Alone in the Dark (PC Game)

Alone in the Dark (click for larger image)Reviewed by Plagiarize

Published by Atari

First things first, this is a review of the PC version of Alone in the Dark, which is identical to the Xbox 360 version. This is not a review of the PS2 and Wii versions of the game which are very different.

After a few delays Alone in the Dark from Eden Games and Atari is finally with us and is no easy game to review.

Alone in the Dark is the latest entry in the longest running survival horror series of them all. The original Alone in the Dark was the first survival horror game released. In fact it wasn’t until years later when Resident Evil coined the term ‘survival horror’ that we’d start calling Alone in the Dark survival horror.

The original was notoriously scary and difficult. It told the story of a private investigator by the name of Edward Carnby who was investigating mysterious goings on at a mansion. It was steeped in Lovecraftian influences and laid many of the foundations of the genre we have all come to know and love.

But that was a long long time ago. Over fifteen years in fact. Two sequels quickly followed that did little to improve the formula. In 2001 after a six year hiatus the series was brought back, but pretty much in name only. A relatively cookie cutter survival horror title starring a different Edward Carnby to the one gamers were familiar with, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t worthy of bearing the name.

Alone in the Dark (click for larger image)Which brings us about up to speed. In the years since New Nightmare came out, Resident Evil 4 came along and pretty much swept away all the old survival horror mechanics that dated back to the original Alone in the Dark.

Eden Games obviously had some reverence for the series (far more than Uwe Boll but that’s the last mention of him here) and in deciding to make a brand new Alone in the Dark they obviously didn’t want to just crib from other games as the last Alone in the Dark had.

They wanted to bring the original Edward Carnby back. They wanted to do something ambitious and brand new. They wanted to make a game that would raise the bar in just about every area you could imagine.

And they failed.

Yet, they came so close to succeeding that they’ve made a game that will be remembered for many years for its forward thinking design and gameplay decisions.

Alone is the kind of game that always gets my attention whether it’s good or bad. A game striving to do so much all at once. The kindest thing I can say of it, is that just about every crazy idea they had has been well implemented. The cruelest thing I can say of it, is that they were too busy trying to innovate to focus on pacing, a sensible save system, controls and fun gameplay.

Whether or not you will be able to appreciate Eden’s insanity comes down to whether or not you can overlook the games flaws. Can you put up with the overly complex controls (and if you pick up the PC version make sure you have a joypad… the mouse and key controls are horrible)? Can you adapt to its ever changing gameplay? Can you put up with relatively long sequences of punishing difficulty that force you to restart them from the beginning again when you screw up (or can you bring yourself to skip them and know that you never beat them)?

I was able to and I found the game a very enjoyable experience over all. But I know just as many people that hated it that feel the same way about it I do.

The game is presented like a TV series on DVD. It’s broken up into eight episodes that end on cliff hangers, and the start of each episode has a ‘previously on Alone in the Dark’ section to get you back up to speed. For the most part, they make pretty nicely sized chunks of gameplay, until the seventh and eighth offer lots of optional side quests. Like a DVD the episodes are split into chapters, and you’re free to jump from episode to episodes, from chapter to chapter at will.

The last three quarters of episode eight are locked off until you have completed about half of the game. It’s a very interesting setup… and having finished the game something that’s rather useful to relive the good bits. The question is though, are you going to feel good about skipping forwards past a part you are stuck at?

It’s a nice option, but I honestly don’t know how much it helps with the difficulty spikes, and I do wonder if perhaps it made Eden a bit less conscious of the parts of the game that needed to be made a little easier, or that needed extra checkpoints.

When you die, you will be dropped back at the last checkpoint… but do not for one second presume that means the game has saved at that point. It hasn’t. The game doesn’t autosave. You can save your last checkpoint at any time by pausing the game, and it will ask you if you want to save at the end of a chapter… but it’s a very frustrating oversight that again, I can’t help wonder that they didn’t bother improving because you can always skip forwards to where you were.

Enough about the structure. The game begins when Edward wakes up with amnesia in the middle of a whole lot of trouble already. Before you know it he’s managed to escape from the people holding him captive, but only because demonic energies are ripping into our world. The first couple of episodes are a towering inferno that walks you through most of the unique game mechanics.

Alone in the Dark (click for larger image)First of all, there are a lot of puzzles, but not of the ‘find five parts of the key’ kind. They’re all situational. Using physics and dynamics (fire and electricity and the things that spread and conduct them) you’ll be breaking and burning down obstacles and rewiring fuse boxes to progress.

Your inventory is fairly limited in what you can carry, as you’d expect from a survival horror game, but that’s really where the similarity with any other inventory ends. Your inventory is accessed by looking down and opening your coat. Inside in various pockets and holsters you’ll see everything you are carrying. This doesn’t pause time. If you are in the middle of being attacked, you won’t be able to access your inventory like you might be used to being able to.

I can see why this is a negative for a lot of people, but for me it added to the tension very nicely. I spent quite a lot of timing attempting to run away from monsters to a safe distance to be able to heal or to change or combine my items to come back and better defend myself.

Double sided sticky tape is a very important item. With it you can tape together all sorts of things to logically fashion new items. A bottle of alcohol with a box of ammo taped to it, and a rag stuffed in the top and you’ve got yourself a nice bomb. You can use your lighter with the various aerosol sprays you’ll find around to fashion a flame thrower… and so on.

Once you escape from the burning building, you’ll make your way to Central Park, which is presented pretty much in its entirety. Initially you’ll be trying to get to the art museum, but after that, you’ll have run of the park as you try and destroy evil roots in order to increase your supernatural abilities.

These help a lot in dealing with the enemies. Enemies can only be killed by fire. And they can only be hurt by firearms if you shoot them in specific weak points. These can only be seen by closing your eyes. Once you have them down, you’ll need to burn the body (unless you were able to fashion some kind of flaming or explosive weapon). You can either bring them to the fire or bring the fire to them.

The combat isn’t especially fun, and I could only be guessing here, but I think for the most part the developers want you to try and avoid it. It’s difficult to kill enemies without using up important resources, so you have the choice of avoiding them (which isn’t always easy) or scavenging trash cans and cars for more aerosol sprays, bullets and bottles of alcohol.

Cars are scattered across the park to help you get about. Some have the keys already in them. Some have the keys hidden behind sun visors, and some you’ll need to hotwire. Be sure you always check the glove boxes for items as well. You’re going to need to.

Alone in the Dark is a nice looking game. Fire, lighting and character’s faces are a high point. Fire is realized here better than I’ve ever seen it. Spreading and burning just like real fire as it throws orange light around the surroundings. They could have actually done a lot more with the technology. The monsters don’t look so great however, and the grass in Central Park is a bit poor (a shame since you see it so often).

The music is incredible all the way through. Provided by ‘The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices’ it’s a haunting score I’ll listen to outside of the game. I was pretty happy to see my copy came with a soundtrack CD and it’s been spinning in my car’s CD player for the last week.

Alone in the Dark (click for larger image)The story, and the voice acting… well they aren’t bad. They aren’t great either, and both the endings are pretty underwhelming and a little confusing. I thought I’d got the bad ending until I replayed the last chapter to get the other ending and found out I’d got the good ending. Both are very short and don’t seem all that different.

Alone in the Dark succeeds with most of its crazy ideas. It isn’t its innovations that hold the game back. It’s the strain they put on the controls, leaving most buttons doing multiple tasks where the game hurts. It’s the pacing. It’s relatively demanding driving and platforming sections in the middle of a survival horror game that will annoy people that don’t play driving and platform games.

It’s like a hot girl with a monobrow. Some people may be able to overlook the monobrow and appreciate the rest… some people aren’t going to be able to get past it… and no one will argue that the monobrow is part of the appeal.

I hope that those people that can overlook the game’s faults pick it up, because I know they’d have as much fun with it as I did… but even though I was able to overlook those faults in playing the game, I can’t overlook them in scoring it.

3 1/2 out of 5

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  • plagiarize

    I really really understand why people hate the game. i do really get why people who don’t normally play racing games hate the racing segments. i get why people hate the bizarre (though workable) controls… but like i say, if you can overlook those hang ups there is a fun game in here.

    i mean, my pet peev was the way the game would switch between a static camera and a camera that followed you, which changed how you move completely from point in this direction to go that way, and RE4 style movement. also, you’ve got the crazy aspect of being able to strafe in first person but not in third…

    but then, the controls if you can get used to them, are totally workable. they had me scratching my head at times, but they work… and the game has so many creative and cool moments. if i was just rating how much fun i had with it, i’d have probably given it a four or a four and a half.

    • Spaceshark

      Doesn’t that just mean you’re overlooking the myriad of flaws?

  • Avid Fan

    Has anyone noticed the similarities to Keanu Reeves on the box art? Could this be foreshadowing a movie tie-in?

    • PelusaMG

      Looks sort of like Tom Cruise to me…

  • Spaceshark

    It’s sad, I was like, so waiting for this game. Not “drooling uncontrollably waiting”, but more of “oh thank God, a survival horror game”, ‘cuz it’s been ages, y’know? Then all of a sudden, here we are and what do we gat? Flame bullets. Mother fucking flame bullets.

  • Uncle Creepy

    Fuck this game. You’re being far too kind. The controls and the camera leave this game firmly in the pooper. I simply cannot imagine any game tester dealing with how your character interacts, moves, and performs actions, and have them think to themselves, “Oh yeah! That’s the sweet spot!” This game should have been delayed longer to address the half-baked control scheme and its other issues.

    In retrospect the title of this game is incredibly fitting because somewhere in there, somewhere in the dark, a great game is hiding. And it will probably stay there alone because I cannot imagine many people playing through given its horrid controls, and ridiculous camera.

    Switching from 1st person view to 3rd person view (which adds tremendously to the disorienting tedium in conjunction with the awkward camera work) is an awful idea. Not to mention the crappiness of having to deal with your inventory in real time in probably the most innovative yet poorly implemented of ways. And don’t even get me started about having to use the right analog stick to meelee. JESUS!

    Atari, you’ve damned us again. Thanks for the Jaguar of survival horror games.

    • MagusMaleficus

      You seem to be echoing the sentiments of many folks that played this turd–beneath the stinking, rotting flesh, there beats the heart of truly good game. Sadly, Atari staked said heart with a shiny metal spear called Indecisiveness. Is it straight horror? Is it straight action? Is it a hybrid–and if so, what’s the ratio of horror to action? Just what the bloody hell is it?! “Alone in the Dark” tries so hard to be several different games, but doesn’t succeed in pulling any of them off.

      I must add, however, that I love the episodic structure of the game. Being able to jump straight into one’s favorite section is a feature I’d love to see in other games.

  • frank_dracman

    While I found the game enjoyable enough, I have to say something about the driving sequences. I damn near threw my controller out the window while playing these parts. Who’s bright idea was it to put a racing level in my survival horror?! I hate racing games. I suck at them. I don’t play them. Sure, I could “fast forward” past these parts, but then I lose all the supplies I’ve gained up to that point. So I sit there, I swear to God, for 30 minutes trying (and retrying) to out-run an earthquake. It may sound like a minor quibble, but to bring the game to a screeching halt like that is ridiculous. So close to a great game, but it stumbles around trying to be too much.