Eternal Darkness: JAHG

I’m tired of enthusiastic “validation” reviews from web sites for every marquee title, such as the mediocre Eternal Darkness, or the less-than-mediocre Dungeon Siege.

I’m with Doug on this one, specifically regarding Eternal Darkness. I don’t understand all the enthusiasm. :60 review to come along shortly, but this game doesn’t really do much for me.

What’s with you people? You think Eternal Darkness is scary? You must have been quaking in your boots at Hunter: the Reckoning! :)


Were you playing with the lights off by yourself late at night? That’s how I was doing it and it was pretty darn scary. Maybe I’m just easily frightened?

Tripping over a box of Legos in the dark on the way to bed and dancing through them right after having the game creep me out probably contributed to my impressions.


A caveat: I didn’t play past Maximilian’s chapter, which was about seven hours total. I’m pretty sure I’m past the point where the game is supposed to “pick up” according to devotees, although you never know - it kinda fluctates depending on the person disagreeing with you.

That sad, here’s my gripes:

1). Fight, fight, fight, and boring fights at that. I’ve been pretty public in my contempt for the RE series on other boards, but at least the crappy controls and ammunition limitations drive the pressure right into your spine. With ED, fighting is just a quick flick through for the head(s), or arms, and then speed-dialing the canned combo, which, for every non-ranged weapon character, is a few taps of A, followed by a B for the finisher. If they have a blowgun or a flintlock, it’s almost the same, only you really don’t have to jockey for position. Very few spells are used for battle, and most seem to be puzzle-specific. The fighting is constant, the enemies are boring, and it gets VERY tedious.

  1. Puzzles design is circa the mid-80’s PC adventure market - look around until you find the hidden item (which isn’t that hard, since your character’s head usually rotates to look), and whack B. When the obvious “use item here” space is found, cycle through the items until you find one that works. There’s a few clever ones, mostly relying on the camera to hide something, and several that require specific spells. Most of them are just stupid, though.

  2. Character development is non-existent, despite the game being extremely linear and story-driven. Alex Roiyas is a non-personality; a character as generic as her non-descript black attire and blonde Caucasian looks. I guess her “normal person in abnormal situation” device is supposed to be captivating, but any good writer knows that there is no such thing as a normal person. The rest are completely underdeveloped; Ellia is a Thai dancer who holds the heart of “Mantorok”. Antonio is knight in the service of Charlemagne. Karim is an Arab warrior prince whose love is missing. Maximilian wears a wig. None of these characters are ever developed beyond this; they’re 2D cardboard cutouts that exist solely to give purpose to SK’s elaborate Lovecraftian mythos. In fact, it really strikes me that SK was so absorbed with the fun “world-building” bit that comprises the overly-expository storyline they forgot any real human element that gives survival horror and/or adventure games their personality. Silent Hill 2 may have had weak gameplay, but the tale of James’s search for redemption through the self-created hell of Silent Hill can be powerful at times. Eternal Darkness just comes across as painfully geeky, like reading an AD&D Monster Manual. It’ll make you go “ooo, bad ass” but you’ll never feel as though you’re participating in a real story.

  1. The technology is cut-rate. I know that’s not always important, but the animation is terible, and some of the characters are painfully generic looking. Lovecraftian horror merits heavy stylization, ala the Disciples 2 art, or the works of Hieronymous Bosch, not generic period models. Boo.

That said, the game has a lot of strengths: it controls well, the sound direction is nearly peerless, and a lot of imagination went into both the backstory and instanity effects. There’s a lot of good ideas below the surface, but a lot of it got lost due to self-indulgent geekery and generic gameplay elements. SK’s a great team, and the experience with Nintendo has probably done wonders for them - my only fear is that with all these utterly glowing reviews, they’ll won’t take away what they need to become truly great.

Thanks, Tom and Doug. With what those other guys were saying (raving) about the game, I was seriously thinking of picking up a Gamecube just to play it. I’ll shelve that idea for now. Tom, can’t wait for the :60 review!

Interesting, those 4 reasons Doug posted pretty much echo my impressions of the game at E3. I too am curious to read the :60 review.

Just as a measuring stick, how does the horror value hold up to the System Shock games?

Just as a measuring stick, how does the horror value hold up to the System Shock games?

I would say not at all. As a horror game, it’s really not much more than zombie shooting and occasionally trippy insanity effects.


Doug: Thanks for your recommendation, sounds like a game I’d enjoy! I’ll be sure to pick it up as soon as I have a GameCube. :D

I think the game is good, not great. I don’t think anyone is really “scared” of the game, anymore than we’re scared at horror movies these days. It’s just a fun way to spend a few hours. Parts of the backstory are entertaining, the insanity effects are pretty cool, and the production values are high. The sound is superb and elevates the game above all the others in the genre. It’s the equivalent of a summer blockbuster – a guilty pleasure maybe, but something to hold us over until the Gamecube’s real A-titles get here. Sometime in 2006.

Dungeon Siege and Eternal Darkness are mediocre or below? Sure they are.

Black and White was the hyped mediocrity. Molyneaux has uber powers over reviewers, it seems.

Responses to Tom’s shots:

  1. I like the fights pretty well. I don’t miss RE’s crappy controls or sparse ammo. There’s not that much fighting… maybe NWN has burned you out on combat. I don’t get this argument really, but whatever.

  2. Has a point. Most of the puzzles are derivative, but there are some standouts. Don’t really see this part as a big negative, however.

  3. True enough, I suppose, but Lovecraft’s stories weren’t character driven either. Neither were Poe’s. The setting, the edifice itself was almost a character, and ED brings this out very well. The geeky comment is just asinine, sorry. ED has a far more refined story, and one acted better, than almost any other game out there. The skeletal underpinning to get your imagination working is certainly present. “AD&D.” Kee-rist, Tom.

  4. The character models are the weakest point, and they’re not bad. The animation is decent, but not perfect. Hardly Morrowind level, though. The settings are done extremely well, and are very evocative in places. The spfx are mostly well done.

I thought ED was very scary too, though I also had the lights off and the surround sound cranked. I would be surprised if fans of Poe or Lovecraft didn’t like it, but apparently Tom is, and he didn’t.

Dang, I must be a lightweight. Been playing Eternal Darkness with my wife the last couple of nights. We start playing at 9:00 p.m., turn off all the lights, and get to work. I control the characters while she throws suggestions on the puzzles and yells things like “chop it’s head off!”. With the lights off and the disturbing imagery, the game really does scare me. It’s not the zombies that do it; I’ve seen and killed a million zombies in my gaming days. What does it is the images of insanity. Have you had the main characters insanity under half and then gone for a walk through the house? Statue’s watch you, paintings move, sounds of footsteps walking towards you but then fading off. That stuff really gets me.

The puzzles are quite easy, I’ll agree there. Find the 3 urns, fill them with water, place them on the pressure plate. Simple stuff.

The character development early on has been very poor. Alex is the main character, but I know very little about her yet. But, who is to say I won’t learn more later?

What the game has lacked in character development, it has more than made up for in plot. The story line is just so great, especially if you go looking for it. Read the books you find, look at all the paintings, read your journal. If you’re just running through the game trying to finish it, ala RE, you miss most of the strength of the game. For example: there are scenes painted on the walls in the Thai dancer chapter depicting “a skeletal prophet denouncing the god of fertility”. The scene on the wall is truly well done, spelling out to you what happened. Sure, the cut scenes tell you the story, but the game gives you so much more depth if you’re looking for it. In the skeletal minion example, for instance; we know from the cutscene that the Centurian (I can’t remember names right now) is imprisoning the guardians of the ancients. But the in game paintings and books tells you how he does it. He denounces the gods, disrupting the people’s beliefs in them. Over time, this weakens the gods, allow him to face them openly and having the side effect of the keeping the worshippers from defending their deity. He eventually is able to imprison each god, having it slowly rot over time until after a thousand years it dies.

Some people may not find that interesting, but I find it an imminently cool story. That’s what keeps me playing it; I want to unravel more of the story.

Responses to Tom’s shots:

Mr. forger,

I don’t quite know how to feel about being credited for a post written by Doug Erickson, but I suspect Doug might not like it.

Thanks anyway. :)


Well, I can’t say I see the “high production values” some of you remarked on outside of the sound. The animation is just embarassingly awkward, and the modelling is Dreamcast level. The special effects are weak and sparing, with the most extensive being the occasional bit of volumetric fog. The whole game just lacks any artistic style, which is bloody important for a game presuming to tap into the whole gothic horror milieu.

Admittedly, I didn’t play the game at the turn of midnight in Red Rose Manor with the lights off while sitting on the coffin of my dead grandmother or whatever “ambience” some feel is necessary to “properly appreciate” the game. A good game shouldn’t need artificial measures to compensate for its weakness in mechanics and design.

And I stand behind the whole “AD&D Monster Manual” remark - building a history and a world is worthless if there are no interesting characters to populate it. ED is at worst a lousy history museum and at best a grotesquerie, but rarely is it an interesting story.

Again, before some folks take my negativity as some sort of binary stance on the game, not that I don’t think the game is all bad - I think ED is a totally mediocre offering whose strengths in backstory, control, innovation, and especially sound are offset by its weakness in mechanics, characterization, exposition, graphics, and puzzle design.

Sorry Tom – it just sounded like your voice so much. Facial resemblance, too.

I’m not flaming, just arguing. There is still a difference, isn’t there?

Oh, well, if you’re not flaming, then I’ll just state for the record that I agree with everything Doug is saying. :)

I really don’t get why you guys like Eternal Darkness as much as you do. I don’t have a problem with y’all liking it, of course, but I weep for the future of good horror games.

I’m near the end of The Monk who Kicks Zombie Ass with a Crossbow and Mace chapter and I think I’m done playing. Am I going to miss anything?


Well Doug, I think you’re just plain wrong.


You’ll miss the same annoying puzzle repeated twice between Alex and her grandpa’s stories, and a really wussy end boss. Note that I only watched someone play through the latter half of the game, although with all the cutscenes, I might as well have been “playing.” I think I’ve had enough drippy theatric overacting to last me a millenium, or whatever it takes to kill a soul according to Pious.

After that, you need to beat the game two more times, with the other artifacts Pious can choose, to see the REAL ending! Hooray for artificial play extension!

Dave, I can respect that. I’ve been wrong about games many, many times before. Except for Shenmue - that game still completely and utterly sucks.

Good answer! Way to rebut him!

Remember Darkstone?!

Maybe I’m still just too new to the game and not burned out on it yet. I’m having a lot of fun with it, mainly for the setting and storyline.

As for weeping for the future of horrow gaming… I’m trying to think of a horror game that’s made better than Eternal Darkness. Resident Evil is fun and well made, but it doesn’t work for me in the same way ED does. Parasite Eve is a definite failure. Seventh Guest perhaps, but that may be just me seeing the past with rose colored glasses.

Silent Hill was spooky, but I’m still prefering Eternal Darkness over it.