidable.
Sinking into floors, hearing chanting voices and noticing such cheery sights as bleeding walls are just the tip of the mad iceberg. There are loads of sanity effects and they don't stop with your character, as the game targets players as well via some strange technical effects like weird bugs crawling across the game screen. These are innovative and very well integrated into the fabric of the game. The concept of the Sanity Meter really gives the game its edge and is a great new addition to the survival-horror genre. Big points for creativity.
The magic in Eternal Darkness is nicely done without being clumsy or complicated. You assemble the components to create your own spells. Spell casting involves runes, light and the spoken word and it looks very cool. As you gain in proficiency, you'll even be able to summon and bind the ugly ones themselves to help you in your fight against malevolence.
The physical combat is where the game runs into trouble. It isn't nearly as fun or involving as it should be. Your monotonous attacks are a simple hack and slash affair - no combos or really cool moves. This is not a good thing considering that you will spend a huge chunk of game-time in battle.
Certain monsters you'll encounter can only be taken out by targeting a particular limb, head, or other body part. An auto-aim feature assists you in this. Unfortunately, the designers have also assisted targeting by illuminating the targeted body part. The head will light up, perhaps, or maybe the left arm. Why on earth they would go to such great lengths to immerse the player in this twisted world only to throw in a feature that is strictly arcade is truly maddening to ponder. It certainly saps some of the spookiness out of the experience...that's never a good thing in a horror game.
Despite this targeting issue, the control is simple and helps move the game along. The analog directional movement allows you to guide your character at a gallop through corridors without getting caught up on corners. The context sensitive B button allows you to perform various actions. You will not have to search every shelf of every bookcase you come across. An icon will appear when you're in proximity if there's something you can interact with, which prevents the game from ever grinding to a halt with a puzzle. Yet like the targeting assist, this is very much an arcade feature.
Unfortunately, they didn't trust us with a Look button. Although the camera is not stationary, you will be making blind turns down dark hallways ala Resident Evil. The C-stick, the perfect candidate for a Look button, is erstwhile engaged in such important duties as rotating items in your inventory. Not being able to just take a good look around the room prevents the player from being able to completely take in this horrible world. And the fact that the game will devour an entire memory card is pretty terrifying, too.
Ultimately, Eternal Darkness offers great, creepy fun. Although weak combat and arcadey features flaw this endeavor, it's simple to play and very immersive with plenty of dark atmosphere, cool magic effects, and more shuffling zombies than you can fit in a mall.