The game is enormous, set over 20 centuries and features a total of thirteen playable characters, each equipped with weapons accurate for the time period, and the ability to target individual body parts and other areas of their enemies. Characters are controlled in the third person with a mix of Tomb Raider and Resident Evil-style camera use, in a 3D engine that takes advantage of every trick the ATI R300 can pull, at a 640x480 resolution and a stunning 60 frames per second. Obviously at this point it's impossible to comment on 50 / 60Hz options in European titles, but the version we have seen is definitely running at 60. The story is told through the player's actions on screen and during in-game cutscenes, where detailed facial animation will play a big part. Full-motion video sequences will also be included. Eternal Darkness may be a fantastical adventure, but Silicon Knights are trying to be as historically accurate in their depiction of the various locations as possible, right down to Latin voiceovers in some sections and enemies with authentic domestic fighting styles. Insane? That's not the half of it. The game's prized feature is the insanity meter. As players face more and more bizarre and unbelievable challenges, they have to question what's going on, and like any human exposed to enormous stress, they start to crack. The player's ability to deal with new challenges and experiences is lessened. This can lead to all sorts of effects, from the subtle; opening your inventory of items to find everything missing, to the downright confusing; walking into a room to witness your own, gruesome death, only to be resurrected by a flash of white light a moment later. Your level of sanity will reflect directly on your environment and abilities.
Do you like scary movies?
Why are you being driven insane, you might rightly ask? Why are you stalking catacombs and other appalling regions of the netherworld? The story goes something like this: A long time ago there was a species forced into the nooks and crannies of life by the evolution of our world; a free-living species that defied modern day beliefs and science. This problem is, humans now occupy the world and the Ancient malevolent force trapped in the earth's lowest layers need to get rid of us to facilitate their return. Unfortunately, some of our number have formed Secret Societies and want to help them out, and their nefarious plan could be on the brink of realization. In order to prevent Eternal Darkness, thirteen souls have been chosen, although they have no comprehension of the task before them. These thirteen souls must fight a crusade against the Ancients to save the earth from their reign, but not before you've delivered them from their own perils. Because the Ancients are so powerful, these thirteen human souls will be powerless in their native form, and must evolve into superhuman thinking machines capable of toppling their aggressive regime before it even starts. The enormous pressures of their role and the dark, haunting, practically omnipotent Ancients will combine to send them spiralling into mental disarray. It's your job to try and differentiate between what's real and what isn't, and use any tools found in your path - from enormous iron swords and magical items to modern day firepower like the assault rifle - to vanquish the enemy, and save humanity. In other words, it's an epic struggle between good and evil, and you're stuck slap-bang in the middle of it.
Cruisin' for a bruisin'
Eternal Darkness may be about psychosomatics and controlling your sanity, but it's also about slaughterin' and a-killin'. Zombies and other creatures of the underworld occupy the various dungeons, catacombs and other locations in the game, and each of them can be satisfyingly dismembered to your own measurements. By using the A button you can attack normally, and you can attack repeatedly (albeit with lesser effect) by mashing the A button for a few seconds. Using the R button though, you can target your enemy in specific places, such as the torso, the arm or the head. If you want to take your time despatching a particular nasty, you can lop off the menacingly bits and just pile drive the rest of him into the dirt. Once on the floor, you can use the B button to finish an opponent, often by thrusting your sword into the writhing mess of your enemy. Ahem. It's a pretty gruesome game, but Silicon Knights are trying to make it as authentically nasty as possible, too. For instance, if you're in a room that's too small to swing a cat, you're unlikely to have much more luck with a sword, and hammering a sword against the masonry will just blunt your blade and produce a shower of sparks. From what we saw of the game at The Nintendo Show, it seems that movement is fairly fluid, with characters able to tiptoe, walk, jog or sprint if needed thanks to the Z-trigger. There weren't many lightning turns but you can make a pretty sharp exit if things get too hairy.
With so much of Nintendo's GameCube line-up categorized as kiddy fodder (and unjustly so, one has to say), it's nice to see that the first ridiculously violent adventure is also supremely beautiful. Compared to the other GameCube games we've seen (and that includes Metroid), Eternal Darkness is a stunner. Behind closed doors at The Nintendo Show, we were told about the most detailed characters sporting a minimum of 5500 polygons, mostly reflected (no pun intended) in the intricately forged armour and weaponry. The texturing is fairly dull and grainy, which is what you would expect from the sort of surroundings our heroes find themselves in, and each individual torch is beaming in real-time, onto surfaces mapped with every trick in the GameCube's graphical book. Detail is both accurate and intricate. Silicon Knights have researched the sort of surroundings you see in the game. They have also spent an enormous amount of time on the animation. Characters swish and swash with their swords and zombies fall apart producing all manner of gooey results. The detail here is also noteworthy, particularly as you see individual fingers on the hands of some characters at work reloading weapons and grasping swords. Silicon Knights promise an explosive GameCube debut with Eternal Darkness : Sanity's Requiem, and we don't doubt them. The game is said to take as long as 60 hours to complete, and there are alternative paths to be explored beyond that. Providing the gameplay mechanics can deliver the ferocity to keep up with the depth of the story and the beauty of the visuals, Eternal Darkness could be the best GameCube adventure to date, and along with Resident Evil, a talisman to ward off the kiddy gags. After all, when was the last time a kid hacked up a zombie and then hallucinated his own death?