#505 Eternal Darkness

Posted: 4th November 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1015th played so far

Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Nintendo

As I mentioned with Wing Commander IV a few days ago, I’ve kept a few games that I’ve been quite excited about until the end. Eternal Darkness has that sort of reputation – one that was a decent enough survival horror, but more notably the game messes with you as a player as the sanity of your player drops – to the point where the guide recommends not worrying too much about keeping it up as the game is more interesting that way.

I don’t know whether my length of playthrough will really show me as much of the game as that, but I am looking forward to see how far the game will push me. Back into another abandoned house…

Survival Horror

I know I’ve kept going on about it, but where a lot of other genres describe gameplay, survival horrors describe an atmosphere and style that other genres slot into. Some are more obvious than others – by Resident Evil 5 the series is a clear shoot ’em up while Fatal Frame is more an odd type of adventure game. There’s something in the latter game that describes a number of others though – going from room to room in an haunted location – often a house – as you look for items, take out the occasional ghost but mostly trying to avoid and absorb the horrors. It’s the later Resident Evil games that feel odd with the large groups of zombies, in a place where you are just meant to kill them all. Even Dead Rising‘s FPS set up avoids them.

With Peter’s dislike of zombies, it was up to me to play them for early on, and I’ve shown them through the game at several points even when he needed it for his blog. I have to say that the atmosphere is not always one that works for me, and it comes down to whether the gameplay beyond it appeals to me – the Silent Hill series is probably closest, together with Gregory Horror Show‘s odd, comedic sense of danger. As a genre, though, I have to say that the atmosphere is as useful a distinguishing factor as gameplay.

Our Thoughts

The atmosphere in Eternal Darkness is tense from the start. You’re basically locked in a creepy mansion that you walk around, first of all as you’re trying to find more information about your grandfather’s murder in your family’s estate. In the contemporary day, you’re safe there (at least as far as I’ve seen until now) but it’s deserted, with some creepy sounds and other off putting moments (including a bust whose eyes follow you down the corridor). You’re mostly solving puzzles here to get chapters of a book that tells the reset of the story, often unlocking a new area or letting you solve another puzzle as your powers and knowledge grow.

It’s a framing story of sorts of the other scary events, as you play as several different character exploring several different locations at different points in the past. For example, you start in a desert ruin in Roman times, then come back to the same location a few chapters later as a Persian sowrdsman a few centuries later. You also travel to a Cambodian temple, a European monastery visited by Charlemagne, and the estate a few decades prior. Those areas aren’t all as creepy by their nature, but still feature some disturbing images.

With that said, while as the main character you don’t have to worry about comic, other characters do, and that’s where it falls down. Although you slowly gather magic through spells as you go on, early on your combat is all about swinging a sword around. Even more annoying, in one area your sword breaks and you have to use a limited ammo blowgun to take out the zombies it drops on top of you. You can get the sword fixed if you kill the enemies quickly enough, but I certainly didn’t manage the first time and didn’t really see it until I looked it up. It’s the ever lasting shame with horror games: Why ruin a suspenseful, creepy game with some really interesting visuals with crappy, difficult to handle action sequences? The difficulty of the game isn’t in handling the horror, it’s in action sections, and that’s not the fun thing here.

And that’s a shame, as the story telling is really interesting, with a limited world that is stronger because you repeat those locations. The magic system is intentionally limited, which works as well, with some quite interesting spells you get to deal with in a way that integrates really nicely with the rest of the game. In fact, finding chapters for your book is a really good explanation how Alexandra Roivas, your main character, learns the same spells as the people you play at in other chapters.

Final Thoughts

There were places where this game was quite exhausting, with the action dragging on and trapped corridors not adding anything to the game. There are times where the game really manages its suspense and the more I write this, the more I’d love to see the story mode version of this. Something focused on that would be amazing, while this already brings a good idea.