When Alone in the Dark arrived on Xbox 360 back in June I was one of the few supporters of this inherently flawed game. Sure there were a lot of things holding it back, but there was so much potential behind the defects that I couldn’t help but appreciate what the developers were trying to do. Second chances are certainly not common and instead of simply porting the game over to Sony’s console the team at Eden decided to take fans’ complaints into consideration and completely overhaul the experience for PS3 owners. What we get is Alone in the Dark: Inferno, a game that has all of clever ideas and innovations from the original with some added additions and gameplay tweaks that make the experience all that much better.
The plot remains true to the original game with only one added section in chapter six that adds a new boss encounter. You still assume the role of Edward Carnby, a foul-mouthed protagonist that has a sudden burst of amnesia and over the course of the night discovers he is the key to saving the world. Sure it is cookie cutter and the dialogue is hard to take seriously at times (hearing about the stones is just as annoying) but it does provide an entertaining ride similar to a Summer popcorn movie. Each chapter is broken down into smaller portions and presented in a DVD menu fashion that allows players to skip to their favorite parts at will. You can also move past frustrating parts with this scheme without missing too much of the action. When you save and come back to your game you are presented with a ‘previously on’ segment that recaps all of the events up to that point, which is really a nice touch and adds to the overall movie feel of the game.
Alone in the Dark was designed as a survival-horror game that focused more on action and things remain the same here. What have changed are the controls and issues that plagued the 360 version starting with the awful camera system. The 360 incarnation used an over-the-should view with tank controls that felt very similar to early Resident Evil games. The right analog stick would also not allow you to control the camera freely so there were numerous times where trying to see what to do next was a chore in and of itself. With the PS3 version all of this has been remedied with a slightly pulled back perspective and free-moving, user-controlled camera that gives you full 360 degree movement around the environment. This makes navigating confusing sections much more enjoyable as you spend less time wrestling with the controls.
The combat in the game all revolves around one element: fire. Everything in the game must be disposed of using fire whether you create fire bullets (by combining flammable liquid with regular ammo) or you simply toss your foes into the flames. Finding items around the environment to burn enemies is fun at first, but after a while it becomes tedious having to mix special ammo after each box is exhausted. There are some creative ways to dispose of enemies, but it really all boils down to this element to rid Central Park of these otherworldly nasties.
One of the cooler innovations found in the original game was the use of the inventory system. Edward carried everything in his jacket, and in traditional survival-horror fashion you could only carry so many items at once. The problem is that while immersive, the game never paused the action while you were sifting through your available items. This made the creation aspect of the game as well as making more fire bullets nigh impossible in the heat of battle. The aspect of combining items such as tape, flammable liquids and flares to create different items was an ingenious idea, but one that was hindered by the clunky inventory system. The PS3 version remedies this by pausing the action while sifting through your jacket as well as giving you the options to quickly move through the items with the d-pad in conjunction with the analog sticks.
In fact all of the controls have been tuned for more precision and this is most evident in the driving portions of the game. There is a scene early on in the game where you are driving through downtown while the world implodes that some players had serious issues with in the first game. This was due to the shoddy handling of the cars as well as a completely unforgiving checkpoint system. With the PS3 version you now have ample checkpoints as well as some aid from your passengers telling you when and where to go. In addition the entire game is also now more helpful with a newly introduced tip system that helps players progress a bit easier. The original game really left you stranded in several locations, which can be frustrating, but now subtle hints and reminders will give you a clue as you move your way through the game.
One of the most agitating portions of the original was the Central Park segment that required you to burn roots in order to gain Spectral Vision. Not only does the game now inform you of this option very early on (so you could get a head start), but now it also requires less Spectral Vision to progress past this tedious section of the game. For anyone who played the 360 version you can attest to just how frustrating it was burning down these roots so now that you have the option to spread it out and not have as many to burn through this part of the game becomes less annoying.
Visually the game has also received some minor touches that really accent the PS3’s capabilities. There is some new texture work here and the loading times are a bit quicker, more than likely due to the install. Character models also seem to have received some attention as they are now a bit more realistic and the environments are overall more lush thanks to the added touches. The most impressive item though is the fire, which looks and spreads even more realistically than it did in the previous outings. The voice work is passable, albeit annoying at times, but the soundtrack is absolutely stellar and really draws you into the atmosphere of the game. Overall presentation was never Alone in the Dark’s weak spot and this version is no different.
Alone in the Dark: Inferno is much closer to the developer’s original interpretation than the original game allowed. Everything that was a hindrance about the original has been tweaked and almost every annoying aspect burned away. If you have yet to experience this incredibly engaging game there has never been a better time than now. This is easily the definitive version and with all of the fixes this is one experience every gamer should definitely try. There is a rumor that the 360 version will be patched but I wouldn’t hold my breath. If you own a PS3 and have not been scared off by early reviews of the original you owe it to yourself to check out this incredibly innovative take on the genre.