Alone in the Dark Review
developer: Eden Games
genre: Action Adventure
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Jun 24, 08
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As most veteran gamers should know, there are a few things one needs before sitting down to properly play any horror game. To begin with, you are advised to dim all the lights (better yet, turn them off completely) and see to it that nobody bothers you while you're playing. The sound need to be turned up somewhat if you're not using headphones and... well, that about covers it. Oh and you need to be playing late at night, preferably all "alone in the dark." Okay, now that we're all set, we can start our journey through Eden Games' survival horror title, Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360).
The story features a paranormal investigator named Edward Carnby, who ventures forth to unravel a grave mystery surrounding New York's iconic Central Park. In a dramatic turn of events massive earthquake ensues, completely wrecking half of the city and Central Park along with it. Various monstrosities started appearing out of nowhere too. While exploring the dangerous areas within the park, Edward meets several characters; some friendly, some hostile. At the same time, he desperately tries to find out more about himself (yes, it's the old amnesia routine). The story isn't Alone in the Dark's strong point, though it does manage to hold your attention until you've completed all eight episodes, which may take you around 10-15 hours.
The game hurls you into the thick of action right away. Players go through a series of dynamic events that feel more like a climactic ending, rather than a slow-paced survival horror game. Not that there's anything wrong with car chases and an altogether exciting introduction. But they might've gone a bit over-the-top with things, giving us a long-drawn-out action sequence instead of the old routine of advancing slowly through eerie corridors and alleyways. Well, yes, that's what we were expecting, no matter how corny it seems. So, Alone in the Dark starts out looking like just another average action game. Also, the game would be much better without the driving sequence at the beginning, which in itself is riddled with technical problems. The point is to drive through the streets of NYC at break-neck speed, while avoiding the destruction and devastation around you (crumbling buildings, collapsing bridges, exploding buses... you name it). This would've worked fine if it weren't for the shoddy vehicle physics and god-awful car handling. Believe me, a mere crack on the road may cause your car to stop completely.
Frankly, my biggest problem was that I was playing the game for about half an hour and didn't get scared once. Not once. Adding to my initial disappointment was the awkward third-person camera (while on foot), which doesn't exactly give you the best angle to observe the action on screen. The first person camera felt like a more sensible choice simply because it allows you to survey the area with ease. Now, the fixed Resident Evil style camera is okay and all - it contributes to the direction and certain scenes look a lot more convincing when viewed from a particular angle. However, when using the first-person view, the game automatically switches to a different (third-person) angle when you reach a particular area. This is extremely annoying and confusing, most notably in mid-battle.
At this point, I wasn't very impressed with the game. Luckily, things changed dramatically when I completed the first two Episodes. Upon my arrival to Central Park I got into the spirit of the game and was introduced to the game's versatile combat system. More importantly, the game became scarier. Feeling rather uneasy about the horrors that await in the darkness, I started strolling freely through the murky surroundings of Central Park. The creepy fog, chilling soundtrack and occasional screams echoing through the night, was enough to send shivers down my spine. At last; a true horror ambiance. Not a single sole in sight. I sat behind the wheel of an abandoned yellow cab, which was parked beside an old tree. I slowly started the engine... Suddenly, a carcass smashed onto the cab's windshield and I literarily let out scream and stepped quickly on the gas peddle. The game was becoming progressively enjoyable as I went through each Episode. Speaking of which, the episodic DVD-type of approach is a cool ingredient, giving you a chance to skip an occasional segment that's too difficult, in order to get to the good stuff. Also, every episode concludes with a cliffhanger ending and a teaser for next one pops up later on. Nice.
The intricate combat system allows you to combine a wide variety of items, thus coming up with an amazing number of ways to take out your enemies. Yes, the much-talked about fire physics are nothing short of brilliant and come as a very unique gameplay element. Each time you encounter enemies, fire is your best ally (using fire is the only way to get rid of most of your foes). You can grab anything flammable (chairs, tables, etc.), hold them in front of a fire and then use the lit object to send monsters into oblivion. Almost any melee weapon you can think of was thrown in, from shovels, sticks, axes, baseball bats and water pipes, to stuff like huge hammers, wooden planks, etc.
Enemy AI is persistent as hell. Take extra care when confronting multiple foes at once and don't think you'll be any safer while driving, say, a pick-up - creatures latch on to the hood (or roof) of the vehicle and will be very hard to shake off. Most of the time, it's best to confront them on-foot, provided you have enough items to defend yourself with.
To top it all off, there's a decent choice of challenging puzzles to solve during the game. Mind you, they don't require any brainstorming. Still, it makes a nice change from the action and pilling up enemy corpses. In short, every step of the way (after the first two episodes, that is), Alone in the Dark treated us to the kind of atmosphere we've come to expect from a decent horror game.
Compelling combat system, gets progressively scarier, good soundtrack, perfect horror-like ambiance, challenging AI, the Episode form works, plenty of areas to explore;
It takes a while to get to the good part, camera issues, badly optimized vehicle physics, somewhat disappointing monster designs, terrible voice acting.