Sunday, July 11, 2010

Games Past: Eternal Darkness

Yes, technically speaking the "Games Past" series has been about board and card games. But sometimes, you just have to speak out of pure love of something beautiful, and "Eternal Darkness"...if this was a painting, it'd be in the Louvre. If this was a movie, it'd be on the AFI Top 100. If there's an argument to be made that video games are art...this is a twisted, dark, sinister thing of sheer beauty that is well-remembered even after almost a decade.

"Eternal Darkness" is a wonderful Lovecraftian horror story about a young woman who travels to New England to investigate the mysterious death of her uncle (he was found in a locked room, with his head missing.) She finds a secret room in her uncle's house with a book called the Tome of Eternal Darkness...and on reading it, she experiences the lives of everyone else who's read the book in its long history. She discovers an ancient conspiracy to bring an Elder God of primal darkness into our reality, she learns of the realities of magic and the struggles against the Elder God...and she goes rapidly insane.

Because that's the beauty of this game. As you progress through each chapter, taking on the roles of different people in different ages and learning about their struggle against the Elder Gods, you have a sanity meter for every character. Each time your character encounters something creepy and terrible and outside of this reality, your sanity dips. When your sanity is low enough, you start hallucinating.

The hallucinations are sheer brilliance. Your character can walk into a room and find himself on the ceiling, or stumble into a room full of zombies and get the message "Your controller has been disconnected," or see your TV mute itself. Flies crawl on the inside of the screen, walls drip blood, and at one absolutely perfect moment you hallucinate that the game will be continued in a sequel. You find yourself playing the game with the goal of triggering hallucinations, just to see all the neat effects.

And the story is perfectly structured. Every chapter teaches you a new skill, a new spell, something that your main character learns when she returns to the present that helps her find another chapter of the book to read another story to learn another skill. By the time the game is over, you're a bad-ass super-sorcerous gunslinging swordfighter, and then the game gives you a final battle worthy of the person you've become. This game is like a book you want to read again and again. (If for no other reason than you can end it by shooting an ancient lich with an enchanted shotgun.)

Rumor has it that there'll be a sequel, someday, but in the meanwhile, it's worth tracking this game down used and playing it on your Wii. It's an experience worth every minute...oh, and one hallucination will make you scream at your TV screen. I won't say which, but you'll know it when it happens.


Eric Qel-Droma said...

Completely seconded. Eternal Darkness is one of the great games of the last ten years. It's fun to play, fun to watch, and captures the feel of its intended source material perfectly. Ridiculously good.

Unknown said...

I played it shortly after it came out, and while I liked the gimmick, the game itself wasn't so memorable-- take out the hallucinations/madness and it's a good action game, but not a great one. Compared to, say, a Metal Gear Solid game, the game's attempts to screw with you are forced and unsatisfying.

Fortunately for Eternal Darkness' reputation, it was exclusive to a system that didn't have many other mature story games-- which also counted for its low sales. Which is a shame, because even if I didn't enjoy it that much, it's always unfortunate that Nintendo systems can't financially support darker games.

MC said...

I know the game by reputation. But I've always heard good things.

Unknown said...

@Nitz: So your argument is "If you take away the innovation that turns this into something excellent and memorable, it is merely good?"

Well, yes. If you take away the thing that made it memorable and exciting, it isn't as memorable or exciting anymore.

Unknown said...

" Well, yes. If you take away the thing that made it memorable and exciting, it isn't as memorable or exciting anymore. "

The best games don't have their memorable and exciting qualities hinging on repeating one gimmick. See also: the difference between Super Mario Galaxy ( platforming through space across spheres with their own gravity, getting power-ups that turn Mario into a bee or a ghost or a spring, and seeing all the platforming level themes reworked to fit the new gravity ), and Super Mario Sunshine ( cleaning up goop with a water pack and...spraying things with a water pack ).