Alone in the Dark (PC Game)
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.
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.
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.
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