Alone in the Dark Review (PC)

You really want to like Alone in the Dark, but itís difficult to enjoy a game when itís continually slapping you across the face. The 1992 DOS classic (and in 1994 it graced the 3DO) pioneered the survival horror genre. Resident Evil (1996) may be the household name, but purists will recognise Alone in the Darkís achievement. It spawned two sequels in 1994 and 1995 and a disconnected 2001 follow-up. The franchise went quiet until last year when Atari announced the fifth game was currently in development by the French studio, Eden Games. Fast forward to the present day and weíve been playing Alone in the Dark (2008). Fans hoping for a series revival should tread carefully, because Alone in the Dark isnít looking too healthy.

Itís only apt that we played Alone in the Dark on the PC, as after all, thatís where it began. When a game crashes on start-up because your control pad is plugged in (which youíll need, but weíll get to that) warning bells should be ringing. The official Xbox 360 controller will work fine, but itís hardly a good start. Youíll be forgiven for thinking your playing a port as menu navigation still has press A to advance or B to go back everywhere. There is mouse support, but again, itís not a first good impression. Either way, we progressed with the keyboard and mouse unaware of what awaited us.

Disco Inferno
Draw Distances

Following that, the actual game starts considerably well. Youíre in control of Edward Carnby, a worn middle-aged man who awakes to hell on earth. You have no idea whatís going on and it gets worse when youíre taken upstairs to the roof to die. Itís a powerful opening and it keeps you in the dark (excuse our blatant pun). The protagonist mimics your confusion and it becomes apparent in the opening fifteen minutes that Alone in the Dark is proud of its narrative. Cinematic cuts, slow motion shots and director-style touches all indicate that this is an interactive film. Attention to detail is spot on, ranging from the game making you blink to clear your vision, to the successful use of surround sound to up the tension.

Obviously, it all goes horribly wrong on both fronts (the game and the plot). New York (the Central Park area if weíre being exact) is under attack from demonic forces and people are dying in droves. When the game finally releases control, you get a big fat punch in the face. As above, cinema presentation is Alone in the Darkís main flex. For example, if you get stuck on a puzzle or find yourself repeating a set piece because you keep falling at the last hurdle (which will happen), you can skip it. The game features a DVD like menu where you can buzz forward, to a later point. You can do this as much as you want, but the ending wonít be unlocked until youíve completed a certain amount of segments. If you come back after a nightís rest, the game will summarise whatís happened using cut scenes youíve witnessed.

The cinematic is continued by the choice of camera angles. The game shifts between first and third person view. Sadly though, while the obvious intention is there, the actual execution is flawed. Gunplay automatically shifts to the first person and is pretty sharp. Unfortunately itís the only viewpoint that works. General movement can be committed in either but either way; the use of a keyboard is clumsy. The weight surrounding movement is inconsistent and has you falling off ledges and walking into things, resulting in a substantial amount of deaths. The game doesnít let you stay in a certain perspective, shuffling between both without warning.

Film Noir
Mission Impossible Moment

Hand to hand combat (or object to face) is even worse. Itís one of the most promising features that Alone in the Dark has. You swing the mouse (though an analogue stick would be better) to set up your angle of attack and then click accordingly. Locking onto your target helps your aim, but again the camera angle and lethargic pace of Edward makes combat cumbersome, especially when youíre up against multiple enemies. The AI are the expected moronic affair, chasing you around in circles, posing little threat if the combat system was tightened.

Weíll take a break from the criticism for a bit and focus on Alone in the Darkís two genuinely interesting gimmicks. First up is the healing. If you become injured (which you will as youíre always falling about and being smacked in the face by generic possessed goons) you can enter healing mode. Healing is carried out in real time, which successfully adds a sense of urgency. Medical Spray can be applied to your wounds and bandages are needed when youíre critically injured. When that occurs you have 7 minutes to find some otherwise you die. It leads to some frantic searching in the explorable Central Park for a restroom where first aid kits are commonly found.

The second is the inventory system. Youíll find all kinds of tat during the exploration of the demon-infested Central Park and youíll shove it in your jacket pockets. Instead of having a bland menu, Alone in the Darkís view shifts to a downward glance at your open jacket where you can equip, drop, combine and use anything youíve found. It adds to the immersion, effectively keeping you in the game. The combination system is based on common sense but it highlights what you can combine when you have one thing selected. A rag and a bottle of alcohol will combine with a lighter to produce a handy explosive.

Open Plan Gone Too Far
Pre 2 hour 'Getting Ready' Session

Itís all part of Edenís attempt at implementing a Ďreal world rules system.í In reality though, reality is far far away. Enemies can only be truly disposed of with fire, so youíre often tasked with lighting chairs on fire and waving them futilely at your opponent, although Edward seems to have metal hands as he feels nothing when theyíre afire. Heís also ridiculously strong. Heíll hang from ledges despite the fact that the building is collapsing around him. Heís an expert driver, dodging flying cars and crashing helicopters. The car sections are pretty shocking with sloppy handling. Itís extraordinary especially when you take into considerationís Edenís last big budget title; Test Drive Unlimited.

Alone in the Dark seems to be a mixed bag. Its graphics sometime excels, showing off pyrotechnic heavy explosions and eerie lighting effects. Cut-scenes are particularly striking with good lip syncing and detailed character models. Itís got a fancy fire system that spreads and destroys everything organically. On the other hand, Central Park is pretty bland and car models are pathetic. Destruction is a typical jigsaw affair and every room is populated with the same set of tables and chairs. Thankfully the engine seems stable and crashing was non-existent. The soundtrack should receive recognition, using spooky orchestral pieces mixed in with emotion provoking choir chants.

The game is on the cusp of greatness. Itís got plenty of unique touches and tells a cracking story. As a game, one that must be controlled and manipulated according to the playerís wish, it fails. Itís abysmal. It really is a hashed creation. Alone in the Dark has attempted too much and ignored the fundamentals of game production. Let the player move about without screaming at the screen. Buy it on a console if you must play it, but donít expect things to be much of an improvement.

Best Gaming Moment: Getting bored with puzzle solving and flinging Edward out of a building.

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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 04, 2008
If I&#039;d wanted to use a 360 controller on my PC to play a game, I&#039;d have bought an XB360 (put tour hand down Star Trek :Legacy). This is poor production as even console gamers have stated that the control mechanism is dreadful, and I&#039;d expected better for the PC release (hands up Assassin&#039;s Creed). What a waste.
By Revan (SI Elite) on Jul 04, 2008
Well, I guess now I have to wait for Silent Hill after all. Like you said herodotus, what a waste. :(
By JamieSI (SI Core) on Jul 05, 2008
Indeed, a slight disappointment but the music is there. If they make another one, and if they do it in this way then I hope they do. What I personally feel that Atari should do is try to capture the atmosphere of the first Alone in the Dark game, its what made it such a success.

There isn&#039;t any point in copying the Resident Evil series, but this Alone in the Dark did have some great ideas, it just doesn&#039;t have the right style. Once they get that correct, I&#039;m sure we&#039;ll get another fantastic Alone in the Dark game.

Anyone played the original? It&#039;s a gaming gem.
By NASS_malk (SI Newbie) on Jul 05, 2008
By The_Master_X (SI Veteran Newbie) on Jul 10, 2008
OMG ! ! ! Then I downloaded this peace of crap 4 nothing ! ! !
Your all right , but what should I do now?
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 11, 2008
Ignore evreyone else&#039;s opinion and enjoy the hell out of it. That&#039;s what I did with TimeShift...and still play it as much as FEAR. Game on dude!
By The_Master_X (SI Veteran Newbie) on Jul 11, 2008
Your wise herodotus , thank you for the advice. Rock on dude ! ! ! 10110011
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Jul 11, 2008
Sure, the game sucks! I would never expect something like that. I mean, they spend millions on making a title that only has a familiar name, and than the screw it up so desperately that no one wants to play it. Than they cry...:|
By Iahnochdahn (SI Veteran Newbie) on Jul 12, 2008
By RastaKid (SI Veteran Newbie) on Sep 08, 2008
You think this game sucks?I'm going to play it and then post a comment here with my opinion.This game looks pretty nice.
By TheMetal (I just got here) on Sep 09, 2008
I agree with RastaKid about it looking nice, but good graphics cant make a crappy game good.
By melzerith (SI Core) on Jul 15, 2009
I'm alone in the dark! "hehe" Just don't turn on the lights I might scare you!