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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Silicon Knights
GENRE: Horror
June 24, 2002
 Written by Chris Reiter  on July 05, 2002

Review: I see dead people... or, at least I thought I did.

Evil. It stares you in the face. It makes you squirm, wriggle away, screaming for help -- and leaves you searching for the quickest route away from your demise. You may be able to run, but evil will always follow you and bend your fears into its own twisted vision. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, Nintendo's first ever horror video game, brings a new meaning to the word evil. Originally in development for the Nintendo 64, Eternal Darkness's production moved onto Nintendo's latest console to take advantage of the new hardware. In the end, that decision seems to have been the best choice, as Eternal Darkness remarkably presents a fiendish nightmare through the cracks of time.

Avoiding the light and stepping into the pitch black plotline, the game's story unfolds as Alexandra Roivas (Alex to her friends) is contacted by a Rhode Island police detective following the unfortunate death of her grandfather. Apparently, no leads to his grisly murder are traceable, as his head was torn off from the rest of his body, and the only remains are a bloody mess sprawled across the floor. Figuring the police department's incompetence won't help with solving the case of why her grandfather was murdered and who did it; Alex sets out to search his vast estate in hoping to find a clue about this recent tragedy. What she discovers, though, is a set of stored away tales from the past, including ones about her own ancestors, involving an ancient evil restoring itself back to power. Alex is now determined to reveal what she can, and link together these descriptive stories one by one through the wanderers' eyes as they face their greatest fears.

If you're a fan of video games that scare your wits into hiding, then Eternal Darkness won't get you off. Unlike franchises such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness doesn't focus on how much fear you'll induce through each horrific corridor you come across. Instead, Eternal Darkness relies more on its weird factor represented in its sanity meter. From rotting zombie demons, claw equipped electrifying monsters, and even skin wrapped, multi-limbed alien-like forms that hop onto your face and suck your life away, the game features only a small assortment of enemies that won't really develop an intimidation factor. What they can do though is diminish your sanity meter. This meter controls the level of your stabilization in reality. A presence of any one of these creatures lowers the meter, while killing, and finishing them off raises it back up. However, the more it drops, the higher the chance you'll envision strange sights that are able effect your character's performance, or at least you'll think so at first glance.

As your character continues to experience these odd visions of the paranormal, you'll witness a collection of impressive scenic structure that's manipulated extremely well. Among the effects are experiences such as the volume bar on your television screen popping up even though you haven't touched the remote. You may enter into one room only to find yourself surrounded by a group of creatures that destroy you within seconds. At one point you'll even appear inside a locked cell, with no way out but to wait until your insanity finds reality. Walls will bleed, random objects will float across the screen, and your character could even vanish into thin air. Some effects are downright outrageous, like entering one room and watching idly as your character morphs into the size of a doll, while others may seem more real than they are, such as a message scrolled on the screen that says an error has occurred with your GameCube. Nevertheless, most insanity effects are rather obvious to the eye, but still are always great to watch to find out what this function can really do.

Within the gameplay, you actually travel and tread across different time periods, each one embraced by a different character living within that specific era. As you progress through each of the time-streamed storylines, your character possesses weapons that also pertain to history's timeline, and are even able to act with them in a number of ways. One tale follows a desperate Persian man, who from the start wields a curved blade. Continuing, he'll come across more blades, including one exactly like the one he started out with. By possessing two similar weapons, players are able to equip both at one time. So, in effect, you can slice, dice, and make mince meat out of enemies with double the effort. Other historical enemy disposable devices that come into your grasp include a shotgun, a torch, a blow dart pipe, and even throwing discs.

When the time does come for dueling bad guys (which is an awful lot), you have the ability to dismember specific areas of an enemy's anatomy. Using the R button to target the left or right arm, chest, legs, or even the head, you can point your weapon anywhere you want to. Unfortunately, there's no auto targeting system, meaning you manually have to face enemies in order to perform an attack. Much of the fighting involved has to do with your surroundings. Sometimes you may find yourself in closed quarters, and a certain weapon might not do because the enemies gang up on you in a narrow pathway. If you're using a sword and trying to swing it around, you'd be better off locating into a more open area, since sword swinging in squeezed gaps doesn't compute.

Having control over your character is not too hard at all to understand and get aquatinted with. Immersed in a fully 3D world, you have full control over exploring nearly every square inch using the analog stick. When it comes down to the action, the game can perform a mouthful. Between running, targeting, attacking, and sneaking, you're able to take on the forces of evil, and live to tell others about your trials and tribulations. Unfortunately, the gameplay camera angle becomes problematic from time to time, as it faces overhead, to the front, to the back, and expands every time you near the edge of the screen. This quirky maneuver becomes a pain when it pans over your character from above so much that it's like looking at yourself as if you were staring down on an ant. Overall, it doesn't work well when you're trying to battle an enemy that's too hard to concentrate on due to the constantly shifting camera movement.

Like all other horror games, Eternal Darkness does have its share of puzzle solving. The good thing about the puzzles is that you won't have to do much backtracking to solve them. The bad part is that some are not so obvious and you may spend most of your time sleuthing instead of advancing further into the story. While some require you to find an item by defeating a set of enemies, make your way back to the area in which you can use it, and then further pave your way deeper into the character's exploration, others may have you avoid enemy contact while at the same time performing your duties. In one temple level, ancient booby traps are scattered everywhere. By stepping on just one panel, you'll active deadly traps like rotating blades, flying darts, poisonous gas, or even compounding walls. After surpassing all of that, you can then make it to the safe point, grab the item you need, and head back through the complicated hallway once more. However, motionless enemies lie across specific points along the ground, and if you were to wake them up by conducting any loud noises, they'll rise from their slumber and begin the chase for your soon-to-be dead body. Despite that, most of the enemies are too dimwitted to understand that trailing you through a hall full of crushing, slicing, pointing, killing devices is bad for them.

Using barbaric means to rid you of the cursed is one thing. Another is Eternal Darkness's magick system. Magick is a compiling of Rune tablets you must find and learn to use within the game. This system will aid you in more and more ways as you add Runes to your growing list. With these Runes, you can combine them together to form spells. Some are used for restoring your health, magick, or sanity meters. Some are used for shielding your body from harm by creating a force field or hovering lights that break away one by one as you take a pounding. Some are even put to the test to unravel the riddle that lies ahead. All in all, players are sure to find a fair amount of depth involved in magick creating, weapon tactics, and the large assortment of puzzles involved in handling throughout the gameplay.

Internally, Eternal captures a great amount of detail in its visual focus. Above and beyond everything else, the most noticeable is how each and every one of the main characters has a certain look to them that actually is very real and very precise to their historic counterparts. If you're leading the role of a Cambodian dancer through a darkened chasm in the early 1100s, her body is complete with an aged, loose garb that will sway with her as she walks, runs, or tiptoes past deadly traps. Further into the future, you play the part of an English doctor during the 19th Century who is uncovering the secrets within his mansion. Imagine Ben Franklin without the white wig on, and that's what this man similarly appears to be. One difference between the doctor from the future, and the dancer from the past though is that while they have the same abilities in walking or running, or even attacking, their actual motions adhere to the type of person that they are. As the dancer is a thin woman, her movement is more fluid, and her body can move faster. The medical doctor is a heftier man, so he can't run as fast, and when he walks, it actually looks like a large man pacing the floor.

Despite the evident attention paid to each one of the many game figures, the backgrounds aren't as developed as they can be. Even with many perfect dark and light shades which amass themselves over everything to make the levels appear naturalistic to life's self, the objects within them are plain, and sometimes pixilated in an up close perspective. There isn't too much detail carried around by the enemies either, as most of them are presented in very dark colors, and can even blend in well with the shadowy areas of the game's backgrounds. Another gripe I had was with how in some future environments, like a church in the 1400s or the mansion Alex's travels take her through, light will peer through the windowpanes onto the floor and blend into the rest of the dim covered ground. When a character passes through the exact spot where the light touches, the body of the character won't brighten with it. This is odd, considering if you're to stand closer to a light source, such as a candle, or even a magickally glowing sword, those objects will fight the darkness, but sometimes other areas won't. The graphics are great, but just aren't enough to believe that they're the real thing.

Listening to the embodiment of fright can be as scary, and sometimes even scarier than watching it happen. Fortunately for Eternal Darkness, there is much to see and hear, even if you're not sure if what is there is real. The sanity meter plays a large role in how well the game's sound system works. Once the gauge starts dropping, not only are you witnessing unusual attractions, but also you'll hear whispers, chants, and the screams of people to take away your edge of cool, and creep you out through and through. Every other sound works its performance diligently and perfectly, and never quits. Whether you're pacing stone tiles, wooden floorboards, or a huge red carpet, your footsteps react and sound off on the exact beat you'd expect. If you're on the offensive end against an enemy, whether it be with a large blade, or an old fashioned pistol, their sounds against the object they come in contact will resound and create the effect you'd hear as if you were there in the room with them.

As before with how every part about time's leaders who follow the trail of darkness, and take on the exact demeanor of an individual from that time period, the characters all speak with a precise tongue too. I don't know how it's possible, but each and every voice actor provides more than his or her share for the long-winded story of Eternal Darkness. The dialogue acts accordingly to what one might say from the time frame. For instance, the English doctor garbles sentences that resemble the speech of going to a coffee house reading of Shakespeare, where Alex's character in the future emanates much attitude towards others, as a modern woman who demands the truth behind her grandfather's murder would. While the enemies don't speak, their scuttling, scraping bodies, and roars add the effect that an enemy is lurking your way -- but still doesn't give the game the scare factor it so desperately needs. Luckily, the moody rhythm within the background blends into each environtment's entry, wrapping up the dreary areas with a unsual tone that's sure to surprise you at least in a few portions of the game.

Bottom Line
Finally, the moment for Nintendo enthusiasts who have waited for the company to mature has arrived. Although Eternal Darkness isn't quite like any other horror game you've encountered, it does pack a lot of innovation that hopefully in the future more game developers would realize that there's more to this scary genre than just shooting and running the whole time. Eternal Darkness is a tale of wide-open proportions that packs a serious punch in originality, but at the same time still struggles through a few minor areas. Now that the light is gone, and darkness has eclipsed the earth, ready your body for true blissful torture as Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is now waiting for you to find a new reason to keep that light turned on at night.

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