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Silicon Knights
June 2002

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (E3 '02)

The last time I wrote about Eternal Darkness, its release date seemed far away and it was coming out on the N64. Two years later, the former has certainly proven true, but the wait has been more than worth it. This is not a Resident Evil knock off, and should be the first true, intellectually deep game to land on GameCube. It's not only a thriller with solid gameplay, but it will also teach gamers about the past through its intricately researched presentation. Horror with style and substance? Indeed.

At Nintendo's press conference, the audience seemed hesitant to clap after seeing the latest exciting clip of a title that has come such a long way. This stirred a little concern within me, as I still have great anticipation for Eternal Darkness, and I hoped that this lukewarm response was not indicative of how the game will sell upon its release on June 24. Perhaps something about the game that I was unaware of had faltered in quality and caused this sentiment? Actually, no. On the E3 showfloor, ED is looking sharper and more ready than ever to be unleashed upon those willing to jump into this unique and eerie approach to mature gaming.

While the warm and well-spoken Denis Dyack, head of Silicon Knights, was not at E3 to go over new details as in years prior, ED was good enough to stand on its own. Four levels were playable this time around, the first three having been encountered before, and the addition of Kashim in ancient Persia being the new experience.

As a whole, it's hard to judge this game or predict its faults and merits based off of 15 minute-gameplay spurts. ED is much more an adventure you have to sit down and take in, not unlike the adventure games of old on the PC. Furthermore, the foundation of ED is a 2000 year-spanning story covering an array of cultures and characters that, up to now, haven't been touched upon in a serious gaming experience, unless you consider surfing Encarta to be a game. That said, I can say that the game still has the same amount of promise as it had two years ago, and while the battling may be trickier than expected, the puzzles, insanity effects, and deep magic system should more than make up any so-called deficiencies other writers have complained about, primarily in Resident Evil comparisons.

To those who claim that ED is just another RE-rip off, there is the first, most obvious piece of evidence to break that argument: gamers must destroy enemies. Actually, gamers don't have to do so, but their gameplay will be detrimentally affected by wussing out, thanks to the much talked about insanity effects, which were more toned-down and not so obvious this E3-- gamers can get the crazier effects once they've really put some time into the game. Nonetheless, the creepy, surround sound whispering voices and blood running down walls was fun to take in.

The second obvious argument against RE finger pointers is that much more time has been put into the story and presentation of this game than the RE series' installments. Certainly, some RE games have been masterpieces in their own right, yet they remain odes to the B-Movie, and the attention to detail in and historical accuracy of ED is infallible. That ED's game characters speak in native tongues (subtitled of course), literary references to famous authors are abundant-- that every stained glass window was removed from a castle just because castles didn't have them at the certain era one level takes place at-- all of these subtle details add up to one hefty package, and even gamers who avoid the "thinking man" title will notice.

Surprisingly, for such an attention to historic detail, gamers who have an eye for visual detail will notice sometimes erratic visuals in ED. Most cinemas that move the deep story along are executed in real time, with intricately modeled characters that have an incredible level of expression not seen anywhere except Final Fantasy character models. Yet some of the cinemas that require much faster graphics rendering are not real time but compressed movies (FMAs, in fact), and the downgrading in visual quality is evident from heavy JPG-like "artifacting" that makes visuals appear blurry or pixelated.

Additionally, some of the real-time cutscenes, such as Alex's discovery of her murdered grandfather's body, are interspersed with static still-scenes that sometimes suffer from such heavy artifacting they often look more like an out-of-place, blurry watercolor. Were the game's cutscenes being presented entirely in comic stills, like with Max Payne, this would be fine, but jumping from crystal clear character models to muddy watercolors is jarring. Further, some textures, particularly those of light falling from windows onto floors, are often blurry and pixelated.

Granted, this graphic nitpick has to be taken with a grain of salt. The levels themselves have elaborate architecture rendered in real time and feature Hollywood-like sweeping and abrupt camera movement. Also, the 12 different characters come from such different eras and cultures, they all need seemingly one games' worth of textures each just to realistically model their levels, and, honestly, many of these textures are gorgeous. Add on to that five hours' worth of cinemas and speech (two hours' worth if just going through one of the game's paths), and Silicon Knights' decision to cram every last thing onto only one GCN minidisk, and the explanation of the visual shortcomings are apparent. Still, this note seems incongruous with SK's seemingly obsessive attention to detail and desire for perfection.

Thankfully, a solid game is much more than its visuals. Screens of text have been written to detail most all the objects of note in any game's level, and said text can be accessed just with stopping and making a button click. There's no necessity for this, just like all the information you can scan in Metroid Prime, but SK has done so to provide a truly thorough experience-- they are trying to immerse the gamer in a true game world, not a two dimensional façade of one. Superb voice acting, music, and sound effects also further negate visual deficiencies. Puzzles are constructed to complement the storyline and elaborate it, not just provide obstacles to the next cutscene or boss encounter, and they also ride a fine line between incomprehensible logic and kindergarten simplicity that plague other titles.

Controlling movement of the characters, even with all the stylistic camera shifting, is always simple and never confounding as in the RE franchise. One area that is a little tricky, though, occurs in battle when trying to target an enemy's separate body parts. Apparently, it's supposed to be as simple as holding in the right shoulder button and moving the analog stick around. Yet repeated encounters proved that picking an enemy's right arm versus his torso or head was not simple or intuitive. Instead, I'd have to frantically slide the stick around in random directions, unsure if the camera angle, the enemy's movement, or my character's position was affecting the choice. It seemed very random. Despite this, I was able to attack enemies' weak points (each enemy having different spots that are best attacked first) and progress, yet this was not without loss of life due to the difficult body portion selection.

Because of that problem, battling enemies wasn't as fun as hoped, even with the variety of weapons. Fortunately, just figuring out an enemy's weak point, and the gruesome "finishing" moves each character performs, in tune with whatever weapon or weapon combination s/he has, made the experience worthwhile. Furthermore, this gameplay is definitely a step above RE's "shoot 6 times or run."

The last significant gameplay aspect that should be mentioned is the magic system, which, unfortunately, doesn't fully bloom until gamers reach later levels that were unavailable at E3. In said levels, gamers have a wide variety of spells to pick from, and the word is that spells can be mixed and chained together in order to provide a variety of results and, naturally, a complex system. An SK representative actually described it as being "deep yet simple-- like a math equation, or a sentence."

Word on the Street
There's little left to repeat regarding a game that has been greatly anticipated for several years. While deletions and additions have been made to Eternal Darkness, the potential and anticipation remain. Furthermore, next to no other thriller or horror games offer as much replayability as ED. As with RE, special extras can be unlocked by completing the game. Yet going even further, and unlike RE, a choice made early in Eternal Darkness will not only change how the story turns out, but even the enemies that are faced from level to level.

Aside from that, it's still the insanity effects that set ED apart from the pack. In yet another example of SK's attention to detail, one new, subtle insanity effect is the skewing of the camera, no matter where it's positioned, roughly 10 degrees to the left. SK actually conducted research with a cinematographer to come up with this effect, after learning that small, visual cock-eyed-ness can cause discomfort mentally, not to mention physically when the game player keeps trying to hold his head slightly to the left to straighten it all out.

From the Horse's Mouth
A handful of lone souls desperately fight a horrific race of aliens in this stunning new psychological thriller that's unlike any game you've ever played. Beginning with the discovery of an ancient book in a desolate mansion, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem ushers daring players on a mind-bending journey across two millennia and three continents. Players will assume the role of 12 different characters, each struggling alone against the unspeakable evil lusting to engulf all mankind.

Years in development, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem's ambitious magic and combat-targeting systems set a new standard for epic gameplay. Eternal Darkness masterfully weaves extensive cinema scenes, detailed facial expressions, a hallucinatory score and top-notch voice talent to evoke an inexorable sense of dread.

The horrific aliens spawn undead minions that hack and slash and, most ominously, infiltrate the mind of any human that comes close. As legions of the undead advance ever closer, a dwindling Sanity Meter will even lead you to question your grasp of reality.

The unwilling heroes and heroines include a slave girl in medieval Cambodia eager for freedom, a Persian youth willing to surrender all for the love of a beautiful woman, a monk investigating a murder in Renaissance France and a quiet scholar in 1950s Rhode Island. Each must fight with historically accurate weapons and an ever-growing body of arcane knowledge. Equipped with the Tome of Eternal Darkness and their own magic, humans can even conjure and control their own undead doppelgangers.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is guaranteed to warp your preconceived notions of sanity, and it's only on the Nintendo GameCube.

It seems as if Eternal Darkness has been talked and written about as much as any Mario or Zelda game, and with good reason: it's an incredibly deep game that's really trying to set off on a path that hasn't been traversed in the industry. Silicon Knights is known for being such forward thinkers-- look no further than the original Legacy of Kain for proof.

Yes, at this point there are a few possible issues that can be identified here, but when compared to many other products on the market, ED still stands above the pack and its sum outweighs its parts. The game really has the potential to provide much more than the distraction of a gameplay-light arcade title or the burden of an overly lengthy RPG. Instead, it seems to offer an immersive, intellectual experience that may leave you feeling a little uneasy, a little restless, and perhaps, a little insane.



word on the street

press release notes


Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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