Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem impressions

We play the final version of Nintendo's Eternal Darkness for the GameCube and deliver our impressions to you along with new screens and movies.

It's been a full six months since Nintendo released a game for the GameCube, but after four years in the making, Eternal Darkness is finally here. The game started as a Nintendo 64 project and was practically complete before Nintendo purchased the game's developer, Silicon Knights, and decided that the game should be remade for the GameCube. And while the improvements to the game are evident on its new platform, some aspects of the graphics still harken back to their 64-bit roots. But taking Eternal Darkness at face value goes against the nature of the game, because throughout the entire game, there are plenty of subtle touches that make it apparent just how much time and care has been given to the development.

The first thing that should be mentioned about Eternal Darkness is its story. It primarily drives the game and does a great job of getting the player into it right from the beginning. Initially, players will be confused by the story because events occur at an alarming rate, and they seem completely unrelated to each other. But as the game progresses, all the loose ends start to tie together, and the player reaches a point where the proverbial light bulb illuminates above his or her head and everything becomes clear. As the game begins, a young girl named Alexandra Roivas is summoned to her grandfather's mansion to investigate his death. She soon discovers that her grandfather led a secret life that her family knew little about and that her bloodline has been involved in some mysterious activities throughout history.

At the game's outset, Alexandra discovers a book called The Tome of Eternal Darkness. The book will warp Alexandra to different time periods where she finds new pages, with her grandfather's mansion being the hub through which the other levels are accessed. We've managed to play through several episodes thus far, each taking place in a different period of time with weapons, characters, and clothing appropriate to that time period.

The puzzles thus far have been fairly simple. One requires Alexandra to reset a grandfather clock to a time previously mentioned in the game, and another requires a different character to light or extinguish candles according to paintings on the walls. The combat is relatively simple, with just one or two weapons per character thus far, and a few situations require you to rescue other characters in distress for a reward. By clicking the R button, you can cycle through the enemies in a room to attack, and by pressing the analog stick in different directions while holding the R button, you can select specific body parts to hack or shoot at. In the early going, it's best to enter a room and behead all the enemies and then go back and take them all down for good.

A lot has been made of the sanity meter in Eternal Darkness, though we've yet to encounter any instances of its application. When your character enters a room with enemies, his or her sanity meter will drop. If the meter becomes completely depleted, strange things will begin to happen. But you can replenish your sanity meter by finishing off enemies once they've been knocked to the ground and each character has his or her own specific finishing moves. You can save your game at any point as long as there are no enemies in the room, and this comes in handy for those who don't have huge blocks of time to dedicate to playing. The magic system used in the game is surprisingly deep. You must collect circles of power, runes, and codices to form spells and you'll be able to create your own spells using these components. Up to five spells can be mapped to the directional pad and Y button so that you may cast them on the fly, with the catch being that you have to stand still for them to be effective. Additionally, you'll come across magic items that can be used for things like healing your character.

The environments for the game look great, with plenty of real-time lighting and volumetric fogging. The architecture and technology present for each area of the game is appropriate to the time period each scene takes place in. The game is flooded with both real-time cinemas and FMV sequences that move its intricate plot forward. The prerendered videos are being shown in letterbox, and there is some fragmenting that takes place due to the compression routines used to fit them on the disc. Facial animation is adequate and syncs to the dialogue quite well. The character models are the main concern with Eternal Darkness' graphics. They can appear a bit blocky at times, and the textures that cover them could stand to be in a higher resolution. But all in all, Eternal Darkness is certainly one of the more visually impressive GameCube games, and it features plenty of small details that will make players take notice.

Probably the game's strongest trait thus far, besides its incredibly detailed storyline, is its sound. Running the game in Dolby Pro Logic II makes quite a difference when compared with games that do not use the standard. The voice acting is incredibly strong and is perhaps among the best to grace a video game. There are literally dozens of characters in the game, and Silicon Knights has done well in supplying a completely unique voice for each one of them. Many times they're begin speaking in other languages and the voice will gradually morph into English. The game's music changes depending upon the time period in which the action is taking place, while moans and wails are soloed in and out when important tasks are accomplished.

While we've played just a small portion of the game, Eternal Darkness already exudes a polish and attention to detail that separates the good games from the great ones. The combat seems a bit simplistic thus far, and we haven't had a chance to experience any of the insanity effects, but the game's story is so enthralling that we're already addicted to the game for the simple reason that we want to see what might happen next. Look for our full review of Eternal Darkness early next week, but until then, enjoy the new movies and screenshots we've provided for the weekend.

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