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Tristan Kalogeropoulos
25 Jul, 2008

Alone in the Dark Review

360 Review | Burning brightly, or left in the dark?
Time had almost swallowed the Alone in the Dark series whole, causing many to feel as if we had seen the end of the title - well time and a terrible Uwe Boll videogame to film adaptation - but Edward Carnby has made his way back from the grave with a little help from Eden Games and Atari. The original Alone in the Dark first appeared on our 14 inch monitors back in 1992 and since then the franchise has had a long history, pitting the hero of the story against demons, cowboys, gangsters and even pirates. Many younger gamers won’t remember the series and a decent portion of those that once did will have found that their memories are seriously foggy at best. It therefore seems fitting that the start of the latest Alone in the Dark finds our protagonist awaking from a kidnap induced slumber with no memory of who he is or how he got to where he is. Unfortunately though, the way in which are our memories are jolted is intensely promising yet fails to fully deliver.

There are some decently creepy sections within Alone in the Dark, such as a scene involving a severely claustrophobic museum storeroom, with well scripted events including, incredible use of lighting, poltergeists, and voices from beyond the grave. Unfortunately these are few and far between, the game holding only a handful of truly creepy moments. Many of the other non scare inducing set pieces and events are entirely impressive, that is until you die and have to repeat them over multiple times. During a section in which you have to speed through New York in a car, on your way to the main section of the game in Central Park, we were sure we heard something snap inside our controller as our frustrated grip got ever tighter. The lengthy scene had some fantastic moments, but reliving them time and time again became a tedious annoying chore, as sloppy vehicle controls and oddly deformed environments seemed to meet, shaking hands in a pact to cause us to stop enjoying the game.

Survival horror titles often use their controls as a means of creating a more oppressive world for the player. Their on-screen avatar’s tank like movements cause enemies that could deftly be manoeuvred around in an action game to become more imposing than they would be should the controller allow for completely free locomotion, thus creating a greater sense of foreboding. And this works at times for Alone in the Dark, but as the game tries to straddle some gameplay elements from other genres, such as the more open word style combat and Prince of Persia style traversing of environments, they are not always appropriate and hamper your ability to function effectively during these tasks. The view can be switched from third person to first person but there are times when it feels as though neither of these work in either the game’s, or the player’s, best interests.

"I swear I saw someone watching us."

"I swear I saw someone watching us."
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The missions within Alone in the Dark take you through Edward's journey to discover who he is and why the city is being torn apart by demonic forces. Most of these are great, but there are segments in which the game could have done with a little more editing, such as a hideously repetitive portion that tasks you with to returning to burning evil roots scattered throughout the vast park directly after accomplishing the very same tedious and lengthy chore.

The Alone in the Dark series has always been at its best when it has presented the player with a great series of puzzles. Here we have some, but there are far too few, and unfortunately the best of them are at the very end of the game. Manipulating objects in the environment to achieve your goals is always fun and we would have liked to see more of it, along with a little less reliance on the use of fire as a means to solve nearly every problem the game throws up. Despite its slight overuse, the game's flames are indeed one of its great strengths.

Fire plays a starring role in this new incarnation of Alone in the Dark, and it’s some of the most impressively depicted combustion we’ve seen in a virtual world to date. Spreading realistically over wooden or flammable materials, it slowly eats away at its fuel, leaving behind a charred mess and often a pathway to what it is you require. Incineration is the key to many puzzles within the game. Holding out a chair plucked from the environment you can set it ablaze in order to carry around, igniting other objects or indeed, the pyrophobic enemies scattered around Central Park.

Fire is key to gameplay in Alone in the Dark.

Fire is key to gameplay in Alone in the Dark.
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Alone in the Dark’s enemies are all a result of the devilish force taking over New York's great park and most of these are deformed humans, unimaginatively titled Humanz. It was as if Eden Games commissioned the team behind Ubisoft’s DS Imagine series to come up with what to call these creatures. Replacing S’s with Z’s aside these beasts are a real pain in the backside, especially as they're impervious to everything but fire. Clinging to the roof of your car, even as you launch yourself over medium sized jumps, they seem a little over powered. Thankfully though, the good citizens of New York leave a variety of flammable liquids around. Combined into Molotov cocktails, improvised explosive devices, or simply thrown and shot at these items can be used to dispatch these unearthly fiends.

The game’s inventory system is a double edged sword. At once inventive and immersing while at the same time intensely frustrating, Alone in the Dark has you carry all of your items on the inside of your jacket. Limited to 11 slots, you’ll find yourself fussing about trying to make sure you’ve got everything you need. To interact with your possession you must look down inside your coat. The game doesn’t pause when you enter the semi-realistic view of what you’re carrying, meaning that each second, as you fumble with your often times unwieldy controller, your enemies are drawing nearer. If you’re looking for a new way to heighten your fear it works well, but as we soon found out, although it should be simple to whip out a can of bugspray from your clothing, it's not always the case.

"What are ya buying" - Edward's got a pretty decent amount of flammable wares.

"What are ya buying" - Edward's got a pretty decent amount of flammable wares.
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Graphically the game is inconsistent, like its gameplay. It looks fantastic at times, creepy shadows painting the walls and fantastic fire effects both illustrate the its visual strengths, but then there's moments when it all seems a little unfinished. For example, Edward's damage looks painted on - even though it's a great idea to show you how much health you have by adding real physical visual cues - and character's hair usually looks as if it had far too much virtual mousse. There are some great graphics to be seen, but the average things detract far too much from them.

We’re sure that many will complain that Alone in the Dark’s narrative lacks a clear guiding thread and holds no real sense of full closure, but often times much of the enjoyment of a great book, film and even game can stem from trying to fill in the blanks for yourself. The game does a decent job of delivering this sort of storytelling, and the voice work is very good, but it is all held back by a narrative and script that fall short of many titles, both in the same genre and many in others, and come across feeling a little half baked.

Unfortunately Alone in the Dark is a game that has, for every positive point, an equally weighty negative. It holds in one hand a seriously interesting and innovative set of features and content and in the other an unpolished, unfinished feel, seeming as if it could have used a little more development time. It's not terrible, but it's not a return to form either.
The Score
Reasonably innovative and inventive, Alone in the Dark has some great elements, unfortunately these are hampered by an equal dose of awkward negatives, preventing the game from truly bringing glory back to the franchise's name.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Alone in the Dark Content

Alone in the Dark out this Thursday
22 Jun, 2008 Atari confirm early release date.
Alone in the Dark officially dated
10 Jun, 2008 Less then one month away.
Alone in the Dark Preview
10 Dec, 2006 Edward Carnby is back and this time he is alone in New York.
7 Comments
5 years ago
Damn, I was hoping this would be an 8/10 type of game... I might still give it a rental.
5 years ago
PALGN wrote
...deformed humans, unimaginatively titled Humanz. It was as if Eden Games commissioned the team behind Ubisoft's DS Imagine series to come up with what to call these creatures.
Love this bit icon_smile.gif
5 years ago
Amazing visuals though.
5 years ago
not getting this. all i hear is clunky controls and some sloppy gameplay mechanics.

and besides, what is a driving sequence doing in a horror ame. terrible decision. oh and skipping chapters option, what were they thinking.
5 years ago
I've rented this game I think it's worth 7 1/2 in my opinion. The Driving sequcenes are fine, the controls do take time to get used to and there are very, VERY few glitches.

If people are complaining about the script in the game, replay GTA IV and tell me if that has lesser swear words and better driving in that game.
5 years ago
Haha. I'm guessing you just can't get used to the more realistic driving in GTA4 buddy. The driving is excellent in it. So you think games with swear words are bad? Or maybe you just don't like GTA at all.
/offtopic
EDIT: Hang on. Who complained about the swearing exactly?
5 years ago
The driving in this game is SOOOOOO bad. It is seriously like the cars are just boxes sliding around on the ground. They just have no weight to them and the physics are all wrong.

I do have a problem however with this review in that the main character's voice acting is absolutley abysmal. The part wasn't written well to begin with but the actor just stumbles and fakes his way through it. The other characters voice acting isn't too bad though.

And in regards to whoever brought up swearing, It felt to me like they used swear words just for the sake of using swear words, it seemed forced and uncomfortable and didn't add anything to the story, it was the same as in MGS4 I felt.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  30/06/2008 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $109.95 AU
Publisher:
  Atari
Genre:
  Action Adventure
Year Made:
  2007

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