Hands-onEternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

We get hands-on time with a feature-complete build of Silicon Knights' psychological thriller for the GameCube.

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Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem appeared to be eternally in development since the title was originally slated as a Nintendo 64 title, but the development team at Silicon Knights opted to transplant the game to the much roomier confines of the GameCube. The change caused a few more delays and ended up raising doubts about the title's future and quality. Subsequent appearances of the game at Nintendo's Spaceworld and Cube Club events last year did little to dispel those impressions of the title due to its unfinished state. At the first day of Nintendo's Gamers' Summit in Seattle, we finally had a chance to try our hand at a two-day-old build of the title, which featured all the gameplay elements that will be included in the final game. Director Dennis Dyack demonstrated the build at the start of the event to shed light on the title's development.

The game's storyline will focus on Alexandra Rovias, granddaughter of Dr. Edward Rovias, a clinical psychologist whose mysterious death brings her to Rhode Island. Alexandra's investigation into her grandfather's death becomes an epic tale that will span the last 2,000 years of human history and offer a total of 12 playable characters for you to use in the game. You will begin the game as Alexandra but will take the roles of other players as Alexandra discovers the book of Eternal Darkness. The tome causes her to experience interactive flashbacks of the character's lives, which will offer a varied collection of individuals drawn from more than 20 centuries. In addition to Alexandra, you will take the role of characters such as Roman centurion Pios Augustus and Cambodian dancer Ellia. Each character's experience brings something to the game's story, which grows to become an epic tale of discovery that will offer the secret of human history.

Despite the variety of playable characters in Eternal Darkness, the game's control is simple and accessible to most players. You can move your character with the left analog stick and attack with the A button. The B button serves a variety of tasks, depending on its context-sensitive nature, which assigns the button a function based on what's going on in the game. You use the left trigger to run and the right trigger to lock onto the nearest enemy in a fight. When used in conjunction with the analog stick, the lock-on feature lets you target specific areas on an enemy.

Gameplay in Eternal Darkness looks to be as accessible as its control, thanks to fairly straightforward design. The main component of the game is exploration and finds you guiding Alexandra throughout the rooms of Edward Rovias' mansion in search of clues to her grandfather's murder. Along the way, she discovers the book of Eternal Darkness, which triggers the flashbacks that put you in the role of one of the other characters. The more you explore, the more pages of the book you find and the more characters you'll have the opportunity to play as. In addition, you'll have to select from one of three artifacts in a sequence that will eventually affect how you play through the game as a specific character. During Dyack's demo, we were also able to check out the game's magic system, which centered on the use of mystic runes that are combined to create a wide range of spells. One of these spells lets you imbue weapons with mystical properties that enhance their damage. The game's sanity meter tracks your character's sanity and will alert you to impending "freak outs" on their part. The meter grows every time you encounter an enemy in the game, and when it's completely full, your characters start to have strange reactions, making them difficult to control.

Graphically, Eternal Darkness is coming along well. Using a modified Too Human engine--the engine of one of Silicon Knight's other GC games, which was first shown at the console's unveiling in Japan--the game sports detailed characters who animate well and feature a host of little touches. You'll see your characters looking at objects and reacting to stimuli like sparking embers from torches or noting undead enemies in a room that are out of your field of vision, not the character's. You'll be able to see fine details on the character models as well, like patterns on armor and clothing.

The game's mature rating is well earned via the nightmarish, albeit high-polygon and unsettling creatures you'll encounter. The levels in the game are also quite nice because they feature slick designs that reflect the various time periods and locations in the game, thanks to Silicon Knights' meticulous historical research, to ensure the accuracy of each level's look. In terms of special effects, the game is throwing around a pleasing assortment of technological GameCube buzzwords that include bump mapping, radiosity light maps, ray-traced light maps, volumetric fogging, high-color bit depth, tight video resolution that supports 16x9, and progressive scan. The GameCube manages the graphical demands put on it with its usual flair--Eternal Darkness is slated to have a constant frame rate of 60 frames per second, and the build we played showed little, if any, evidence that the game would slow down.

Our time with the game had us controlling Alexandra, Pious Augustus, and Ellia. Each character's level was fairly straightforward and mixed in standard survival-horror-style exploration as well as item collection and puzzle solving. The emphasis on the story was promoted strongly--there were quite a few instances in which cinemas played to advance the plot and filled us in on background information. During his demo, Dyack was quick to point out that, while the game shares ties to other survival horror games in terms of atmosphere, Eternal Darkness was a different animal entirely. Featuring equal parts of RE and more action-based games like Devil May Cry, Eternal Darkness certainly stands as a unique entry in the GC lineup. One thing that the game shared with Capcom's classic series is excellent use of sound--the atmospheric touches in the game, such as ghostly voices and the sound each character made as they moved, were very well done. The game's support of Dolby sound went a long way toward selling the mood of the game, especially through headphones. In addition, Eternal Darkness features an extremely impressive soundtrack that changes dynamically as you move through the game. According to Dyack, the game will offer 40 to 60 hours of gameplay, which should provide a challenge for hungry GameCube owners.

Look for more on Eternal Darkness as its June release approaches.

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