Review: Alone in the Dark (2008)

I came across an user review of this game a while ago that described it as “a polished turd”. I couldn’t agree more.

Alone in the Dark 1If you’re somewhat cool you know the original Alone in the Dark games, the first of which came out in 1992. The original Alone in the Dark was neat, because it was one of the first survival horror games (even before Silent Hill or Resident Evil) and because it had state of the art 3D graphics (<= see the screenshot on the left). It was also mostly an adventure game, meaning that while there were zombies to avoid, you were mostly trying to solve puzzles and trying to figure out what happened. Maybe it’s because I was only about ten years old when I played it, but I seem to recall that the original Alone in the Dark was occasionally scary as fuck. Remember that rasping metallic sound of the zombies’ breathing? The controls were a bit awkward, but those things were easily forgiven back in the days, especially for those new 3D games…
Did I mention that Alone in the Dark was made by the guy who also made one of my all time favorite PC games, Little Big Adventure 2 (Twinsen’s Odyssey in the US)?

So when I heard there was a new AitD game coming and that it was going to be a big budget story-driven game, I was kind of excited. Even if it turned out to be only as good as AitD, the New Nightmare from 2001, I figured it’d been a long time since I played a horror game and that I was going to have fun nonetheless. Boy was I wrong.

Gameplay: So I said the original AitD had pretty lousy controls but that this was understandable given the revolutionary nature of the concept. The controls for this new AitD, however, are quite possibly worse than those of the original. And now, there’s absolutely no excuse. When you die in AitD, 99 chances out of 100 it’s because of the controls. I can’t even count all the times I accidentally backed into a fire, got beaten to a pulp by a zombie because my character wouldn’t turn around or got thrown out of my car because getting to the contact wires was so damn difficult.

And as if this wasn’t enough, it seems like the game designers deliberately created situations where you’d be punished for not mastering their absurd control scheme. I once stepped onto a bunch of planks, and simply died for no apparent reason. Or there’s this level with some sort of black ooze that shies away from light, so you need to drive it away with your flashlight? Nearly impossible to get past. No matter where you shine your flashlight, the ooze always seems to catch up with you. And when it does, you die and you have to start over. But first you need to watch that cutscene again to make sure you really got it. And no, you can’t skip it.

Then there’s this other scene where you have to drag a guard’s corpse to a fingerprint lock. The game, in elaborate dialogue and dramatic camera placement, tells you “HEY YOU NEED A VALID FINGERPRINT TO OPEN THAT DOOR. OH LOOK THERE’S A DEAD GUARD. MAYBE HE DOESN’T NEED HIS HANDS ANYMORE!” When you move over to said guard, thinking you’re clever for figuring this one out, it turns out that there’s no way to interact with the body. It was covered with some bricks so I thought maybe I need to blast them off, but no, the stones just stay there. Chopping off his hand also didn’t work. I still haven’t figured out if this was a bug or not. In any case, if it’s a bug, it’s a game-breaking one, if it’s not, well, this is a perfect example of ridiculously bad game design.

Alone in the Dark 5Luckily, there’s a fast-forward function. That’s right, if a scene gets too frustrating, you can just forward to the next. For any other game I’d have said this is a totally lame concept, only if it wasn’t for this system I’d never have finished AitD in a million years. I had to use it three or four times, once for the ooze, once for the guard and the other times I can’t remember. But I can assure you, each and every time, the reason I skipped was not because I suck or because I’m lazy, but because I was so frustrated I was on the verge of breaking things. Oh, towards the end you can’t even fast forward anymore. You need to roam around a hellish version of Central Park for a few hours destroying evil “roots” before the last scenes get unlocked. Problem is, these roots can only be destroyed with FIRE (what else?) and I often found myself without any explosives or flammable materials, meaning I had to drive around the map for half and hour to find something I could burn the roots with. Frrrrrustrating.

You know all the nice puzzle solving you could do in the original AitD? Well, not much of that left here. Except maybe at the very end. You spend most of your time setting things on fire or blowing things up. Luckily, there’s few racing scenes. Yay! And a few Lara Croft-y rope swinging scenes. Yay! And a few bosses to beat. Yay! None of those game modes are actually as enjoyable or satisfying as they should be, so ultimately it feels like a hopelessly desperate and unsuccessful attempt to make people love at least parts of the game.

This is the first time I give anything a zero, but I think AitD’s gameplay deserves it:
0 0/5

Graphics: I guess I can’t complain too much here. AitD may not be the best looking game out there, but it’s pretty decent. The only thing that bothered me was that for non-epic graphics, the game felt unacceptable sluggish. I mean look at Call of Duty 4. Looks great but still plays very smoothly. Even Crysis plays better. Even Neverwinter Nights 2 does D: So 3.5/5 for graphics, minus 1.5 points for poor performance:
2 2/5

Audio: Ah, finally something I can genuinely be enthusiastic about. The soundtrack to this game is great. It’s one of those epic choir/classical music things. Deliciously dramatic at times, occasionally simply beautiful. It may be a bit too repetitive, but overall it’s still the best thing about this game.
4 4/5

Story: Ah well. I didn’t catch any references to the Cthulhu Mythos, which is a bit disappointing considering the original game had plenty of those. Other than that, it’s your standard end-of-the-world scenario. Nothing special. It does have two different endings, both of which feel rushed and lame. The characters are mostly very flat, meaning I couldn’t care less if they lived or died. Especially Edward fucking Carnby.

Which reminds me. Edward Carnby fucking swears a lot. And the fucking worst thing about this fucking swearing is that he fucking does it at fucking inappropriate times. I have nothing against swearing in games, as long as it makes sense. But here you really get the feeling that the writers went “we need to show our players Edward is angry, let’s add a few fucks!”

This was the kind of story you’d expect from a Tomb Raider game. In Tomb Raider, however, these stories work because you have a lot of fun in the meantime (I’m not talking about Angel of Darkness here. Legends would be a better example). For AitD, though, it doesn’t work at all. After those countless hours of frustration, this is all I get?

1.5 1.5/5

Mathematically speaking, this brings the total score to 3.75/10. But guess what, I also had to activate the game online before I got to play it. I’ll tolerate this for good games like Bioshock or Mass Effect, but for epic failures like AitD…
So I most definitely won’t be rounding this one up.

Overall Score:
1.5 3/10

I’m selling my copy on eBay if you’re interested 😀

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 at 12:14 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • The Blog of Discoverers » Blog Archive » Academic Year Roundup, part V: Games says:

    […] in the Dark. I think I made my point about this one in the review I wrote after playing it. Don’t buy it, don’t rent it, don’t even download […]

  • rya says:

    hey a reply to the guy who said about having to fast forward past the guard hand fingerprint part… your a dick you use the sword thats next to the fingerprint scanner, you shoot it off the wall then chop his hand off dick

  • Coren says:

    Gee, thanks for pointing that out, jerk.
    The fact that this wasn’t a bug doesn’t change the fact that AitD is seriously lacking in the gameplay department, though.

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