Silicon Knights had an incredible ride. Founded in 1992, they were known for releasing a handful of strategy games on PC before dropping Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain in 1996 for Playstation. The studio went through many tumultuous years, particularly in the 2000s when they became embroiled in lawsuits which led to their bankruptcy and closure. However, Legacy of Kain was a turning point, the bridge that brought them over to consoles, and helped them strike a deal with Nintendo to create a psychological horror game for the Nintendo 64. That game, which also served as the studio’s peak, was Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.
As mentioned, Eternal Darkness was originally in development for the N64, as Silicon Knights wanted to create a horror game that didn’t rely on survival mechanics. As production went on and the project was moved to the upcoming GameCube, it was chosen to be a launch title for the system. The release was postponed, however, due to the September 11 attacks, as one of the primary characters at the time was a Special Forces member deployed into the Arab world, and this was seen as too controversial for the time.
The story starts with a girl named Alexandra Roivas learning of the death of her grandfather, Edward, and returning home to the family estate in Rhode Island. As she explores the mansion in search of clues to solve the mystery of his death, Alexandra discovers a much larger story that spans two millennia, twelve protagonists, and four ancient evils. As she traverses the mansion and solves different puzzles, Alexandra find chapter pages from torn from the Tome of Eternal Darkness, a book bound with human bone and skin, and experiences accounts of those that have possessed the Tome across history.
Eternal Darkness is absolutely a psychological thriller. The viewpoint is set in third person, and it’s not completely unlike Resident Evil, albeit with much more precise character control. Movement is fluid, not robotic, and that stays true even during combat. With a wide variety of weapons options available throughout the game, there’s a lot to take into account while in the middle of a fight. Each weapon causes your character to perform a different animation, and depending on the play area, there’s a pretty good chance that the huge and powerful sword you just picked up will be too big and keep you from performing a full swing. That being said, you also have the great ability to target specific body parts, allowing you to hack off arms or heads as you make it down your path. This helps you be more strategic, because there’s also a difference in your attack depending on what you’re targeting.
There is also a pretty involved magic system, used as spells that allow you to do all sorts of things, such as recover your health, enchant an item, transform into an enemy, find invisible doors, create walls, etc. The simplest explanation is that spells are color-coded and based on Red, Blue, and Green, and each of them perform better or worse depending on the corresponding color of the monster or item that you are performing the spells on. The spell system is so incredibly detailed, that some members of the dev team were reportedly shocked by the amount of spells they were able to create when they played the final product.
The stand-out mechanic that got everybody talking, both in 2002 and through to today is the insanity effects. In addition to your standard health and magic meters, you’re also given an Insanity Meter, which when completely full, means you’re as sane as they come. However, as you traverse each chapter, your meter will slowly drop, usually due to being within the field of vision of enemies. If your insanity drops far enough, your character will start to hallucinate, and this is displayed to the player in some particularly brilliant ways. You could try to save your game and be told that your data was corrupted. Walking through a door could cause the game to appear to reboot, or your character to be sliced in half with blood spraying everywhere. You may begin to walk down a hallway and clip through the floor, appearing to walk down a staircase through the boundaries of the game. Every hallucination is followed by a beat to fill you with fear and then a white screen flash, when you find yourself back in your original position, health, save data, and character intact. You never know how or when a hallucination will strike, and it makes for an incredibly innovative and interesting game experience. Hallucinations also give you a great reason to practice smart meter management, and make sure you keep your insanity meter filled as best as you can.
The art direction of Eternal Darkness should be familiar to anyone who has played a Resident Evil or similar horror game before. It’s dark, it’s gruesome, it’s meant to freak you out, and it looks great while doing so. The level design is tailored well to the puzzle design, and while it can be frustrating to repeatedly swing your sword and hit a wall instead of an enemy, each area is still a great set piece. Character models can be really underwhelming, but this is due in part to the camera distance; when the characters get closer, they look better.
Eternal Darkness won the hearts of many GameCube owners both upon release, and in the nearly two decades since. With over 20 hours of gameplay, differently branching paths and a hidden “super” ending, there is more than enough content to keep players coming back for more. It can be brutally tough, extremely smart, and utterly confusing, but there is absolutely nothing else like the fear that you get when a video game boss reads you the contents of your memory card and then deletes everything.
Silicon Knights made reference to some plans to create another title set in the Eternal Darkness universe in 2006, however their partnership with Nintendo had come to an end, and they were partnered with Microsoft. This title was never officially announced, due to the studio’s legal troubles with Epic Games and eventual bankruptcy. Since their closure, former staffers have attempted to create a spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness called Shadow of the Eternals, most notably through two failed Kickstarter campaigns. Most recently in 2014, Silicon Knights founder Denis Dyack announced plans to resurrect the Shadow of the Eternals development. Since the original title’s release, Nintendo has extended their ownership of the trademark to Eternal Darkness five times, leading many to believe that the company isn’t done with this title yet.
Did you ever play Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem? What did you think of it? What did you like or hate about the game?
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