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Halloween Retrospective: Eternal Darkness (GameCube, 2002)


With distinctive characters anchoring the drama and its world, Silicon Knights proceed to relentlessly punish players for their sympathies. After giving you people to care about, the game starts destroying them in front of your eyes, all while you're in control of them and still powerless to change their fate no matter how many spells you cast or monsters you defeat. Since we believe in these characters and want to see them survive, this gives the world a real sense of danger and foreboding. In almost any other game, forcing the player into these cycles of predestined defeat would be blasphemous to the accepted rules of design – players get their kicks from feeling like champions, after all.

Yet by spanning the narrative across history, Silicon Knights makes every small victory along the path feel that much more important and rewarding. Discovering a new spell adds it to the Tome, which may not be enough to save the character presently in your control, but will make the journey easier for whomever is next in line to pick it up. Among a cast of vulnerable, human individuals facing a supernatural threat of divine magnitude, these tiny successes escalate until, when the time comes for Alex Roivas to make her stand, she's empowered enough to do so.

It's this sense of collaborative effort, enduring terrible suffering so that humanity will one day be able to stand its ground when the threat rises to the surface, that gives the game its emotional weight. Finding the corpse of a character who had been at your control in a past period in history becomes an unsettling reminder both of your previous failure as a player but also the reasons you choose to persist in the long struggle. This is a game with a real sense of passing time, where the consequences of tiny struggles can be felt echoing thousands of years into future where, as Alex continues to turn the pages of the Tome in her dead grandfather's office, the monsters beneath the surface are closing in on the present day.

This is a story where the efforts of the weakest person can have an impact felt far deeper and longer than any number of heavily-armed space marines. When the game talks about destiny, it's not just empty self-aggrandising. Edward Roivas is damning of humanity for choosing to remain ignorant of the consequences of its decisions. Enlightening us might well be Eternal Darkness' most terrifying trick.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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PS: First off, apologies for not posting here so often these days. Believe me, I miss my dear old cblog, but between writing for my blog and Flixist, time can be tight and I don't want to disrespect this awesome community by just copy and pasting everything. I still do pop in every now and again, though, and love how you guys still do some of the most interesting and original games writing on the 'net.

PPS: Speaking of my blog, I'm currently serialising an action thriller, DEAD DROP, and it would be very cool to get some feedback from you guys. Also, I'm now on Twitter and have a Facebook page. I mostly use them for promotion, but will follow anyone who follows me and do my best to reply to any tweets, comments, or whatnot.
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About Xander Markhamone of us since 3:08 PM on 02.07.2010

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I'm a 26-year old English writer, formerly known on the CBlogs as Xandaça. I've been an avid gamer since I was a wee lad, gripping a NES controller in my hands and comprehensively failing to get past those infuriating Hammer Bros on Level 8-3 of Super Mario Bros. I've stuck with Nintendo since then (not for any animosity towards the other console makers of course - Nintendo just make games I enjoy and have grown up with), apart from a brief sojourn with a Sony PlayStation, several woeful attempts to play Half-Life 2 using a laptop touchpad and sporadically wrangling a turn on my sister's beloved Sega Saturn.

In addition to burping out the occasional novel, I'm a passionate critic, writing reviews and articles of films, book and games for my school magazine and university newspaper, for which I created and edited its film section. In addition to starting up my own blog, covering television, games and movies, I am also a writer for Destructoid's cine-geek sister Flixist. While primarily a film geek, the evolution of the games industry over the course of its short lifetime has fascinated me and provided vast quantities of content for some incendiary pieces of work - perhaps a few more might spring up on here?

My Favourite Games of All Time (because who doesn't love having a few Of All Time lists?) are GoldenEye 007 (which I still play through at least once a year to remind me of its glories), Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Gunstar Heroes, Super Mario Bros 3 (I don't know who told Shigsy Miyamoto-san that raccoons could fly, but I'll love them forever) and No More Heroes.

I hope you find great enjoyment in my many scribings, and please keep an eye out for upcoming news on my novel(s) and do pay a visit to my blog sometime. And yes, the Dtoid community's 'no copy and paste' rule will be fully respected!

Good gaming, everyone!