• Eternal Darkness Review - Nintendo Gamecube

    Nintendo's first real venture into the world of mature videogames is here after a long and painful wait. Under the watchful eyes of the Kyoto giant, Silicon Knights have developed a game that attempts to introduce a new slant on the rapidly expanding Survival Horror genre. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, to credit the games full, if somewhat rather clumsy title, moves away from the shocks of Biohazard and shifts more towards the psychological scares of Silent Hill.

    Having started life on the N64 before shifting its development to the Gamecube, Eternal Darkness is a game that has always sounded great on paper but never really fulfilled its potential in practice; regular trade-show appearances over the past few years have been verging on the disastrous. Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the final product is almost worthy of the design pedigree. Clearly, Eternal Darkness is a labour of love, and the hardware upgrade plus the extra few years of development have done the game a world of good.

    The first notable surprise the game offers occurs when starting a new game, for the control system in Eternal Darkness is both fast and responsive; the highly criticised 'rotate' system shared by so many in the genre has been dropped in favour of a much more natural method not too dissimilar to Capcom's Devil May Cry. Pushing left on the analogue stick will move you left, while pulling back will move you backwards. Hardly rocket science; yet as to why it has taken the genre so long to catch on is almost incomprehensible.

    The second surprise comes just moments later. After experimenting with the refreshing controls, disappointment sets in when combat is entered. Back to square one, back to Resident Evil. With a greater sense of freedom issued with the movement, it is such a shame that the game has cursed itself with the inability to move while entering combat. Locking on does grant you with a system allowing specific body parts to be targeted and while this is welcome, the lack of movement while doing so frustrates, especially when engaging multiple enemies.

    The focal character in the game is Alexandra Roivas, and at the beginning of the story she receives a phone call informing of her Grandfathers death. Upon arrival to the scene of his gruesome death, the family mansion in Rhode Island, Alex must investigate what happened. Of course, these things are never simple. The story spans twenty centuries with eleven other characters all linked by one object - The Tome Of Eternal Darkness.

    Playing the part of Alex, the player must seek out chapters from the book in her Grandfathers mansion, which, upon reading opens up the next chapter in the game. Each chapter has a different playable character, each with their own story within their own time period, and as the game progresses developments slowly slot into place. This allows for a greater sense of depth in the locations; visiting the same area several times throughout the ages gives a real insight of history, architectural developments and most interestingly, seeing furniture and items you've used in the past become archaic artefacts of the future. Also, while each chapter by themselves are engaging enough, the character interaction throughout the ages is handled extremely well.

    Unfortunately, whilst each and every character are just regular people put into extreme situations and are quite likeable, they all possess the same emotions and feelings. Despite being well acted, it feels as though all twelve people are all based on the same character. Also the focal bad guy of the piece has been poorly judged, reminiscent more of a cheap MTV production than the likes of Bram Stoker's Dracula. In fact, generally the artwork throughout is of disappointing quality. You would have expected more with Nintendo on board, which is a shame as the story has been crafted more expertly than most and within minutes of starting it is easy to become enthralled within the epic plot.

    The developers, press and gamers alike, have all hyped Eternal Darkness as being something truly terrifying, largely due to the intriguing insanity effects. Whenever your character sees or experiences something out of the ordinary, their sanity level will drop (as indicated by an onscreen bar). When sanity levels are low you will witness bizarre effects, which represent the characters growing insanity. While the idea is sound, the execution is flawed. The effects themselves simply lack the subtlety to be scary, and more often than not they provoke laughter rather than fear. The developers have aimed to scare the gamer psychologically by making them question everything they see, give a second thought to their every move, but by making the sanity effects so obvious it is extremely rare that a player will really be unsure as to what is real and what is not. To affect a gamer psychologically the last thing you would want to do is remind them in such painfully obvious ways that things are amiss.

    Perhaps worse still is how regularly these effects occur; nothing is given a chance to build up as it's almost a constant barrage of effect after effect giving the player no time to feel for the situation. Whilst Silicon Knights have done a good job showing the fear on the characters, the emotion has been lost on the player because they have simply overused the idea. There are however a few moments that do genuinely give a slightly uncomfortable feeling, usually when the sanity effects are played sonically rather than visually.

    Rather than being an out and out psychological thriller that was expected, and hoped for, Eternal Darkness is a mix of ideas that don't quite blend together correctly. The atmosphere is rarely given a chance to build up due to the quick pacing of the gameplay and the action is let down by the slow and clumsy combat; it lacks the shocks of Biohazard, the horror of Silent Hill and the gameplay of Devil May Cry. However Eternal Darkness is far from a disaster, the compelling story has been presented superbly and while similar, all the characters have been developed and acted far better than most videogames ever have done. The magic system also impresses, easy to use with enough depth to keep things interesting.

    The game may disappoint in the areas it was most expected to excel in, but even when wandering through the linear and overly predictable corridors, the game can still pull you in and engage until the very end. Other than the Biohazard remake, in terms of production values and story development, nothing else comes close on the Gamecube.