Eternam is probably one of the more divisive topics I've had to attack here on the blog. The 'win' post has made it very clear that there were people who actually found this game somewhat endearing and likeable in its own way. I decided to focus on the more negative aspects because every time I attempted to write about it up front, it simply read as gibberish and barely came out to more than a paragraph or two. Eternam is a big game where not a lot actually happens. There are plenty of jokes throughout the way, most of which don't necessarily tickle my personal funny bone. In contrast to most of the other games I've reviewed where I found personal interest, or could at least understand the target audience, this one just never worked for me. Given as much, I decided to spend the last few days researching reviews both of a time-specific nature (Zero, a UK magazine, has its highest review yet I can't find anything from it outside of the score so it's largely useless) and of a more up-to-date theme, not that a great many people have put together video reviews et al of it.
|This is, just as a reminder, what happens after a train almost runs you over|
|I know a lot of people enjoyed the completely absurd |
approach to conversations, but it really never sunk in with me
Watching and reading said reviews, between those listed on Mobygames, the couple I could find in archived magazines and even an archived German magazine review (page 35) is.. well, the reviews seemed to be more of the graphics and sound than anything. Admittedly, this isn't the greatest surprise in the world, but the otherwise overwhelmingly positive reviews really had me hoping that there'd be a little more to them with an average in the high 80s (if you remove the more current reviews which are no longer wowed by the now dated graphics). Some people do like the humour, though even those who are the game's most fervent defenders agree that the game could use a little coherency and that the interface is dreadful. Even without my modern sensibilities though, the game did not serve itself well with the repeated 'zooming in' – an alright picture just ended up down-right creepy or unappealing by random shots super-close in. I'd just like to prove that whilst this game definitely did not suit me that I'm going to try and give it as fair a go as I possibly can before I go on with the meat of the rating.
Puzzles and Solvability
Eternam is eminently 'solvable'. I think that's something which a lot of games of this era have struggled with – this game doesn't appear to be one of those which was working to sell a hint line at fifteen bucks a call. I think the issue with this game's puzzles for me again comes down to the interface. If I'm correct (and there's literally no way of telling if I am or not), they found it too difficult making the 'use' command link up to actions on the map. In the 'open world', the only item which has any feature is the compass bought in Dorsalis, which is actually somewhat useless as after you can actually get one they stop giving directions in compass headings.
|See the compass? Yeah, didn't help me either|
For all that its puzzles are 'easy', the game is just.. not consistent. This is really where I had issues. In some areas, the puzzles 'solved' themselves just by having the item in your inventory. Other times, you needed to have it selected and then it would automatically be used. As a third option, there were some where it was required to 'use' the item. I'd rather all of them use the one scenario regardless which the game were to choose. It was particularly heinous with the 'rackets' – I didn't even really know what the item was supposed to be when I picked it up, so expecting to use the image (which only popped up for a moment or two on Don's feet when walking over 'quicksand') to know what I needed to do to proceed when being buried in sand was very optimistic. I only managed to work it out due to obsessive screenshotting. Again, though, it's more an interface issue. The dialogue puzzles were also painful because of a lot of dialogue only being usable once. I'm not sure if that's an interface gripe or what. Still, everything (largely) made sense here. I had a couple of puzzles which I had to brute force (giving the flag to the Dragoon, using the toilets to teleport to other islands) and a couple where the game 'triggered' me to recall a linked item (Staff of Miniaturisation on the boat). Overall, I'd call the game's puzzles passable and give it flak for a lack of consistency in solutions, especially in places like the execution chamber / jail cell.
|Pick the wrong option here (one in three choices)? You die!|
Interface and Inventory
As I might have mentioned, this is probably the biggest letdown throughout all of Eternam. The lack of information as to what is actually in your inventory is unconscionable as it comes to a game with such bizarre items, particularly when no visual representation is ever provided. A purely keyboard interface was never suitable for this game right out of the game being concepted. The strange 'tank shooting game' which takes place, in addition to being literally unneeded and confusing, is more of a drag upon the gameplay than something to make it more fun. The inventory is stupidly large (if you pick up everything, you cycle through up to two pages with no 'sort' option available to assist with its length) and whilst I'm normally fine by red herring items, this game could sorely have used a 'drop' function.
|Actually, there clearly is – I just want you to explain what!|
With a game that literally has eleven commands counting 'up down left and right' and a 'menu' command, I expect that everything is easy to use and to be largely necessary. 'Speak' requires being in the perfect spot to do so, 'look' is almost useless, 'use' is used maybe a handful of times. 'Take' works as expected, at least! Oh, and the game is never consistent as to when to use the 'fire' command. “Amiga Joker”, the German magazine of the time whose is the only contemporary review I can find in full, actually liked the keyboard use supposedly. They also managed to use only screenshots obtained all within four screens of one another, so I think that can be taken with a grain of salt. The only plus to the interface which I can think of is that it technically operates, for all of its frustration.
Story and Setting
This is where I feel my bias is growing difficult to fight. I never liked the story, and never felt that the plot was particularly gripping on the extremely rare instances it was actually given. I will admit that in terms of originality (outside of the Westworld parallels) the game never really fell apart. But if I were to return an equal criticism, having just read the blurb on the back of the box, the game never added to what it offered there. The end of the game gave a (rather limited) resolution to what it read on the back of the box, and a couple of people mentioned 'Mikhal Nuke' here and there – otherwise, it was just a running set of gags set in new 'eras'. The setting is the issue, though. I really want to be as impartial as I can be here, so here goes: a unique setting does not make up for a weak story. I'd argue that the setting itself is weakly presented, but I'm willing to (in my mind bump up) the score a touch to be fair as I can to the game – I sincerely do not believe that there are many other games which have attempted the same premise or level of bizarre fourth wall breaking, particularly back in 1992.
|After doing this, he.. never speaks to us again. Even after |
we find out what's happening. Coherency, dammit! It's all I want!
Sound and Graphics
Definitely, this is one of Eternam's strong suits. I didn't really mention it too much throughout the gameplay, but the music is actually really quite decent. Not great, mind – there aren't any real stand outs or amazing tracks to my mind, but nor are there any really painful tracks. The music stops after short snippets of one to two minutes when offered, which again is largely a blessing in disguise as I feel they could have grown incredibly repetitive. The graphics are actually quite good for the age of the game, with several images actually looking quite decent (I mentioned the 'Dragon's Lair' similarities in imagery earlier.) The issue with the graphics are not when they look decent, however – it's that stupid zoom in thing. I hate to harp on here, but it really makes the graphics go from 'decent' to 'ugly' at the drop of a hat. Still, while there have been more beautiful games in the past of this blog alone, it's mostly just a thing or two I'd complain of, not the whole game. The overland map is uuugly, but oh well. Can't have everything.
|The image looked decent before I got to see every line so |
up close and personal! Big screens do not do this game justice.
Environment and Atmosphere
This game certainly has both in spades. Five distinctly different areas are offered, and each feels different outside of the world map. The problem I had (apart from the fact that the final two areas were extremely rushed) with the environments is that they always felt like they were desperately in need of a little more fleshing out. Continually, the game decided to go in favour of comedy over building things up. Frantic and undisciplined, I never felt the game got itself off of the ground. Clearly, this is an area where lots of people throughout reviews and the like disagreed with me. I don't really know where to rate this, as I never 'got' the game. I'm just going to give it a pretty generic score and let people argue it from there if they wish.
|Anyone think this helped the game? I just don't know.|
Dialogue and Acting
This game suffered heavily from its desperate need to be 'funny' here. Sometimes, they hit the nail on the head. Other times, not at all. I would call this an issue with the interface, but the fact that you can't repeat the vast majority of dialogues is unacceptable, particularly in a game which relies upon several dialogue puzzles throughout it. Well, I say 'dialogue puzzles' – really, you're just unlocking a conversation path which Don will automatically follow after uncovering it. The game has dozens of situations where I feel they could have used just a little dose of seriousness to go a long way, but instead nothing ever had any impact as it would immediately become a joke afterwards. The only 'serious' conversations were essentially 'hey – you died!' which I also found pretty jarring, given I feel that the game might have actually benefited from the inverse there. I won't bother to class the 'acting' as encompassing the animations, which were largely uninspired and as such wouldn't take the game in good stead regardless. The marks I give here are solely for the times I chuckled, as that was all the game ever used its dialogue effectively.
|This and a few other spots legitimately made me chuckle – but never anything past that|
So, if I've been as impartial as I hope I have been, that leads to (4+2+4+6+5+3)/0.6 gives an even 40. Fair? Unfair? Indifferent? I don't know, but I do welcome input. I think we've got a few more games which will certainly be interesting to look into – I sure hope the people who tackle them are ready for what's to come!
Both Laertes and Fry guessed the correct score, and the first ever Straight goes to Ilmari! Let's see what other CAP awards were given.
100 points to Aperama
- Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging through Eternam with danger to his sanity
30 CAPs to Fry
- Riddler Award - 20 CAPs - For getting the correct solution to Aperama's riddle
- Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the correct score for Eternam
10 CAPs to Laertes
- Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the correct score for Eternam
5 CAPs for Voltgloss
- Victor Award - 5 CAPs - For revealing the fate of poor Victor
5 CAPs for Charles
- Shoot'em-up Award - 5 CAPs - For nitpicking Aperama's statement on Galaga
5 CAPs for Lupus Yonderboy
- Lift Me Up, Scotty Award - 5 CAPs - For explaining European elevator conventions
5 CAPs for Laukku
- Sierra Lover Award - 5 CAPs - For linking to a video series on old Sierra adventures
5 CAPs to Ilmari
- Dire Straights Awards - 5 CAPs - For the best guess in Straights