One of the best “horrible” games of all time.
Every once in a while a game comes along that is chock full of great ideas that will inspire future titles to follow in its foot steps. Alone in the Dark is certainly one of these games, as it possesses several innovations that manage to immerse the player into the shoes of protagonist Edward Carnby. The problem stems from the fact that in order to appreciate these incredibly clever design choices you will have to suffer through various bugs, glitches and genuinely poor game design to discover them. On the surface AitD contains all of the timehonored problems of classic survival horror games such as tanklike controls, poor camera and quirky dialogue, but underneath this rough exterior lies one of the most immersive experiences I have ever had. The question is will you have the patience to muscle through long enough to enjoy it.
You begin the game as gruff protagonist Edward Carnby as you awaken in a small room surrounded by men in black trenchcoats. This is where the immersion begins. As you rise from the bed you are instructed to blink your eyes. This is done with a simple click of the right analog stick. While not exactly a thoughtprovoking action, you will be surprised how engaging it feels to perform this action. It is also worth mentioning that the game never overuses this idea and when you do use it, it makes sense within the context of the action. Per your typical videogame storylines our main hero has amnesia and cannot remember how he got there, what his purpose is or even what his name is. The events that follow find our lead character traversing hotel balconies, barreling down the streets while the world implodes and finally off to Central Park where you are forced to perform one of the most grueling forms of searchandfind missions ever found in a game.
However, I am getting way ahead of myself. Alone in the Dark is a mixture of action, adventure and plenty of survival horror. You can opt to play in either first or third-person, but some actions require you to be in one or the other. As I mentioned already the game suffers from the same tank controls that plagued similar titles in the past such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Melee combat is performed entirely with flicks of the right analog stick while gunplay is performed in first-person much like any other FPS. One of the first things you will figure out while playing is that everything in the game is killed with some form of fire. Grabbing objects from the environment and igniting them in the surrounding pyre quickly becomes second nature. This is of course until you learn the intricacies of the inventory and weapon creating system, which is another one of the game’s novelties.
Unlike other games your inventory is stored entirely within your jacket. Pressing down on the dpad opens up your coat and shows you everything you have on your person. Similar to other games in the genre you only have so many pockets, so inventory management is key. You can also combine items to create new items, which lends itself to the puzzle solving aspect. For instance all enemies require fire to be exterminated and early on you obtain a firearm. Eventually you will begin collecting bottles filled with explosive goodness that, in turn, you can pour onto your bullets to create; fire bullets. This combination mechanic quickly becomes addictive as you begin slapping tap onto bottles to create sticky bombs and even in one instance I combined tape onto a bottle that had gauze in it to create a sticky Molotov cocktail. I then proceeded to attach it to an enemy as he carried it back to his home and wiped out his entirely family; very cool.
This is just one of the many combinations you can achieve with this addictive system. There is a drawback though and it does come into play more often than you would like. When you go into your inventory (whether to browse or simply create some new fire bullets) the rest of the game does not pause. So if you are confronted with a group of enemies and need a quick restock of flammable ammo you had better find a safe place to open up. To compensate for this the developers have created a quick select system that will allow you to assign different items to various buttons, but for the most part it felt cumbersome and confusing.
Combat is only one outlet in the game and for the most part it has plenty of frustrations, but the real joy of the title is the journey itself. Very rarely did I find myself plodding along the same menial task over and over. One minute I am dodging objects while swinging from the side of a hotel while the next minute I am barreling down Main Street while dodging flying cars. The sheer amount of variety is really what draws players into the experience and keeps you playing through all of the sore spots.
The game is broken down into eight chapters and each chapter has its own set of acts that can be played in any order much like a DVD movie. Pausing the game brings up a menu that has play, fast forward and rewind buttons that allow you to skip around the entire game – minus the ending of course – without ever having to play it. This method gives players a chance to skip past frustrating parts, or simply play their favorite sections over and over at will. Be warned though skipping any sequence during a chapter will nullify your Achievement for that level so use is only after completing the game if you really value your virtual points as much as I do.
Visually AitD rides the rails like a rabid rollercoaster. There are instances where the visuals are absolutely stunning. Then there are times where the game feels like it was designed on PSOne hardware. The biggest culprit is the camera. Not being able to look around like so many other games of this type leads to frustration. In fact I played the majority of the game in first-person just so I could look around. Second the environments go from being incredibly detailed to looking nearly unfinished. Combine this with bugs like getting stuck in walls, lockups and some of the ridiculous physics that occur randomly and you get the sense that this game was shipped six months too early.
On the audio side you again have a mixed bag. While the dialogue is acted out competently enough, the actual writing is laughable at times. If I have to hear Edward yell about the F’ing stones one more time I swear I will lose it. The music on the other hand is a gorgeous orchestral mix that bears similarities to the cultclassic anime Akira. Including the soundtrack with the game went from being an annoyance to a blessing. This truly is one of the best compositions I have heard in quite some time.
When you combine all of the elements together it is easy to understand why this game is such a hard sell. The controls are downright terrible in some instances. For example the driving controls are some of the touchiest mechanics you have ever seen, and later in the game you will be driving a lot. The aiming system is poor and third-person melee combat is almost a joke at times. The end of chapter seven and beginning of chapter eight are two of the most mindnumbing parts of any game ever conceived. Yet, I still found myself compelled to finish the game, and that is likely due to the fact that no other game in history has made me feel this immersed or drawn me into it’s world quite like Alone in the Dark. This is why I strongly suggest giving this game a chance; even if you only make it a Blockbuster night.