I recently finished Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem for Gamecube and here are my impressions. I should be up front on my tastes; I generally don't like the horror adventures to date. I didn't play Resident Evil 1 and although I did play Resident Evil 2 I didn't enjoy it.
I first learned about this game from my friend Jake. He had heard it was supposed to be awesome and was excited to get ahold of it. The game has receieved some great reviews. Gamespot gave it 9.4. IGN a 9.6. To be honest I don't see why.
After finishing I talked to some other friends about it and they agreed that it was overrated and one had the opinion that possibly because it was published by Nintendo it got some incredible hype but had it been published by a smaller publisher it would not have done as well.
The game is a horror adventure game. Although it is fairly different from say Resident Evil it does still fit into a similar catagory. You walk a character in 3rd person around hunted locations, you don't control the camera, you get attacked by zombies as well as other creatures.
First the good:
The voice acting is very good. You don't cringe to listen to most of the dialog like in many games and there is quite a bit. 2 to 5 cutscenes per level.
The textures are very very detailed. Something I haven't seen in many of the games I've been playing recently.
The action is a little different. You can target parts of the body when you attack. Although it's different I'm mixed on whether or not it worked. When I was fighting slow zombies it was relatively easy to use. Generally you'd target the head and then take it off. A nice touch was the zombie would then feel for his head for a few seconds than then stand in place swinging headless. That meant that if other zombies got in his path he'd attack them. A nice touch. Other enemies though were more problematic. I often felt I was struggling with the fighting system itself more than with the particular monster at hand.
The biggest new innovation/idea is the sanity effects. Each time your character sees a monster they lose a little sanity which is shown on a sanity meter. Losing sanity makes your character start to see or hear things that are not really there. The simplest effect is that the more sanity you lose the more the screen is tilted which really does give the effect that something is not quite right. Other effects are things like blood dripping down the walls or ceiling. Hearing people knocking at the door trying to get in or other distrubing sounds. Sometimes you'll open a door, walk into the next room, have your character basically get hacked to bits, then the screen will flash and you'll be standing again in the previous room just about to open the door and your character will exclaim "This ... isn't.... happening!!!". It's pretty effective. So effective that you end up doing anything you can to get your sanity back to 100% to avoid the effects since they can really freak you out.
Adding to that is the soundtrack and sound effects which are all pretty great. There are some issues. For example you start in a mansion, there's a sound track that about once every 30 seconds to 60 seconds has a bunch of loud ghost like sounds. Think the "ha ha ha, chi chi chi" from the Friday the 13th series. It's effective at being scary but it bugged me because there was really no reason to be scared at that point. There were times I just had to turn it off because I'd be trying to think or look something up and I'd get startled by it. Maybe that should be a compliment. I guess it just stuck out for me as a little over manipulative?
Now for the bad:
A lot of the game plays like a text adventure from the early 80s. You walk up to something and you get a paragraph of text to read. Thinking about it as I write this I don't know why that bugged me so much. Some of my favorite games of all time have paragraphs of text. Maybe it was the contrast between the dialog and the text. Maybe it was the way the text was displayed, meaning instantly instead of printing it out a character at a time like many RPGs. I'm sure you could argue that printing it out can be tedious but maybe it makes it feel more like it's being read to you instead of you reading it. I can't tell you what it was but it just felt really cheap in Eternal Darkness. On top of that in many rooms there would be several places that gave you the same text description and finally lots of the text was just silly.
Next up, the majority of effects in the game were very substandard for a commericial game. In fact I can't off hand think of a game with effects as un−inspiring. Shields, fields, enchanted items, spells, near all of them seem to be lacking. It's hard to put a figure on it. It's like watching B−movie effects except they don't fit because the game is not trying to be a B−movie.
The glue screens, the interface, seems very rushed, unfinished, tacked on. Maybe it just that most modern games have flashier interfaces. Maybe like many projects they were left to the last second to do. As I wrote this I went back and tried to figure out specifically what's wrong with them and I couldn't come up with anything in particular. It's not like no time was spent on them. It could be that there are no transitions, it could be that the cursor is bland, I really wish I could put my figure on it. Maybe it's a just a bunch of little unfinished things. For example why does the Tome of Eternal Darkness open at 10hz all jittery? There's nothing on the screen, it should be smooth as silk? In fact in this day and age you'd expect it to open like a book instead of slide like a sliding door. Why does the picture only zoom? There's no reason the entire book couldn't zoom. I know I'm being nitpicky but like I said, it's not one thing, it's a collection of small issues that make it feel unfinished.
Finally the story just doesn't seem to make any sense to me. Both in terms of the big picture and in terms of small details. For example at the beginning of many levels the main character will be magically teleported to some strange room with screaming souls to collect the "Tome of Eternal Darkness" and yet after that experience their responses to strange things happening in their enviroment are such that you'd think that previous scene never happened.
Other questions left un-answered. Why are the bad guys killing people? What does it get them? There seems to be no reason. What was the big flesh blog eyeball monster in several levels? It's there, it's appearently against the main bad guys, it never comes up again. Appearently all the different characters are family or 1/2 of them. If so, how did they propogate if they kept getting killed? If not, why didn't the bad guys just kill them earlier before they had children? The bad guys seemed pretty tough and very knowledgable except they they'd do things like sick 2 monsters on you of a type that you had just killed 10 of thinking that somehow these next 2 were going to do a better job than the last 10.
It's almost like the game was based on a movie and expects you've seen the movie already. At the end I didn't know really what had happened. I guess I knew the big picture. Evil being is stopped by humans with help of other evil being. But, I was left feeling like nothing before the last scene really helped me to understand any of the story except that it took many years to get to that point.
END SPOILER WARNING
According to some FAQs I read if you play the game to completion 3 times you'll get a special cutscene that will explain more of it. I think that's pretty lame. It's one thing to add some special congratulations for playing more but it's uncool to force people to play through a game that's going to be 98% the same, 3 times, just to know what the point was.
All that doesn't mean I didn't like the game. One thing that sticks out is the horror and scariness are almost never of the of the "BOO!" kind like in the Resident Evil series and yet it still manages to be pretty scary. Maybe that alone makes it worth giving it a try, being something new in video games.
This is just a guess but I suspect part of the issue is that is game was probably originally an N64 game. Switching platforms in the middle of the project probably meant the budget was not as high has it would have been had it started from scratch since much as already spent for an N64 version. It probably also means the schedule was rushed since to the team and Nintendo they had original expected a game a couple of years ago and that also, the team was probably not happy to have to work on the same game an extra 2 years. Assuming that's true, playing Eternal Darkness has made me look forward to Silicon Knights' next game. I suspect that any of those things that seemed unfinished / unpolished this time will be worked out next time around.