Game Changers: Eternal Darkness
It helped usher in an age of mature gaming on Nintendo’s Gamecube and delivered one of the best twists on survival horror. Join us to celebrate Silicon Knight’s crowning achievement
How this unlikely Nintendo exclusive helped to set the bar for a new breed of psychological horror experiences that continue to thrive today
What Would IT mean to see beyond the veil of our reality? To cut through shadows and peer into the souls of those that dwell in the darkness, just beyond reach; the maleficent feeding on the fragility of human nature at the behest of an arcane force? It’s a tantalising question, one that cult-classic Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem presents to you in its opening hours. The journey that follows is an unrelenting one as you are challenged to sacrifice your own sanity in search of an answer to what these dark forces really want.
Eternal Darkness carved out its own space in the history of interactive entertainment when it launched exclusively for Gamecube in 2002, the result of an unlikely partnership between Nintendo and Silicon Knights. It’s impressive, particularly when you consider that it was once in development for the Nintendo 64. It looked, for the time at least, as if it were little more than Western-developed homage to Resident Evil – pitting an isolated protagonist against a derelict mansion, a claustrophobic building with bloody history soaked into its foundation and a supernatural force haunting its spacious hallways. Thankfully, there was more to Eternal Darkness than mere homage alone, transcending the survival horror moniker to become more akin to a psychological thriller, eschewing Capcom’s
WHERE ETERNAL DARKNESS TRULY SUCCEEDS IS IN LEVERAGING YOUR SANITY AS A COMMODITY
B-movie plotting in favour or something far more complex and gripping in its execution.
Student alexandra Roivas is on the scene to investigate the gruesome murder of her grandfather, becoming embroiled in a struggle against a powerful, otherworldly entity whose fate is tied to an ancient text. Through the Tome of Eternal darkness you pursue a force that transcends time – unravelling this tale across 2,000 years of scattered history, inhabiting the bodies of 12 playable characters to uncover how their paths are intertwined with your own. It’s a clever storytelling mechanic, whisking the player to four different locations throughout the ages – the decay of time as clear to see in each as the horrors that haunt them.
It’s here where Silicon Knights seems to effortlessly build atmosphere, creating an experience that’s as starkly individual as it is unendingly unnerving. It uses each of its locations and characters – many of which are ordinary folk caught up in something far greater than they are capable of comprehending – to create an impressive scope to the adventure, selling the concept of a horror meandering across time and reality better than most in the industry could hope to achieve.
While much of the moment-to-moment action can revolve around fairly rote combat – pushing you to haphazardly hack and slash your way through a chorus of the undead – Eternal Darkness more than makes up for its simplistic mechanics in other areas. In fact, problem solving is a huge part of the game’s structure and handled intuitively throughout, which is surprising given how so many games of this ilk fall into the trap of near-nonsensical puzzle design. Instead, its puzzles combine excellently with the oppressive atmosphere that pervades over the entire experience, pushing you to constantly question your inaction and the decisions made along the way. a complex and efficient magic system, built on a foundation of colour-coded runes and scrolls, promotes experimentation whilst still feeding into the completion of various challenges and overcoming the game’s toughest encounters. approaching both problem solving and the use of magic requires a degree of lateral thinking that isn’t usually seen in these types of videogames;
it was a breath of fresh air in 2002, and it’s still surprising to see all these years later.
Where Eternal Darkness truly succeeds, however, is in leveraging your sanity as a commodity – one to be spent by an unyielding force working to quell your investigation by any means necessary. The fragility of the human mind and its perception of reality is laid bare as you begin to push through the chaos. Sanity is in short supply – a resource like any other for the characters of this story – plummeting as you encounter enemies, and only slightly restored after you overcome one in a moment of frenzied action.
It’s here where Silicon Knights established Eternal Darkness as a legend. The game constantly feels as if it is conspiring against you, reflecting the mindset of the characters as each teeters on the brink of insanity out across the game world. The camera shifts around you, tilting at obscure angles to throw off your perception; screams echo loudly through empty corridors and whispers wilt your confidence away in vacant rooms, bleeding walls and hallucinations born from the character’s psyche help to establish a tone of near constant unease. Sanity affects so much of the experience, eagerly taunting you as more and more of it is stripped away as you push further through the tales found in the Tome of Eternal darkness.
The tease of corrupted save data, disconnected controllers during inopportune moments of frenzied violence, or your TV shuttering off entirely, Eternal Darkness took pride in shattering the fourth wall to challenge your psyche.
Eternal Darkness failed commercially, shifting less than half a million copies worldwide, but it immediately became a critical darling. Its clunky combat and combative controls often forgotten due to the strength of its atmosphere, its unique structure, and playfully obtuse approach to shock and awe. Eternal Darkness never let you rest, nor did it let you settle into a comfortable rhythm – Silicon Knights never succumbed to the desire to hand the player the tools to survive without fear of reprisal. This game is an amazing achievement, one that had a huge impact on the survival horror genre, even if its best aspects accomplishments have never been successfully recreated.
Originally planned as a Gamecube launch title, Eternal Darkness was delayed at the last minute after Silicon Knights sought to change the visual design of a key location following the 11 S e p t e m b e r t e r r o r attacks