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Alone in the Dark

Despite being a successor to the early 90s horror series Alone in the Dark, the new Alone in the Dark game is only partially related to those old games. It has its own merits, and its own shortcomings, but does not seem particularly related to previous games and must be considered more as a stand-alone game.

The story of the game involves a doomsday cult trying to summon an ancient evil using Edward Carnby, the private detective and protagonist from Alone in the Dark (the original), who has been brought to the present by unknown means and has amnesia. At first, the evil presence (marked by glowing cracks in walls that move and seek out prey as if alive) is limited to a single building, but it quickly spreads throughout the entirety of New York City, leaving Edward trapped in Central Park.

As far as stories go, this is a decent one for a survival horror game, and there are a lot of good scares and surprises. In the beginning, you're trapped in a building where the very walls are trying to get you, and in addition you're also dealing with zombies - people swallowed up by the cracks brought back as malicious outlets for the main demon to speak and act through. The main demon's voice is kind of bad, though - it's the same deep monster voice that has basically become a cliche in movies about demons, and it makes the glowing cracks go from "unidentified, unintelligent, but malicious entity" to "scary-voiced demon guy". In fact, as far as scares go, the main problem with Alone in the Dark is that you're so rarely alone. Besides the short-lived survivors you encounter throughout the game, you also have a sidekick, Sarah, who comes and goes throughout parts of the game. Well, "sidekick" is a bit generous, since there's not a lot of cooperative gameplay involved. But the point is that there's no feeling of isolation; it's more like a disaster movie that happens to have monsters in it.

The standard gameplay is a fairly regular survival-horror control system. The game is normally played in third-person, with somewhat awkward tank-style controls (IE you have to walk, then turn, then walk, rather then just turning while you walk). The camera in particular is hard to manage, and trying to look around while moving or anything besides walking in a straight line was pretty difficult to manage. Aiming firearms is done exclusively in first-person, but melee combat has a bit of a unique twist to it - it's done in third person like normal gameplay segments, and swinging melee weapons is done by "swinging" the right thumbstick from one direction to another. This works pretty well in most cases, and it changes depending on the weapon being used. For example, with long weapons like 2x4s or swords, you only have the option to swing horizontally or vertically. However, with heavier items like fire extinguishers, you can also use the item as a battering ram to smash down doors.

Most of the enemies in the game can only be temporarily defeated by weapons, and must be consumed by fire to be fully destroyed. To this end, innovating ways to use fire as a weapon is one of the most important parts of the game. The most basic form of this is to light a melee weapon on fire by sticking it into the flames; the flames don't last forever, but they're an instant-kill to most of the monsters that you'll face, and the enemy cowers and flees accordingly. In fact, I would say that swinging a burning 2x4 while your formerly aggressive zombie enemies cower and flee before you is probably the most satisfying part of the game. There are other methods as well that must be thought up with more open thinking - things like molotov cocktails and improvised flamethrowers made out of a can of hair spray and a match. While the "make weapons out of things to defeat your foes" aspect is pretty much limited to fire, the fact that fire is what destroys your enemies makes it at least plausible.

Your inventory in the game is represented by the holsters and pouches in your jacket. The left side of your jacket is used for small items like boxes of ammo or batteries, there's a holster for a gun and a flashlight on your chest, and the right side is used for bottles and cans of various types. The fact that there's a legitimate, actual inventory (you actually look down in first-person to access it, and it's in real-time too so you have to hurry and put stuff together instead of just calmly making a molotov cocktail during a pause) helps with the atmosphere that's being created. In a similar manner, wounds show up on your body and must be healed with either bandages or a first-aid spray. There's no health bar (as with the inventory, all HUD elements are minimal in this game), but you can get a general idea of how injured you are by the status of your wounds (which are still present after being healed, but aren't red and open). You also get a phone/PDA at a point in the game that allows you to make calls and gives you access to a GPS map of the area you are in.

In many situations it's necessary to hotwire a car or activate a fusebox (which is done in real time, often with monsters closing in on you) by picking the right wires to spark together. You're often frantically pressing wires together hoping that they're the right ones but doing it quickly enough to get away from the monsters closing in on your car. This is a pretty good part of the game in an atmospheric sense. Driving the car is another thing, though; the controls are wonky and in most cases the demands of the game as far as getting away from giant apocalyptic cracks in the road are a little bit over-the-top. I spent a good hour on what is really a five-minute segment where you're trying to get away from a giant series of cracking roads and earthquakes because the car didn't turn enough, or it turned too much, or I hit another motorist and the car got stuck, or I hit something at a bad angle. The last one in particular is annoying; at the end of the sequence in question, you're supposed to go flying out through a window in a building, but the first time I got there, I assumed that was what was supposed to happen, but I hit it at an odd angle and I didn't go through (I left a mark on the glass though). The next two times I made it there, I tried looking around for other exits but got blocked off. Only on the last time did I realize what had happened and just drive straight into the glass.

The graphics in the game are pretty good; the best graphics are the fire graphics, which flicker and dance pretty realistically, while the worst are probably the wounds that Edward receives on his body. The idea's neat, but in actuality they're just the same image copy-pasted onto different parts of his body. The "slash that ripped through cloth and pierced the skin" image looks okay when it's on his pants or shirt, but when it's on his jacket it just looks like someone slapped it on like a sticker. Also, you get the same kind of wound no matter how you got the injury. Overall, though, the graphics are decent and atmospheric.

The sound isn't bad, but the music just feels wrong. It's a nice attempt at atmospheric music, but most of the time it's not so much "scary" as it is "epic", with giant sweeping musical interludes and ominous chanting that fits more with "Carmina Burana" than a horror movie. It just feels overstated, and not particularly scary. Furthermore, it gets old pretty quickly, too.

As a whole, the worst part of Alone in the Dark is its execution. It has a lot of good ideas, and most of the elements taken by themselves are pretty sound. However, the actual execution of the ideas - the controls, the situation, the atmosphere - are all really terrible and frustrating, and the game seems more like a battle against the game itself than against any monsters or puzzles. The interactive environments seem more linear than natural; despite the fact that it's supposed to be stuff that's done in a manner that makes it seem "realistic", there's so many scripted sequences that it's hard to get into it.

As a whole, Alone in the Dark deserves a 6/10 - good ideas, but poor execution.

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