Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Looking Back: ETERNAL DARKNESS

Image from Wikipedia
As Halloween creeps ever closer like an ax-wielding madman, the world turns their attention to the spookier side of life. My wife and I plan to watch a horror movie a weekend (although, technically our first horror movie will be tonight because we were a bit busy this weekend with important things…*glances at TV playing Gilmore Girls on Netflix* *shoves TV into closet*).


I've never had much experience with horror video games, which is odd considering how much I love everything else horror. Unfortuantely, I can only think of a handful of horror games I played growing up: Reisdent Evil 3, maaaaaybe you could call Geist a horror game, and I could see a strong argument made for the latter half of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune being horror--those basement mutant things were scary as fuck.


Burying the lede in a dozen bloated corpses at this point, the reason for this particular post is this: shopping around for some good modern horror games made me think about one of my absolute favorite games in high school/college and how desperately I want a remake/sequel/updated rerelease: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.


If somebody told me that the game didn't do well at least in part because of it’s unwieldy name, I wouldn't be surprised.


I joke, but I also think I know exactly why this game failed: it was a rated M game on the GameCube, which lead to it being looked over by the kind of audience that would have been interested in it since they bought PS2s and XBoxes, and being passed on by people who primarily bought the GameCube for the more family-friendly titles Nintendo is known for.


It’s a shame, because Eternal Darkness did fun, awesome things with the gaming experience at the time. Namely, the sole purpose of EDSR was to troll the gamer.


The actual plot of the game was good: you basically play through a series of H.P. Lovecraft short stories. You play as different people in the same lineage as they keep finding the same book and experiencing sanity-shattering hauntings, monsters attacks, and demons crossing over from some other plane.


That part about “sanity-shattering”? Yeah, they take that literally in this game.


Most games have health meters--your HP, your magic energy, maybe the number of spells you can cast or bullets you have left--but the real magic from this game comes from the Sanity Meter. Whenever you encounter monsters as you solve puzzles and explore whatever creepy place this level features, your sanity slowly begins to dwindle. You have to do certain things to keep you sanity meter up, such as kill the monsters. The lower your sanity meter goes, the more the game starts to fuck with you.


I don’t mean the monsters.


I mean the game.


Some examples: once, while saving my game, the game save window came up. But instead of the options to save or cancel, the window said, “Would you like to delete this game?” with only one option: Yes. I tried hitting the B button to back out of the menu, but it simply said, “Deleting your file…” a progress meter filled up, and the game reported, "Your game file has now been deleted.” The game screen had three open files available.


Although I knew what was happening, a small part of me worried...what if it really was deleting my game?

Image from: 50 Most Memorable Moments in Video Game History via Crave Online
A standard if you have low sanity is for cockroaches to crawl around on the inside of your screen, occasionally obscuring your vision, but the game can be even more rude:


Once, I entered a room where the controls were reversed.


Once, I entered a room with no entrance or exit, only to discover that I was entombed in a cellar, ala “The Cask of Amontillado.”


Once, my character’s head exploded in a fountain of blood just as I took aim at some monsters.


Once, I entered a room full of monsters, and the game reported that my controller was unplugged. However, my controller was plugged in. I pulled it out, blew on it, and plugged it back in. The window didn’t go away. (By the way, it wasn’t an in-game window either. It was the standard GameCube “controller unplugged” window. Impressive design, I’m telling you.)


Image from: User zvarri of GiantBomb's Eternal Darkness Wiki
None of these things are permanent. Each time the game tricks you, you deal with the cognitive dissonance for about a minute, long enough to go, “Okay...WHAT THE FUCK?” Then the screen flashes white and things are restored to just before you had your freak out.

This game pulls you in and forces you to question yourself as much as the character.


The only real downside is there isn't much incentive to stay sane. Going insane makes completing missions more difficult because you're constantly distracted from your goal, but it doesn't make the missions harder, just longer because you have to wait out the hallucinations. The game doesn't really punish you for losing your sanity beyond the cool trolling, and since that's the coolest part about the game, it is also a bit of a fault.


Given the changes in interface and gaming since that game came out (exclusively for the GameCube, SUCK IT PS2 FANS, SUCK IT!!!), it would be amazing if some game developer were to decide to remake the game--or make a sequel*--for the PS3, PS4, or XBox One. I would slather myself with honey and gyrate sexily to Prince music to get a copy.

Think of all the ways that you could get totally fucked with in the new gaming environment. Maybe the game tricks you into thinking you’ve accidently joined Online Play. Some young pre-recorded team of people “talk” to you while you play. Maybe they hassle you a little (not in the horribly vitriolic way that is so common online, but rather shouting “n00b” at you or making jokes about your trophy/achievment collection or whatever).


Or imagine if it took you “back” to the Playstation Home Screen? Or pretended to restart your Playstation? Good lord there could be some cool mind-fuckery going, and that’s not even considering how amazing and terrifying it could be just on an emotional level as your character slowly goes insane and starts seeing things.


Seriously, if there’s a game developer out there that just so happens to read this blog, PURSUE A SEQUEL BECAUSE THIS WAS AMAZING! I have never played a game so immersive. On the one hand, you’re constantly aware that you’re playing a game because of the interface gags, but on the other hand, you get to experience the same kind of mental fuckery your character goes through.

If you do have a GameCube, I highly recommend trying to hunt this one down. The graphics are super outdated at this point, but it will be well worth your while, just to spend a little time with an early 2000’s horror game curiosity.

________________________

*UPDATE: Of COURSE they would try to make a sequel to the game. But apparently, because everything is awful and the world is a garbage heap from which nothing beautiful can ever grow, their Kickstarter failed. Twice.

Fuck everything. *grumble grumble grumble*

*paws longingly at sequel*