There are basically two types of survival-horror games out there. On one side are the psych-out, mess-with-your-head nightmare titles like Silent Hill. Flanking those is the group of in-your-face bloodbaths akin to Resident Evil. Lurking quietly between these two pools of gory, shambling creatures is the classically maddening, eerily brilliant Eternal Darkness.
Eternal Darkness' plot isn't ripped straight out of Lovecraft, but it might as well be. For most of the game, you play Alexandra Rovias, a young woman whose late uncle was the most recent possessor of an ancient book of unknowable cosmic horrors. As she explores her uncle's creepy estate, she discovers pieces of the book, each of which launches the player into a "short story" starring a brand-new character (12 of them, all told). By giving Alexandra the powers of her storybook predecessors (like summoning zombies or shooting electricity), the game neatly solves the problem of how to develop multiple characters without messing with the player's sense of progress. It's a brilliant structure, really.
Lovecraftian horror benefits from abstraction, and the art direction shows great restraint when it comes to revealing cosmic horrors - you see just enough to make you say "what in God's name is that?"; the rest is gracefully left to your imagination. When the game does take the "obvious" route (as is necessary with the lesser zombie-like monsters), the graphics are actually a bit too clean and colorful for their own good; monsters are cruelly designed, but the game doesn't do shadows and lighting as well as Resident Evil or (especially) Silent Hill.
A simple limb-targeting system lets you hack off heads and arms with ease, and although you have no direct control over the camera, it still swings around fairly smartly. Usually. But the game's most brilliant turn is a spell-casting system that has you stringing together ancient forgotten syllables of terrible power.
Your magic-slinging abilities enable you to reveal invisible foes, throw up a circle of protection, or subjugate enemies to do your will. It adds a surprising amount of strategy to the battles - and a huge amount of tension as you wait for the voices of sleeping gods to slowly, carefully pronounce their damnable sentences.
Eternal Darkness is that elusive creature, a title in which style and gameplay complement rather than conflict with one another. It's one of the most sinister, creepy, literary, and memorable horror games of all time. A classic, even as it lurks in larger games' shadows.