Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Posted by | May 18, 2007

Pargon. Pargon. Tier. Pargon. Aretak. Pargon. Helvetica. Pargon. Pargon.

Welcome, initiate. You still have yet to grope your way about the dark enough to experience many things, but through me, you will know them. With the Tome in hand, a glint in your eye, and the memories of all who have possessed before you the book bound of flesh and bone, you shall come to know all the dark terrors that found the very keystone of your fragile reality.

So pull your boots and gloves on, this may get a little messy.

Meet Alex Roivas, heir to a family fortune bid not of material wealth, but instead of dark secrets. Called in the dead of night to the Rhode Island home of her grandfather, Edward Roivas, after his untimely death, she is left alone in a large, empty house to puzzle out his strange obsessions and find herself pulled into the dark machinations of alien gods—the strange promise of her heritage.

Inspector LeGrasse, the officer who meets her at the house, happens to also be the name of a character from H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu. And Lovecraft, like Edward, is also from Rhode Island.

This game takes the atmospheric Cthonic horror concept to its logical and best storytelling edge. The story is told between two major characters and a plethora of minor actors who all move the plot forward in some substantial way. The first major character is Alex herself, reading the Eternal Darkness and notes left for her by her grandfather, Edward, as it prepares her in the quick hours of the morning for the challenges and lethal grace of wielding magick and the noble glory of saving the world. The second is the villain of the game, the Roman Centurion Pious Augustus—I feel bad for his seven siblings who had to put up with him, although they did not have to suffer his undead, skeletal visage.

The other actors run the gambit from ancient Arabs, Indiana Jones wannabe’s, reporters, a fireman, even a Khmer princess—but most eloquently are other members of Alex’s family line, a madman with Roivas blood, and her grandfather who certainly in his own way is a mad as a hatter. A warning to anyone who discovers, upon prying a gaze at their family tree, that there is a body hanging, swinging dead among the windless and bare boughs.

One of the most potent minor actors of this story, although not really a person, is probably one of this game’s best efforts at storytelling: the setting. Places visited by previous actors are revisited in time, and how they have changed and been transformed by the ravages of time and magick reflect vividly in the mind of the player. The Khmer temple through the eyes of the Khmer girl, to the visitation of an archaeologist; even the Rovias Manse takes on new, and more sinister, angles with every page that is recovered and turned—as the house itself receives its own old visitations from ages hence.

With each page a puzzle is discovered, reflective of the place and the character visited there, and learning their eventual fates is a fulfilling prospect—we are not left wondering what happens to any of them. For eventually we meet their dooms, for good and for bad. None touched by the Tome end up with normal lives, they are pawns in a game far greater than themselves, and the sense of it is palpable as the game wears on—drawing us every further into the story, eyes wide and heart pounding, as insanity encroaches.

Very importantly, this game introduces an element of atmospheric horror that is possibly the best mechanic that we have seen in years: the sanity bar. As the story trots out, word for word, character for character, page to page, sanity is lost. Strange things happen, wrecking the mind, and brining the fragile pschye of weaker mortals crashing down—and with it the very atmosphere changes. Voices mutter, whimpering soft nothings; shadows scuttle, walls begin go bleed, statues eyes follow as we walk down the hallway…the camera angle cants itself slightly…and our favorite of all sanity effects: the books in the study of the Rovias residence flutter through the air as they rearrange themselves.

The effects of low sanity can be unnerving, and sometimes directly disturbing, as the programmers of the game decided to add what we will call meta-insanity effects: the game claims to be over after a major event. “Buy the sequel, Eternal Darkness 2!” The controller suddenly stops working. A fly walks across the screen…

With insanity crouching just beyond the threshold, the risk of powerful magery, there is also those world-shaking magicks at our fingertips. Eternal Darkness introduces a interesting and unique magickal dueling system that calls for spells built from a vocabulary of runes, which are spoken out loud as they are cast, and can be tied to buttons on the controller for quick, decisive casting. Enchantment spells, shield spells, summon creature, dispel, reveal invisible—they all take their own special place in the game as tools and necessary evils to do the deeds necessary to protect the world from a fear it cannot know.

And, as its own true coup de grace, if all else fails there is no visceral feeling quite as wonderful as taking an enchanted shotgun and emptying both barrels into a foe. Pious, for example, could really use a face-full of lead enspelled with withering magicks.

This game kept us coming back for more. A compelling story doled out in the pages of a book, a large, empty house to explore that widened with each new chapter that unfolded, and worthy characters marched out in a grim parade of heroism, misery, and noble sacrifice. Not a single moment of this game left us wanting.

We wish Alex Roivas good luck in her journey through the pages of the Tome, but she will not need it. And nor shall you, initiate, because surely the gods have plans for you in these doings. Your doom is already spelled out on the pages of the Tome. Implacable and inescapable…

Go forth, make your stand, and fight the darkness!

Pargon. Pargon. Nethlek. Pargon. Redgormor. Pargon…

Buy Eternal Darkness now!

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