Genre: Action-Adventure / Horro
Developed by: Silicon Knights
Published by: Nintendo
Feeling Like: Go crazy? Don’t mind if I do!
I can’t even begin to tell you anything about Eternal Darkness’ gameplay because it’s a complete blank. A mystery to me. Did it have melee combat? Ranged? Did you level up? Use magic? Were there boss fights? Was there a variety of enemies? Could you dodge? Could you jump? All of the above?
No clue. And it doesn’t matter one iota. That’s not what Eternal Darkness is about.
Eternal Darkness is a circus of a horror game. It’s over the top, swings for the fences, takes a page from Lovecraft and makes as many edits as it needs to. The story takes place over thousands of years, and features different protagonists and familiar faces. Sometimes the chapter ends with you outright failing, with gruesome consequences. The “Sanity Meter” builds upon taking damage and eventually pulls a myriad of 4th-wall-breaking effects directly on the player. I’ve never played anything like it. This is an unforgettable video game, in some regards.
I’m really digging cosmic horror lately. The board game Arkham Horror is too dense for my liking, but the gist of it totally hooked me. The monsters are all freaky and borderline invincible. Regular, puny humans are merely fodder for their grand plans of destruction. Generally, firepower and technology aren’t effective weapons. We’re doomed, but there’s also something comforting about that; it’s not a matter of if we can defeat the ultimate terror, we can’t. So, what CAN we do? Can we save ourselves temporarily? Can we keep their cool? Can we delay the inevitable? This isn’t the kind of adventure where you’ll become overpowered and stomp everything in your way. The game doesn’t let you get that far.
What it does let you do is be creeped out. The sound effects and music are minimal, but really well done. It’s hard to call this an action game; psychological thriller/horror is really more apt. I couldn’t get enough of it, and it’s also one of the few single player games that lent itself well to multiplayer. Since the star of the show is anybody watching, you could easily entertain a handful of friends while you carefully tiptoe across the stages. But I’ll be honest – the Sanity Effects were the main draw.
Silicon Knights were brilliant in this regard. When your character started to lose their Sanity, the game would screw with you. A screen would pop up claiming it had deleted your last save. The volume meter would rise and fall without your intervention. Blue screens of death. A fly on the screen. It was genuinely clever and even if they are mirages, it’s all part of the haunted house. This is a slideshow of dread, an anthology of the demented. Each dose is a scary snippet that’s meant to shock you, and that’s it. It’s always more fun to react to jump scares with a couchful of people and nobody minded to sit back while a single person was at the helm.
I was as drawn to the cutscenes as I was to tricks. The voice acting’s gravitas is a bit melodramatic and the scenarios aren’t anything to write home about, but they’re still intriguing enough for me to go back and watch old clips. The Monk, in particular, I can’t get enough of. The ending is so brutal, it’s almost funny. Here you are, playing this peaceful Monk trying to clear his name of a false accusation, and he runs up against something that you’d only see in your nightmares. It’s indescribable, and Paul the Monk’s fate is equally bewildering. Anthologies have a freedom that regular stories do not – since there isn’t much time to become overly attached to characters, they’re more likely to meet an unhappy end. That’s really what Eternal Darkness is, it’s Creepshow meets Assassin’s Creed. It’s Tales from the Crypt meets Metal Gear Solid.
I doubt it would fly with modern audiences. The graphics are showing their age, and more modern horror games are far more immersive and scary. I can barely look at footage of the 7th and 8th editions of Resident Evil. Playing them in VR is completely out of the question. Even back in 2002, it was sort of seen as half a joke. The fact it was on the Gamecube probably didn’t help people’s perceptions of its legitimacy, it being a “kiddie” console and all.
But I’m always going to be a fan. Too many great memories of playing this at Eric’s house with a roomful of teenagers pretending to be super scared and scream at any misdoings. Requests were yelled from the back benches and exasperated conversations usually followed the end of Chapter. Can you BELIEVE what happened? Some memories are jingled by watching some YouTube retrospectives, most of them pleasant. The main hub, a giant mansion, works really well. The scarce jump scares work, mostly because the atmosphere is underlying and always managed to put me on edge. The echoes of your footsteps are unnerving thanks to the game’s pacing. Something MAY be around the corner…but it’s impossible ti know for sure. Trying to uncover the mystery of the Book of Eternal Darkness was a treat and while I don’t think Eternal Darkness would hold up to scrutiny today, something like it with modern updates and quality of life changes most certainly would.
I’ll never forget the final lines of the trailer, hysterically shouted by one of the helpless protagonists.
If that line makes you roll your eyes, Eternal Darkness isn’t for you. If you crack any kind of a smile, I’d give it a shot. I’m glad we did.