Great, now I'm scared of my TV
Things weren't going well for Alex Roivas. Her grandfather was murdered in his mansion and the police were baffled by the horrific crime. Alex was sure that the clues to her grandfather's death lay somewhere within the mansion's walls so she's checked every nook and cranny for any information. And then, in a hidden room, she found a book: the Tome of Eternal Darkness
. The Tome of Eternal Darkness does two things: it gives its owner magic powers and shatters their senses.
Eternal Darkness follows the adventures of twelve playable characters who discover the Tome, the existence of otherworldly beings, and the struggle to save humanity. Taking place over a staggering 2000 years, Eternal Darkness trots the globe with the best of them and is a terrific third-person adventure just this side of survival horror. After Alex discovers the Tome, she reads the first chapter, "The Chosen One" about Roman Centurion Pious Augustus.
Pious's level introduces the Dark Gods and their minions. There are three gods vying for supremacy: Chattur'gha, Ulyaoth, and Xel'lotath. Each one has a difference color associated with them: red, blue, and green. Red is also the color of the life bar, blue of the magic, and green of the sanity. There is an important connection here. Each dark god has their own school of minions including the traditional walking dead, gigantic Horrors, somewhat innocuous Trappers, and Bonethieves who like to hide inside people.
After Pious's level, Alex finds a clue about where the next chapter page is hidden in the mansion. This model follows for each of the chapters in Eternal Darkness, with the level in the past revealing more of the story and Alex gaining new spells and gaining more hints about her grandfather's death. With this new information, Alex can uncover more of the story, and what a story!
By all rights, Eternal Darkness shouldn't work. The chapter structures are repetitive and there is a tendency to revisit the same locations over and over again. It's formulaic, but effective, with enough interesting characters, interesting spells, interesting puzzles, and interesting variations of the same area to hold the player's interest. For instance, the first time you visit a French church, it's as Anthony, a young man trying to warn Charlemagne about a cosmic conspiracy. Six hundred years later a monk is at a cathedral in the same area, during the time of the Inquisition. Four hundred years after that, a journalist is stationed at the cathedral, now converted to handle the wounded from the First World War.
The characters are also not variations of the same skin. Portly Maximillian Roivas waddles around his mansion, but doesn't have the best sanity (he can perform quick autopsies though). Karim, a Persian adventurer, is a strong fighter with good health, but isn't as fast as Ellia, a Cambodian dancer. Michael Edwards isn't the best magic user, but his firefighter physique gets put to good use. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, their skills and abilities.
I hesitate to call this a Survival Horror game, even though it hearkens back to the original Alone in the Dark
. You usually have more than a flashlight and a .45 and there's a devastating magic system to learn. Also, you usually aren't outnumbered enemy-wise. Jumping back to weapons, I found melee weapons to be much more effective than ranged weapons, so I never worried about ammo. The game does have its scares, but it has a more effective sense of foreboding.
Each dark god has their own school of magic: red, green, or blue. Runes found by the adventures can be connected together in a circle of power, under one of the dark gods' schools, to create a spell (and add it to the Tome of Eternal Darkness). You can create a spell through trial and error or uncover a scroll that lists the required runes, and experiment with the different magic schools to see what the different effects are. The colors trump each other (and there's a hidden school that trumps everything). Understanding the color system makes life much easier—since you can enchant weapons, create magical shields, and unleash magical attacks it is nice making them as effective as possible.
There's a reason why the subtitle is "Sanity's Requiem". If your health bar drops, you die. If your magic bar drops, you can't cast spells. If your sanity bar drops, you go nuts—gloriously, ravingly bonkers! Not only does your character hallucinates, seeing blood dripping from walls, monsters which aren't there, shooting themselves while reloading, and more, but you hallucinate, too! Your TV turns off or switches video modes, the controller stops working, saved games are erased… psyche. Talk about a game playing you.
Just two complaints: let me replay levels and let me skip cutscenes (one section has a long cinematic coupled with a tough battle).
The Bottom Line
Eternal Darkness is as Lovecraftian as they come, but it opens with a Edgar Allan Poe quote. Either the Cthulhu cultists are holding on the copyright or this is Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe's The Haunted Palace
all over again. Anyway, this is one of the great games buried on an iffy platform. This is horror gaming at its best with twenty hours of fresh gameplay compared to the scant handful of hours you can spend in Silent Hill or Raccoon City. I highly recommend borrowing a GameCube to play this game.