Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem


“I can’t think of what I’m going to write this week,” I said to Gray on Monday.

“Don’t worry mate, you’ll think of something,” was his reply. And then, on Monday night, I see that Denis Dyack is starting a Kickstarter project for Shadow of the Eternals, what he’s billed as the spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and - bing! - there’s my subject. Nice how things work out like that sometimes.

“Deep, into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering… fearing… doubting…” This quote from Edgar Allen Poe is the first thing you hear when you boot up Eternal Darkness, which was released for the GameCube about 11 years ago. At the time it was the first 15/M rated game that Nintendo themselves had published. The game, developed by the Ontario-based Silicon Knights, had had a fairly tortuous development cycle, and was originally intended to come out for the N64, but numerous delays pushed it back. The game is a psychological horror based adventure game, set with a cast of 12 playable characters, over a period of 2000 years. The principal character is Alex Roivas, a twenty-ish student from Washington, and she is your character at the beginning and end of the game, as well as all the sections that intersperse with the other characters’ contributions. The (very simplified) premise is that one of three ancient gods wants to cross over into our dimension and enslave the world. The three gods in question, Ulyaoth, Xel’lotath and Chattur’gha have been banished from our universe, and one of the characters you play is essentially possessed by one of them (which you pick) and spends 2000 years attempting to resurrect them, while your other playable characters are fighting against this over the same time period, some willingly, others less so.

There is clear Resident Evil inspiration here – plenty of zombies and other undead, as well as similar “tank” controls and camera system; what really makes the game stand out, is the game’s insanity effects: as the character you are playing at the time experiences more and more of the horrors they encounter, their sanity level drops, and the game starts to break the fourth wall: the effects start off fairly mildly – hearing footsteps, or screaming – but then they become more severe - you might walk into a room, and then your head explodes, the volume on your TV appears to get turned down, your savegame gets deleted, the game appears to end and invites you to carry on in a fictional sequel, or, my personal favourite – a blue screen of death. The effects usually only last a few seconds at a time, and then your character returns to normal, usually saying something along the lines of “this can’t be happening!” Naturally, there is great fun to be had in trying to keep your sanity meter as low as possible, to experience as many of these effects as possible.

By today’s standards, it definitely feels clunky, which is why the announcement that many of the original team are working on this “spiritual successor” is definitely exciting news, but I’m slightly nervous. This is a $1.5M Kickstarter project, which is certainly not small, a Silicon Knights’ output since ED’s release has hardly been prolific: they produced the excellent GameCube version of Metal Gear Solid (Twin Snakes), and then Too Human on the 360 (distinctly mediocre, even though it had been in development since the days of the PS1!) and an X-Men PSN/XBLA game, which was even worse. They’re using the Cry Engine, which is definitely a good start, but will I back the new one? I’m not sure yet. Time to hit Ebay for a replacement copy of the original, methinks!

Take a look.