The Alone in the Dark series debuted on the PC in 1992 to great accolades, offering a great detailed story, non-linear gameplay and lots of combat. Two sequels were released shortly thereafter, but each fell short of the superiority of the original, suffering from linear gameplay and completely losing track of story development. The franchise laid low for seven years when Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare was released on Dreamcast, PC, PlayStation and PS2. In 2005, the "Alone in the Dark" film, directed by Uwe Boll, was released to the worst reception possible, receiving several awards in the areas of Worst Picture, Worst Director and Worst Special Effects. This year, a revamped current-generation Alone in the Dark hit store shelves as the last symbol of hope for the series, but will it revive the franchise and push it forward, or will it prove that it's best left alone?
Alone in the Dark takes place in the present day in New York's Central Park, with the well-known protagonist, Edward Carnby. The game begins with Edward waking up captive in a hotel room and being forced to the roof to be executed by his captors. Fortunately, through an unusual turn of events, an unseen force kills Carnby's captors and begins to rip the building apart. The player immediately finds himself using many different platforming methods to escape and survive the destruction of the hotel. While this initial sequence may be a bit confusing, it also adds to the intensity of the opening, where you find yourself jumping over deadly fires, dodging falling debris, and carefully walking along the balconies outside of a falling building.
The game takes place over eight episodes, each one adding new gameplay elements and advancing the story about what's happening to New York City and why Edward Carnby is important enough to be our main character. If one thing is for certain about Alone in the Dark, the story is exciting and immersive, and fans of the originals or newcomers to the series will most likely enjoy the intriguing twists and turns.
Character development is an important feature with the Alone in the Dark series, and it could quite possibly make or break the story line. Although it tears me up, I find myself leaning toward not liking the characters. Carnby has a mysterious and hidden side to him, which I like, but they try to make him a mysterious man and a hardcore badass at the same time, which in turn creates a rather horrible character. I certainly wouldn't recommend this game to anyone afraid of swearing, because F-bombs are thrown around at least once per dialogue segment, and most of Carnby's comments have at least one cussword.
When it comes to gameplay, Alone in the Dark is a double-edged sword. In areas like platforming, environmental interaction and some of the puzzles, I found it to be quite entertaining and even enthralling. However, with important features such as camera movement, combat and the inventory system, the game proved to be very flawed and potentially unplayable.
Jumping from window to window in a 30-story building while exploding cars rip upward through the sky from the streets below and fiery debris falls from above proves to be fun; it's during these times that I found myself enjoying the game the most. The many ways of interacting with the environment also proved to be fun. In a dark room but don't have the ability to hold a glow stick and your gun at the same time? Get out that adhesive tape, stick the glow stick to the wall and remain trigger-happy. Split open a blood pack and hurl it across the room to create a blood trail and lure enemies to a specific ambush site. Some of the features of the game are very innovative and have the potential to make a completely solid and entertaining experience.
With the good features come the bad ones, however, and I'm afraid that in Alone in the Dark, the bad outnumber the good. The camera is wonky and almost impossible to master, adding an unwanted challenging element to the game. Most of the time, it isn't a matter of whether I could kill the enemy before he could kill me, but about whether I could move the camera so that I can actually see what I'm doing.
The combat is fun at first — all demonic-like humans can only be destroyed using fire — but it quickly becomes annoying and tedious. While it is possible to find Molotov cocktails or cause a vehicle to explode to decimate your enemies, you mostly have to rely on grabbing a piece of furniture, lighting it on fire, and then waving it around until you hit your opponent. Boring. Your handgun doesn't have the ability to kill an enemy — just knock it back or knock it down — unless you have some sort of resource in your inventory to mix with the bullets. For example, dousing your bullets in vodka allows them to ignite the enemy, but only when you shoot them in fissures on their bodies.
Probably the worst feature of the game is the inventory system. You have a few slots in your jacket to hold items, but once they are filled up, you must make room. On top of that, opening your jacket/inventory is done in real-time, so expect "Batz" to be biting away at you while you're trying to find that bandage. The game includes a way to mix items to create others, but it was very badly done. You can place a wick in a bottle to make your own Molotov cocktail, but in order to be successful, you must choose the wick first so that you're adding the wick to the bottle, not the bottle to the wick.
Graphically, Alone in the Dark worked wonders for me. Jumping from balcony to balcony while the building collapses around you and cars explode from below not only looks good but adds an entirely new element to the platforming. Everything is not just happening for looks either; if that exploding car hits you, don't expect to live. Perhaps the best-looking thing in the game is the fire, and its effects are superbly done. Fire spreads very realistically, moving from the furniture to the floor, walls and ceiling, and before you know it, you feel like you're in the middle of a burning house. It's quite amazing that such a flawed title can have the best fire system that I've seen in video games.
The musical score for Alone in the Dark is pretty epic. The entire score was created with virtual instruments instead of a live orchestra, but it's tough to tell the difference. My copy of the game came with a soundtrack CD, and despite the number of soundtrack CDs I've stockpiling from other games, Alone in the Dark's has actually gotten some playtime. This is certainly a strong point in the game.
In the end, Alone in the Dark is full of potential, but never actually pinpoints and executes it. Some features bog down what could have been an entertaining experience and make it so flawed that it's beyond being playable. In the end, it'll leave most players frustrated and appalled. However, the recently released PlayStation 3 version of the game, Alone in the Dark: Inferno, promises to fix many of the broken features, so I hope that it delivers on its potential to be a great current-generation game. It's a shame they couldn't do it right the first time.
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