Tuesday, February 10, 2009

ZA Critique: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

This was a tricky game to write about. There are so many different things going on at so many different levels that I could easily write a different essay that talks about it in a totally different manner. The relationship with the Gods, which the game design makes you feel small & inferior towards. The careful use of historical events like the Iraq War or Charlemagne's downfall. This piece was originally 2200 words before I slashed and trimmed it down to 1500 or so.

I decided to focus on the creation of a legacy in the game and how it tweaks one of the generic standards in games. You always have this ultimate badass character who has killed and smashed their way through hordes of enemies. That works fun for the game design but narratively...it's problematic. Honestly, as corny as Halo 3 or Gears of War can be with their gushing "You're sooooo badasss!", it's the only thing that would make sense in the story. If you met the dude who tore through hundreds of aliens and took down two of their leaders with his bare hands, you'd probably gush a bit too. Unfortunately, this is still really corny.

Eternal Darkness instead has you play as 12 different people throughout history. They get killed, smashed, and tortured in every manner of awesome throughout the game. The game maintains the sense of progress and development that games rely on by letting the book act as an accumulation of your powers instead of a character. The result of this interesting design is a much more plausible story.

On a slight note about the sanity meter...I took a swipe at it in one of my goofy photo comics. Given how much praise it receives, particularly from people I admire, I decided to chop out the section where I criticized it. For me, I already knew about this game design when I started playing. I instead treated it as a novelty, dropping my sanity to zero and then watching the freakiness. Every time something insane started happening, I'd just remind myself it's the sanity meter and go on. My criticism was basically that the thing doesn't really work because I'm still in control of it. I can just heal my sanity and then none of that stuff happens. Given how much the sanity effects revolve around me losing control (surrounded by zombies, my saves getting deleted, controller unplugs), I thought it was kinda backwards that I could control whether this was happening or not.

But like I said, I cut it because ultimately the complaint seemed petty. Clint Hocking asked in a Brainy Game thread a while back if it was possible to spoil a game design.

Here's another example.

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