I am not a big fan of survival horror games. I frighten easily, and hate the feeling when you know there’s a zombie just waiting somewhere down the hall, but you don’t know where and when it will strike. It almost killed me when those zombie dogs jumped through the window in Resident Evil. I also hate the fact that you can’t kill everything. I prefer cleaning out enemies in a room before moving on, but in many survival horror games, this is not smart, or even possible. With all that said, I guess it is fortunate that I gave Eternal Darkness: Sanity‘s Requiem a shot, because it isn’t a normal survival horror game at all.
Eternal Darkness is something of a hybrid between survival horror and adventure. It’s less about the jump-scares and more about a lingering sense of creepy psychological dread. And while there are guns and a somewhat limited supply of ammo that you can use to finish off zombies and horrors, there are also swords and magic spells to fall back on.
Perhaps the strongest single aspect of Eternal Darkness is its plot and the way that the story is told. It begins when Alex Roivas learns that her grandfather has been killed in a rather…grisly manner. She travels to her family estate, determined to find some clue as to who or what killed her grandfather. Once there, she discovers the Tome of Darkness, and from that point, the real game begins. The player learns of an ancient evil that has been trying to take over the earth and enslave (or eat!) all of humanity since who knows when. Three Ancient Gods (Chattur’gha, representing power; Ulayoth, representing magic; and Xel’latoth, representing insanity) are all vying for control of our plane of existence, and your task in the game will be to prevent one of them (determined by the choice made early in the game) from dominating the earth and covering it in…dun dun dun…Eternal Darkness.
If the premise sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In particular, Eternal Darkness bears a striking resemblance to the story “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft. The enemies you encounter in the game clearly draw from Lovecraft’s stories as well. On another note—if you are unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s stories, and like psychological horror, give his short stories a try. “The Call of Cthulhu” is great, but my personal favorite is “At the Mountains of Madness.” Anyway, even if the story has been done before, it’s still good, and the important thing is that Eternal Darkness does it very well indeed.
The game spans centuries, and takes the form of different chapters of the Tome of Darkness. Each chapter features a different character, each with different strengths and weaknesses. For example, a firefighter might have a lot of health and be able to run long distances without tiring, whereas a fat man might have a much shorter health bar and find walking to be more comfortable. One of the neat things about the way the game plays out is that there are really only a handful of locations in which you play. As you play through the game with different characters, you will revisit the same place twice, but it is never the same. This adds continuity to what could have been a very disjointed game. It always comes back to Alex and her search for the truth.
Gameplay is simple. The combat is nothing extraordinary, but it works well. Some of the enemies are no trouble. Others can be difficult to deal with. There’s one major boss that almost drove me mad the first time I played through. But as far as ordinary enemies go, you have your zombies, which are easy enough to deal with. Once you get far enough into the game, it gets much more difficult. One moment you’re chopping a zombie to death, when suddenly it steps back, writhes a little, and out jumps a bonethief, draining half your sanity. It gets even more fun when you’re out of ammo and there are about three of them out to make you their new host. Anyway, you see my point.
The game presents three paths to you, depending on which artifact you choose early on in the game. Each one corresponds to a different Ancient, and as each Ancient is aligned with a different force (power, magic, or insanity) the enemies will be slightly different. Chattur’gha’s zombies are much stronger and can regenerate limbs. Ulayoth’s minions drain your magic as well as your sanity when they spot you. My personal favorite Ancient is Xel’latoth because although the zombies are weaker, they drain your sanity faster, making for some interesting situations with the sanity effects. Also, Xel’latoth is an awesome name. Xel’latoth. Just try saying it out loud to yourself. It just rolls off the tongue. Mmm.
There’s a sort of rock-paper-scissors hierarchy among the Ancients, and once you start learning some Magick, remembering this hierarchy will become important to your survival. You learn spells as you progress through the game by collecting runes and spell recipes. These spells can heal you, form a protective field around you, reveal hidden objects, harm enemies, and more. You can enchant your weapon to do more damage. This is a major help in combat later on, when you will be facing harder enemies and will need to use the dominant alignment to destroy them.
One more unique aspect of this game are the sanity effects. Basically, your character has a green bar denoting sanity as well as a red bar showing life and a blue one for Magick power. When an enemy spots you, it will drain your sanity. You can regain most, if not all, of the sanity by performing a finishing move on the enemy. As your sanity meter empties, various things start to happen. First, the camera will tilt. The more insane you are, the more tilted your viewpoint. Next there are a lot of things that could happen. You may start hearing voices, or pounding on the walls. Your character will most likely start talking to herself, often babbling incoherently. The walls will begin bleeding. I won’t ruin any of the really good effects, but suffice it to say many are unsettling or just plain weird.
Onward to the sound and graphics. No real complaints here. The graphics are, for the most part, very nicely done. The character models are good and quite realistic. The lip syncing is a lot better than most. I have a few minor complaints. First, occasionally a slain creature will fall forward right through the character. It just looks silly. Second, some of the character models just look like they didn’t receive as much attention. The same is true of some parts of the environment in certain levels. The cutscenes interspersed throughout the game have a grainy quality to them that some people don’t like. Personally, it didn’t bother me, and in some ways it worked with the subject matter.
Sound-wise, Eternal Darkness excels. The character voice acting is excellent. The sound effects are nicely done, especially the ones associated with insanity, such as the pounding on the walls or screams. Sometimes the sword-slashing noises were a little overdone for my taste, but that’s really my only complaint. The sound and music add well to the moody, dark atmosphere.
Eternal Darkness probably will take between 15 and 20 hours on the first playthrough. After that, you can opt to begin a new game on the same file with a different magical alignment. If you play through all three alignments, you get a special ending. There are a few secrets to collect in the game, but nothing much. My one other complaint is that the final boss fight leaves something to be desired. It just isn’t challenging enough.
I’ve played through Eternal Darkness numerous times. It’s entertaining and engaging, and the plot sucks you in. There’s enough puzzle-solving and combat to keep you busy. It’s always satisfying to slay zombies. It’s not exactly a survival horror game, but it’s also not an adventure title. People who enjoy either or both of those genres will most likely enjoy Eternal Darkness.