Eternal Darkness: Breaking the Equilibrium

December 19th, 2009

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(I’m posting from my new Mac and it appears to substitute fonts and stuff, so if there’s a sudden change in font/formatting, do be kind and leave a comment, thanks and sorry for the delay, I finished my course yesterday).

In my evaluation of Eternal Darkness I concluded that:

Eternal Darkness is a context-rich game with a wonderful narrative, a demonising camera and spooky music which conceal a set of mechanics that whilst decent, fail to stand on their own. These mechanics are organised in a way so that, for the most part, one element is never used enough to become uninteresting to the player. This isn’t a criticism, mind you, but rather a deconstruction of the fact that Eternal Darkness is driven by its narrative and atmosphere.”

This time I want to discuss four examples of where Eternal Darkness falters in its balancing of the various puzzle, exploration and combat elements, or more simply wears out a single mechanic.

Roberto Bianchi

The characters in Eternal Darkness all convincingly tire after they’ve run for a short while. The tiring influences walking at two levels, in the first they slow the pace, in the second they drop to a slow walk. There’s a third tier too for when they’re hurt, slowing the jog to a hunched limp. Each member of the cast has differing degrees of stamina which influence their walking speed. Roberto Bianchi has the lowest stamina of the entire cast, therefore he walks relatively slowly, even slower as he quickly tires. There’s plenty of backtracking and fetch questing in his chapter, particularly at the end where the player must get Roberto from one side of the environment to the other. This drags on for minutes and, as you can imagine, drops the pacing down to a crawl. There’s a section nearing the end of the chapter where he’s forced to run across a passage with a floor cursed by the ancients, sapping his life away, causing his jog to drop to a walk and then a limp—it’s almost as if the game is teasing him.

Alexandra Roivas

In Alexandra Roivas’ chapter, the final chapter of the game, the player has to complete a series of 9 trials which warp Alexandra to different areas underneath the mansion, all leading back to the same hub. Every time that a trial is completed the player must walk their way through a series of rooms back to the hub. The problem is that the warp points transporting the player to the trials sends the player to rooms further beyond the ones they’ve already completed, adding to an already heavy load of backtracking. Furthermore, for each trial the player must choose a rune which contributes to a spell formed by completing the trials. Three of those selections are multiple choice. If the player chooses the wrong rune, they are still teleported to the room of the trial, and forced to walk all the way back for no good reason. This point in the game is unbearably frustrating.

Peter Jacob

At the end of Peter Jacob’s chapter, the reporter faces one of the only bosses in the game, the Black Guardian. To defeat the Black Guardian, the player must summon a certain spell before they are interrupted by an attack and the spell is subsequently canceled. The window here is painstakingly narrow and it took me about an hour of continual failed attempts to actually down the bastard, seemingly by random coincidence too. The short window to attack made the combat drag on until it because unwelcomed.

And a General Qualm

The last point is a general criticism, being that—like any traditionally-minded adventure game—the puzzles often feel extremely arcane and sometimes inventory is difficult to discern from the environment (the colour can be a little too dark at times) or clues aren’t perfectly distinguishable. Most of the game’s puzzles communicate very little to the player, and it’s when these puzzles don’t fall on common logic that they become frustrating. It happens quite regularly too.

  • I’m a huge fan of Eternal Darkness – a huge fan – but I’d certainly agree with your criticisms here, especially Peter Jacob’s boss, that was simply too big of a spike to include in that point of the game, and even now as a ED veteran it’ll take me a few goes before I can remember the rhythm of how to beat it.

    On the whole though the characters are well matched the to challenges they’re expected to complete (perhaps with the exception of Roberto Bianchi) although you could have mentioned that although the stamina bars are dependent on characters so are the others – the health and sanity the amount of which both aid your progress.

  • Good point, I think the dynamic from the ranging health, sanity and magic bars work well to shape the chapters to the attributes of the respective characters. In saying this, I guess it’s not so much a flaw as my person dis-preference. ^_^

    Thanks for dropping by.