Eternal Darkness Preview

Eternal Darkness is a good example of what the N64 can do graphically - even more so with an expansion pak - and the development seems on track to improve on gameplay that already looks fairly impressive at this stage.

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Canada-based Silicon Knights (maker of the original game in the Kain series) recently moved into Nintendo's orbit as an N64 and "Dolphin" developer. The company is currently crafting the first product of that partnership, a single-player action-adventure game called Eternal Darkness for the N64. The company showed the game at E3 and earned accolades for its solid graphical presentation and fervent concept - an eerie, 3D adventure game not unlike what we've previously seen from the survival-horror genre.

Use of the word "eternal" in the title is appropriate, as in the game, you'll hop in and out of epochs warding off and, better yet, doing away with bad guys, who in this case are prehuman earth-dwelling aliens known as the Ancients. These aliens live entirely outside the humanoid realm of thinking and acting - conceptually, ethically, and physically. The aliens' demise is chalked up to ice ages and the shifting of tectonic plates, much like that of many that walked or crawled Earth before humankind. These creatures, however, just hibernated while the rest expired.

The gameplay begins when the Ancients return to take Earth back once humankind is comfortably settled in thousands of years later. This is where it gets sticky, as they don't just show up with big, uncertain plans, but have rather toiled over exactly how they'll regain their stronghold on Earth before arriving - or surfacing, rather. Although the creators of Eternal Darkness spin the storyline to describe the Ancients as beyond human understanding, these creatures sacrifice, use magic, and worship other beings with the best of the humanoids, perhaps throwing a bit of a dart in the plot. Pulling the story back on track, according to Silicon Knights, the Ancients do all of this "beyond mankind's limited comprehension." So there you have it.

In Eternal Darkness, you control each of the 13 lucky participants in humanity's big war with the Ancients at varying times throughout this game's timeline. Each of these characters embodies some sort of skill or persona you would likely see called upon in such a scenario. The game spans hundreds of years, and the characters reflect life in these times. How you act and battle is derivative of when and where you exist as your current character. These characters' experiences are cumulative and interrelated, so you won't simply move from one mission to the next, so to speak.

Your weapons and abilities are also related to where you are in time and the technologies available. For example, your commando may have top-level sniper rifles, while your monk will have to rely on more archaic tools, perhaps even magic. What's more, the Ancients aren't necessarily big, ugly nightmare creatures, but rather beings that maintain covert identities, adding a psychological bend to the game. And to enhance the self-doubt, a meter appears onscreen, tracking your character's level of sanity - or insanity, rather. This feature is designed to make you doubt not only others' actions, but also your own - adding a heady strategy element to the otherwise action-based adventure.

Eternal Darkness is a good example of what the N64 can do graphically - even more so with an expansion pak - and the development seems on track to improve on gameplay that already looks fairly impressive at this stage. Through a third-person perspective, you engage in close-up, detailed combat (magic, physical, and weapons-based), and then revert to real-time cutscenes to progress through the game.

We'll have more on Eternal Darkness in the coming weeks. The game is expected to ship for the N64 in late October.

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