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Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem D
eveloped by: Silicon Knights
Published by: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: M for blood, gore, and violence
For: Nintendo GameCube

"My name is Dr. Edward Roivas. I am a clinical psychologist. I am also dead." Thus begins a game that starts out as a murder mystery, ends as a global conspiracy spanning across thousands of years, and in between involves over a dozen actors across a variety of eras and stages. Stranger still, the game is narrated by none other than the murdered man himself. Eternal Darkness: Sanity?s Requiem draws together a diverse collection of characters and their own subplots into a central, epic story that is rarely seen in games today. In showing that the GameCube is not just a kid?s system, Silicon Knights and Nintendo have collaborated together to create one of the best experiences of the 128-bit era? although it is one that is probably best left for adults.

GAMING EXPERIENCE: Game Play:

Eternal Darkness's Game Play is both novel and engaging, though it takes a little time to get into it. This is not the sort of ?pick up and play? action game that American gamers are used to. This is a patient, paced story that has some good action but is meant to be a thinking man?s experience, too. Think of a game that borrows elements of Zelda-style action and places them in one of those old Sierra adventure games and you have the basic Game Play mechanics of Eternal Darkness. The action sequences make this a bona-fide action game, and the various environments and items in them make this a true adventure game as well. Eternal Darkness is played out through the eyes of Alexandria (Alex) Roivas, a young woman whose grandfather is brutally murdered. As she uncovers clues in her grandfather's mansion, she gains access to chapters in the Tome of Eternal Darkness that recall the lives of some of the previous owners of the book.

In all, the game allows you to play the role of some dozen playable characters across time, each with different physical strengths and limitations, weapons, and life histories. Each character's level takes around an hour, but in that time the player really bonds with that character and has a vested interest in the character's fate. Predictably, there are a few characters that will stand out as favorites (mine was Dr. Edwin Lindsey, the archaeologist-turned-action hero that bears unabashed resemblance to Indiana Jones), while in other situations you may like the character personally but wish they had hit the weight room a little more. The game, you see, tries to keep the physical and mental limitations of the characters realistic. Your overweight characters, for example, can only run so far before getting tired and slowing down, while the well-conditioned warrior and firefighter in the game can run seemingly forever. Conversely, your less intelligent or wise characters may have smaller magick or sanity meters, while your sages' such as the game's narrator, Dr. Edward Roivas ? make up in magick ability what they lack in strength and endurance. The differences are subtle, but noticeable, and Silicon Knights did a great job trying to make each character unique.

Another area the game strives for uniqueness is its use of equipment. Everything is era-appropriate, from the gladius of the ancient Roman warrior, to the mace and crossbow of medieval periods, to the single-shot pistol of the colonial world, to the machine gun of the modern world. Even the supplemental items in the game have historical significance, and the developers did a good job of placing you squarely within each character's time period. Eternal Darkness has many obstacles and puzzles to navigate which are usually legitimately challenging without being too frustrating.

Better still, most of the puzzles feel like they are actually part of the environment, in contrast to the sort of tacked-on feel that many game puzzles often have. Many of the puzzles in Eternal Darkness require pushing and pulling levers or blocks, using or combing specific items in your inventory, or casting the appropriate spell at the appropriate time. Combat in the game involves a lock-on system, with attacks and combo attacks that vary from character to character. Adding to the depth is the ability to target the head and other body parts with the controller, which is especially useful in disabling foes vulnerable to decapitation. The combat situations in the game range from fairly basic to steeply difficult. The latter applies primarily to boss characters, of which there are two or three, and in those cases I wound up having to consult walkthroughs to get by. The game doesn?t always clue you in, unfortunately, on how to beat some of the bigger enemies, and even savvy gamers will have to settle for trial and error or the occasional trip to GameFAQs.

On the other hand, the game does generously allow you save at almost any point in time, save when there are enemies nearby, so the game's difficulty is counterbalanced by the fact that you don't have to replay a whole level should you fall in one isolated incident. As has been alluded to earlier, the spells cast through 'magick' are one of the game's central Game Play features. The game unlocks more spells as you progress through the game, and range from healing and recovery to defensive spells. Other spells repair broken objects, enchant items, and reveal invisible objects. The spells take some time to cast and can be interrupted, so the character needs to be a legitimate distance from harm?s way before attempting a spell. Perhaps the most unique aspect of Eternal Darkness is the game?s ?sanity? meter. Whenever a character is sighted by an enemy, a character?s sanity drops, although some of that sanity can be 'recovered' by performing a finishing move (keyed by the B button) on an enemy. As the sanity meter wanes, the screen begins to go askew, and if it drops too far the game can play nasty tricks on you. I won?t spoil those tricks, but expect to be surprised at least a few times by your character?s hallucinations, which can really play with the mind of the gamer as much as it does the mind of the game character.

Graphics:

The graphics are good, if often a little light on color, with realistic character models. The game?s framerate is smooth and steady and there are some nice character animations to be seen. The game?s enemies are highly detailed and look positively creepy. The environments are varied and a single dungeon will often change significantly when being revisited by characters later in the game. Meanwhile, the spell effects in the game, while not terrible, still leave something to be desired. Eternal Darkness features cutscenes using both the game?s engine and FMV sequences. The former are acceptably good, with good lip-synching and some nice action and dialogue sequences. The latter are acceptable, but are a little on the grainy side and are not quite as dominant as those in other modern games like Final Fantasy X.

Sound:

Taken as a whole, the sound in Eternal Darkness comes together as well as any game I've ever played. The music is setting-appropriate, ranging from Arabian-style themes to creepy dungeon themes. All of it is designed to be dark and creepy, enhancing the feel of the game. In later levels, new characters revisit dungeons previously visited by earlier characters, and the game's tracks are memorable enough that there is a familiarity that comes with the music, especially some of the aforementioned Arabian-type themes. The other sound elements in the game are equal in quality. The voice acting is brilliant, led by Jennifer Hale (Knights of the Old Republic, Metal Gear Solid series) who lends her excellent voice talents to the role of Alex Roivas. The rest of the cast is equally masterful, with Richard Doyle (most notable for his portrayal of Walter Gaines in 'Cheers') playing the malevolent Augustus and theater actor Neil Dickson giving the thick, epic narration of Dr. Edward Roivas. The sound effects, ranging from crying voices to whispers to creepy monster moans, are all great in their execution and really heighten the game?s mood.

Control:

The controls are pretty good and are generally well-mapped out. The A button is your basic attack button and many characters can initiate combos with melee weapons. The Z button lets you reload your projectile weapons, the R button lets you lock onto enemies, and the L button lets you run. The X button allows you to sneak, which allows you avoid being seen by the sanity-depleting gaze of enemies. The four-way control pad, along with the Y button can be mapped out to specific spells that can be cast in the field. The pause menu has extensive options that include inventory, game saving and loading, and information about various chapters. You can also watch previously-viewed FMV sequences here. Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues with the control.

One, the game?s auto-targeting system requires you to 'slightly release' the R button to change targets. This is easier said than done, and often I found myself re-targeting the same enemy. Most of the time this isn't a huge problem since the game normally auto-targets your closest foe, but there are rare instances when enemies far away were bigger threats and I had a rough time targeting them. Two, Eternal Darkness utilizes realistic human physics in making the game. In other words, don?t expect any superhuman physical feats out of your characters, especially the larger ones. This is only a problem insofar as the characters will not always be as agile and responsive as you?d like them to be, especially in combat. (Yeah, I know it takes a 70 year-old man a little time to reload a gun, but still?) I won?t call them ?sluggish controls? because I believe Silicon Knights intentionally made them that way, but there is still a bit of a learning curve in becoming comfortable with them.

Longevity:

My first time through this action-adventure game took about 15 hours, and most gamers will probably finish it in a similar amount of time. The game also offers some replay value, as beating the game three times unlocks a special ending.

APPROPRIATENESS ISSUES: Violence:

There's no getting around it; this is a mature game for mature gamers. The ESRB rating is based on the blood and gore in the game, which, while not gratuitous, is still prevalent. The evil forces in the game often display a sadistic bent, so expect several unsettling instances of murder. In truth, I?m not sure I have ever been as saddened by scenes in a game as I was by the horrible and tragic ends of the people in Eternal Darkness. The scenes aren't always gory, per say, but they are violent and they can be very uncomfortable to watch.

Language:

There is one mild profanity in the game.

Occult Themes:

The game employs a 'magick' system, complete with spells and incantations, and the execution of these spells has a dark and morbid overtone to it. The game is also host to a variety of spirits and other undead creatures, ranging from ghosts to zombies. Without giving away too much of the storyline, the game itself is centered around a mythology that involves deities, curses, magical artifacts, and such. Overall, some Christians may find the game?s strong paranormal and themes to be offensive. Christianity itself, meanwhile, does get some treatment in the game, mostly in the context of the historical church?s role in medieval history. Not all of that treatment is flattering (nor does the medieval church always deserve such) but it isn?t wholly disparaging, either. At least a couple of your heroes are of the church, and expect your foes to have some ecclesiastical ties, too. It is worth noting that God himself is not really treated in the game, and at times the plot seems to imply that He does not exist as such.

Sexuality:

There is minimal sexuality in the game, other than one kiss and one playable character who shows a little skin.

Moral/Ethical Issues:

Eternal Darkness also deals heavily with sanity, or the lack thereof, which translates into a creepy and disturbing game element. On the other hand, the game?s deep plot also explores issues of darkness and light, and the ancient war between good and evil. Although the game certainly spins evil as a powerful force, it never forgets that good is also very powerful, and the Christian gamer will no doubt have some interesting things to chew on after playing through this game.

Closing Comments:

Eternal Darkness is the equivalent of a rated-R movie with a lot of disturbing images, but this is a rare instance where those disturbing images, rather than being purely gratuitous, were important to the game's deep plot. My belief is that those under 17 should really stay away from this game and that adults should only enter into this game if they are okay with the issues listed above. I first bought this game based on the glowing reviews given it by major media outlets. For the most part, they hype was justified. The complex plot and execution in Eternal Darkness is rarely seen in games these days. While not without a few technical flaws, this game is still as good as any mature title I?ve seen on any console and is a nice departure from some of Nintendo?s more light-hearted projects. Gamers who like psychological horror films and enjoy a good adventure game will love the experience of a game that makes it cool to be an adult who owns a GameCube. Better still, the game can be found in many outlets for under $15.

Final Ratings:

Game Play: 9.5/10 Graphics: 8.5/10 Sound: 10/10 Control: 8/10 Longevity: 8/10 GAMING TOTAL: 44/50
Violence: 4/10 Language: 9/10 Occult Themes: 3/10 Sexuality: 9/10 Moral/Ethical Issues: 8/10 APPROPRIATENESS TOTAL: 33/50

Overall Score: 77%

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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