Alone in the Dark
Alone in the Dark stumbles blindly towards the light
A few bright spots can't save this survival horror sequel from a cold, dark grave.
- Concentrated moments of outlandish action, physics puzzles, homebrew weapon construction
- Broken collision detection and poor controls ruin combat, tedious driving and grinding, unaffecting story and wretched dialogue
A handful of memorable visions might linger in the mind's eye after Alone in the Dark's credits roll for the last time, but you'll still need supernatural patience to make it all the way to the feeble cliffhanger ending.
Before there was Resident Evil and Silent Hill, there was Alone in the Dark, a classic PC horror game with amazing (for the time anyway) graphics and a spooky occult-based storyline. The hero, Edward Carnby, is back for another adventure on the next-gen consoles and while his reappearance should have raised the Alone in the Dark franchise back to its hair-raising heights, he instead staggers through an inconsistent and bitterly disappointing odyssey that's hobbled by a dreadful lack of focus.
Shake, rattle and roll
Your journey through the befuddled mess that is Alone in the Dark begins with a rough awakening in a room of mysterious thugs who are clearly up to no good. They escort you up to the roof where you're meant to meet your untimely end but before you know it, a disaster breaking loose all through New York City. Living scars begin to race across floors and walls, gobbling up innocents, and spitting them out as hosts for an evil that calls you by name. As the building around you starts to disintegrate, you'll desperately cling to its side while debris rains past you, and struggle to find your footing as the very floor tilts and shifts without warning. Survive that and you're on your way to solving a bigger mystery that, surprise, you hold the key to.
It's sequences like the opening act that showcases Alone in the Dark at its best. It's has a movie-like intensity that really draws you in and the vertiginous setting instills the hope that you're in for something promising and excellent. Unfortunately, as the story involving a nightmarish Central Park secret slowly unravels, the paper-thin characterizations and remarkably idiotic dialogue begin to obscure the game's shine.
You can also blame Alone's downfall on its endless rounds of monotonous and frustrating combat that will quickly become the bane of your existence. You can bash the world's paltry few species of zombies, bats, and bugs with a variety of ad hoc melee instruments, but winding up and smacking things with the right analog stick is surprisingly unpleasant. Whether you grab a chair or a shovel, Edward often harmlessly wiggles his weapon when you tell him to brain something with it, and there are only so many times you can watch a mace pass harmlessly through someone before you send your controller sailing through the television.
Fire plays a fairly important role in the game, so you'll also spend a fair amount of time playing firefighter with extinguishers, or vanquishing corrupted flesh once and for all as an amateur arsonist. This coaxes forth some minor strategy as you lure goons near an open flame for a quick barbecue, or prepare your favorite attacks in advance, but later stages rely so heavily on continually respawning stooges that running away whenever possible becomes the best way to retain your sanity.
Spray and pray
Instead of developing a few key elements into an effective gameplay core, Alone in the Dark also spews ideas all over the place in the hopes that something will stick. This scattershot approach yields some diversity, but it also curses its petty successes with a lack of depth. Physics-based puzzles, for example, manage to be thoughtful and vaguely satisfying, but how enthusiastic can you really get about rearranging crates with a forklift? Only the final episode's trials deliver any truly puzzling moments.
You can also create homebrew weapons out of the bits and pieces you collect on your journey. Wrap a bottle of booze with double-sided tape, stuff a handkerchief in the neck, and you've got a Molotov cocktail that'll stick to anything it hits. Dip your bullets in gasoline, and they'll ignite on their way to your targets. Jacket space is limited, though, so you're often left to spend tiresome minutes juggling optional raw materials and indispensables like bandages and flashlight batteries. Constantly stopping to treat Edward's many injuries with first aid spray and gauze is far from riveting, but it beats sitting through the same unskippable cut-scene over and over again after you die.
Fright or flight
The final nail in the coffin, however, is that there isn't one genuinely scary moment to be found in the game, a rather dubious achievement for what is purported to be a horror title. The boss battles are moderately interesting and the game does have little moments like the time a cloud of bats worked together to crush me with airborne automobiles as I pelted them with air bombs. But the further I got into the game, the more it fell apart.
Alone in the Dark is a frustrating and inconsistent mess that truly disappoints. By the time I reached the seventh episode, which degenerates into a needlessly painful time-sink grind to upgrade Edward with "spectral vision" points, the few things the game had done right had been virtually drowned in a murky sludge of ill-conceived and half-baked failures.
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