|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Eden Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atari||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 24, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Adam Brown
May 22, 2008 - Everyone has heard of Silent Hill, and Resident Evil is very nearly a household name at this point. If you dig a little deeper and look at the origins of the survival horror genre of video games, you will notice that both of these series have basically just built upon what the original Alone in the Dark had pioneered.
Before Silent Hill and Resident Evil were even glimmers in their respective developers' eyes, Alone in the Dark was giving PC gamers 3D characters, backgrounds, and combat mixed with just the right amount of random puzzle solving. Having been noticeably absent from the spotlight for a few years now, it is easy to see how many gamers may not remember the forefather of modern survival horror games. I'm happy to say that Alone in the Dark (AITD) is back and will definitely leave an impression that will not soon be forgotten.
AITD will once again have you playing the role of Edward Carnby, who many fans will remember from the first title in the series. Carnby has somehow ended up in modern day Central Park without aging a day and with absolutely no recollection as to who he is. The game begins in first-person with Carnby lying on a bed, vision blurred beyond recognition, with several voices discussing story elements that will not make sense until later in the game. As you become more coherent, you can click the right stick to make Carnby blink, temporarily clearing your vision. While this is seemingly a minor thing, it draws you immediately into the experience and sets the tone for what Alone in the Dark is really trying to accomplish. That is, to tell an intriguing and cinematic story by totally immersing the player in the game world.
As much as Bioshock was universally deemed a thinking man's shooter, AITD is a thinking man's survival horror game. Many games in this genre have relied heavily on collecting and hoarding a wide variety of weapons and ammunition that were key to blasting your way to survival. AITD takes a different approach, making firearms and ammunition almost a complete afterthought. Instead, players will need to learn how best to mix and match items from their inventory to gain the upper hand or just use anything that isn't bolted down as an instrument to deliver pain.
While checking desks and cabinets, you are bound to stumble upon a variety of everyday objects that you can collect. Once found, these items, like twenty dollar replica watches from a street vendor, will be stored under Carnby's coat. You can access your inventory at any point and begin to mix items into whatever you may need at the time. If you have a bottle of fuel, a rag, and a lighter, you can rig a makeshift moltov cocktail or even just throw the bottle and shoot it with your gun to create a mobile fire bomb. Non-lethal tricks will also be possible such as strapping tape to a flare and throwing it onto an enemy to use it as a distraction. There are honestly too many options to list here, but rest assured, if you can think it you can most likely do it, and creativity is key.
If you are running short on supplies or just want some up close and personal combat, there are a plethora of tools to get the job done. In the short time I played the game I found cleavers, swords, paintings, chairs, ashtrays, lamps, and fire extinguishers that could all be used to incapacitate foes. However instead of just pressing a button to attack, players are given a full range of movement with these objects. Once in hand, objects can be swung or held in place using the right analog stick. This worked fairly well during combat but really shined as a means for puzzle solving. Is a live electrical wire getting in your way? Simply pick up a stick and safely maneuver it away from your destination. Can't see where you are going? Just grab a chair, hold it over some fire for a while, and you will have an instant makeshift torch.
The ever-present chair torches show off another of this game's interesting new features. Real World Rules may sound like a marketing gimmick, but they honestly add much to AITD's immersive experience. Every object in the game will catch fire realistically and burn away in real time. Chairs will catch fire easily, and as the flames spread, they will eventually be reduced to nothing but embers and ash. While in a building early in the game, flaming beams will fall onto hardwood flooring, basically setting a timer as you try to outrun the advancing inferno as it creeps slowly towards you. Spreading fires and chair torches will also provide realistic lighting as well as your only means of truly vanquishing your foes. As described by the developers, fire really is your greatest ally and enemy at the same time.
AITD also sets itself apart from its peers in the way that the story is delivered. The game follows a television series approach with its levels, spanning several chapters made up of smaller, somewhat contained segments. Every chapter in the game will end on a cliffhanger and begin with a brief "previously on AITD" recap to bring you up to speed. All the game's chapters can be played through in order or skipped entirely. Essentially fast forwarding through chapters and segments will have you missing chunks of the game's storyline, but may be an excellent alternative to putting the controller down for some. Instead of getting frustrated by failing to complete the same objective multiple times, just skip ahead to the next, and perhaps try it again later. Players will not have to complete every objective to see the climax of AITD but the ending will most likely be better, or at least more meaningful, if you do.
The game also looks pretty stellar, with its characters showing an excellent amount of detail. From intricate details like facial pores to visible injuries and scars, Carnby and company show no signs of being mistaken for plastic dolls. A wide variety of animations are also included to keep characters' movements from feeling stale. The water, fire, and lighting effects aren't too shabby to look at either. I could easily watch AITD's objects being progressively consumed by fire for more than ten minutes at a time and still be entertained by the experience. You really need to see this game in motion to appreciate just how pleasing the visuals can be.
My only real concern with the game was how the camera would be handled since the right stick is preoccupied with maneuvering objects. Fortunately, although you can't control the camera, it does a fantastic job of giving you an appropriate and visually appealing view at all times. While shimmying on a building's ledge early in the game, the camera will be placed above you, looking down towards the street as a car explodes and launches towards you. In that same segment the camera will then pan below you to show random chunks of the building crashing down upon you, trying to end your adventure prematurely. Even while indoors the camera does a decent job of moving to a cinematic and functional vantage point that actually helps to drive the gameplay by drawing attention to specific points of interest.
Whether you are a newcomer to the series or have been there since the beginning, AITD shouldn't disappoint. With its episodic and cinematic approach, AITD's story will pull you in and keep you playing until the credits roll. Although it may have taken a lengthy vacation from popularity, AITD as a series is back and better than ever. Look for this game to put the franchise back on the map in a big way when it is released for everything but the PS3 in late June. Sony fans will have to wait until sometime during the fall to get lonely and dark, but the wait should still be well worth it.
CCC Game Journalist