Alone in the Dark Review
Posted by Anthony Dickens
Spooky goings on in Central Park, would you like to know the truth behind the light?
Atari has taken it upon itself to resurrect Alone in the Dark, the quintessential survival horror game. It's been over 7 years since the last game in the series, not that it matters as this latest incarnation writes an entirely new contemporary story.
The game's focus is based on a strange set of supernatural and bizarre occurrences that are reported from within modern day Central Park, Manhattan, New York. After awakening with no apparent memory, beaten and bruised, its up to you, Edward Carnby, to shake off your violent captors and start investigating the mystery of the park.
Atari have boasted the game's innovative "episodic" structure, lightening it to recent drama TV shows such as LOST and 24. The game could be described as an interactive sci-fi TV show which has split into 10 separate episodes, containing between 3 and 5 chapters each.
The idea behind this structure is to allow the gamer to "pick up and play", splitting the game into several "bite sized chucks". The developers have even included a "Previously on..." introduction video for each episode, designed to instantly remind you where you last were.
Alone in the Dark has clearly had alot of backing from Atari, it's been released with a fairly heavy marketing campaign and has 3 distinct versions, one for the PS2, one for PS3 and Xbox 360 (which has clearly had a visual boost) and the Wii version (developed by Hydravision) which has had far more emphasis on the unique Wiimote controls.
Because of this disjointed development cycle the episode content of the different versions does differ, we assume this has been based on what works well on the Wiimote. First impressions would suggest that because of this process the Wii version of the game is actually shorter and somewhat simpler.
The game supports both third person perspective and first person perspective, choosing between the two is mostly upto the player apart from certain areas of the game where you are forced to use one or the other.
Alone in the Dark is a hard game to describe, it is somewhat like a "dumbed down" version of Resident Evil where you have some clunky basic movement control but after that it's simply a series of "action" buttons.
For example, walk up to a rope, press to grab it, swing left, press to let go, only the actions important to your progress are accessible (button icons appear on-screen) so progress is relatively straight forward. Because of this simplistic gameplay with a single set path it tends to make the scenes quite static.
In addition to the simple button controls are the more "interactive" elements and Wiimote gestures which have been heavily focused on in the marketing materials.
Interactive elements, such as hot-wiring a car and driving it, aren't quite as fancy as they might sound. Hot-wiring is achieved by twisting the controllers to rotate your wires and driving your car is simply holding your Wiimote + Nunchuk in a steering wheel position, both are executed adequately but nothing outstandingly natural.
The gestures are more interesting, for example to access your inventory menu you are required to simulate the action of opening a book using both hands, designed to feel like you are opening your jacket. Whilst these kind of gestures are a nice idea, sadly it can take a number of attempts to actually pull it off which can be deeply frustrating.
As you progress through the game the story develops at a relatively slow pace as you meet new tag-a-long characters that help you in your quest to remember who the hell you are and work out what the hell is going on.
Each episode chapter has a save point at the start therefore as soon as you make a mistake and die you'll have to start it all over again. This stop-start gameplay is by far the most frustrating part of Alone in the Dark, every time you make a step forward in the game you'll probably die and go back to square one. This causes you to continually repeat your previous actions maybe only getting one step further each time. This repetition seems to provide the bulk of the "time" taken to complete the game.
Atari seem to have overlooked general presentation with this game that, in fairness, does feature some half decent in-game graphics that suffer heavily from very poor loading screens, illogical menus and god awful quality FMV cut-scenes that don't even seem have the correct contrast levels. The developers would of been better off recording the cut scenes straight from the Xbox 360 engine.
Much like Red Steel from Ubisoft, Alone in the Dark promised alot in terms of graphics, controls, gameplay and story. Because of its impressive promotion it only makes the final product look even worse than it really is. The game concept is solid, the story concept is solid even the controls concept is solid, it's just a real shame that Alone in the Dark falls far short of what it could and should of been.
Alone in the Dark is an interactive sci-fi drama game that at times feels remarkably similar to Cloverfield. Whilst every single aspect of the game's concept is solid it sadly suffers from poor execution and could have clearly been done better. Don't believe the hype, Alone in the Dark isn't the game it should of been.