Finally, I made it out of the underground parking garage.
December 18, 2008
Release Date: November 2008
Finally, I made it out of the underground parking garage. Finally! If you’re one of those who played the X-box 360 version of Alone in the Dark, then you know of what I speak and can sympathize with my frustration. Suffice it to say though that the PS3 version of the game has corrected what had been a frustrating and cumbersome control system.
There are two surefire ways in this industry to determine if a game is in developmental hell. First, it misses the original release date given at the E3 and this game missed the date by two years. Second, if the game is released somewhere along the time that the E3 is actually happening. This is an old trick by publishers eager to dump off bad games during a time when they will receive minimal coverage (and in the process maybe increase their sales as there will be less negative coverage) as all attention will be focused on the new games paraded shamelessly at the E3. The Xbox 360 Alone in the Dark more than met both of these criteria.
Atari also seems to want to distance themselves from the 360 fiasco as much as possible, thus the subtle, but also very telling, name change from Alone in the Darkto Alone in the Dark: Inferno. Also, for the PS3 version, the control system has been made much more user-friendly and the storyline has been tightened as some needless and overly complicated scenes have been eliminated.
I had played most of the 360 incarnation of Alone in the Dark, but daren’t write a review for various reasons. First, there is an option in-game to fast forward to the next scene, as if you are watching a DVD, if you are stuck and I had used that option almost exclusively thanks to the poor controls, so rather than actually playing the game, I had spent most of my time watching it unfold. Secondly, the Alone in the Dark series is one of my most favorite franchises of all-time and it just wasn’t in my heart to blast the game, even though it richly deserved the criticism.
The original Alone in the Dark from way back when (1992) is widely considered to be the father of both survival horror and the action/adventure genre. It was also the start, for me, of some lifelong professional friendships with talented artists like designer Frederick Raynal (Relentless: Twinsen’s Adventure, Fade to Black, Twinsen’s Odyssey) and writer Hubert Chardot (Alone in the Dark 2 & 3, Prisoner of Ice,Shadow of the Comet).
Inspired by the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, the original Alone in the Dark featured Edward Carnby, a private detective hired to investigate the suspicious suicide of Jeremy Hartwood in his Louisiana mansion. Set in the 1920’s, it combined 3D characters with hand-drawn backgrounds, an innovative procedure for the time.
After two sequels the series remain dormant for a few years until resurrected by Infogrames in 2001 with the immensely underrated Alone in the Dark 4: The New Nightmare and then in 2005 for unknown reasons was handed over to the infamous movie director Uwe Boll who, along with the abysmal Tara Reid, did their best (or worst) to destroy everything good about the series (may your eyes explode in their sockets if you watch it).
Now, sixteen years later, the series has returned to its roots with a storyline that could have been penned by Lovecraft – giant fissures that seem to emanate from the heart of Central Park are tearing apart the infrastructure of Manhattan - and again starring the ageless Edward Carnby, whose appearance almost seventy years after his last case is an integral part of the mystery..
The game incorporates almost every imaginable scenario. You’ll be driving cars, scaling crumbling buildings, utilizing the environment to solve puzzles, leaping from ledges, performing C.P.R., combining inventory items to create weapons and occasionally even firing your gun, though not as much as you would imagine.
For those who are adverse to games that subsist on gunplay, Alone in the Dark: Inferno does not have the usual compliment of ridiculous weapons unfortunately common in too many action/adventure games. Instead, your ‘arsenal’ consists of glow sticks or flicking your Bic to turn a can of mosquito repellent into a blowtorch. Yes, you have a handgun and later a magnum, but it was rare that I used either to actually kill anything until about halfway though the adventure when I discovered that fire bullets – created by pouring flammable oil over your bullet shells – could stop some of the monsters rising from the fissures. For the most part though, the gun was used to create Molotov cocktail explosions or to ‘encourage’ automobile gas tanks or fire extinguishers to explode. Also - and for me this is the most important feature - once you open your jacket to access your inventory, you have ample time to choose your course of attack without fear of backing out of the inventory screen only to be surrounded by enemies. For a slow, methodical player like myself this is usually the deciding factor as to whether I continue playing or throw up my hands in desperation
Of equal importance is learning how to use your flashlight to ward off spreading darkness, or igniting wooden chairs to fend off and turn creatures into crispy critters. The learning curve is very forgiving and there were times when I would discover a new course of attack that probably could have been used many scenes previously to make progress easier, but I always seemed to stumble upon these new approaches just at the most opportune time.
There are also some wonderful puzzles incorporated into the game and one area in particular – the discovery of a secret room in the Central Park museum – was for me one of the highlights as it just felt like it was something that would have been done by the developers of the original game back in 1992 if they had had today’s development tools.
The graphics - keeping in mind that I played on a 32” HDTV - are often stunning and there are numerous images – such as the Vampirz’ bats nest or the unbelievably photorealistic view of New York City from atop a crumbling building – that make a lasting impression. Not all is perfect though as something as simplistic as Carnby’s bobbing hair has a strange, claymation dreadlocks look that would be better suited to Gumby. In fact, considering how amazing some of the scenes of the city are, close-ups of many of the main human characters are a major let-down. Sarah, the female lead character, is very unappealing and Carnby looks as though he is a mannequin come to life.
Also problematic is voice-acting that is a tad bit melodramatic topped off by an Edward Carnby who sounds like a constipated Clint Eastwood in search of some Ex-Lax, do…you…know…what…I…mean? Thankfully, Edward is a man of few words. The other main characters fare a little better, but that’s sort of like being the winning contestant in a prettiest pit bull with lipstick competition.
There are eight episodes altogether and each is broken into between three and five segments. Whenever you return to the game, you are greeted by an announcer’s deep voice, ‘Last time on Alone in the Dark,’ followed by a visual recap all of which is very evocative of episodic television shows such as Lost. This helps to not only heighten the suspense, but also the immediacy of the situation. As also does a soundtrack that is perfectly in tune with pushing the action forward and packing just the right punch when needed.
So if you’re an adrenaline junky, then hold on for dear life because if guiding a screeching taxi cab through the streets of New York City as busses are twirling overhead, while burst underground pipes shoot geysers of water skyward and the erupting roads chuck cement slabs towards your windshield doesn’t have your heart pounding through your chest, then you’re in serious need of a defibulator my friend.
If you are an adventure gamer who isn’t afraid to occasionally dip your toes in the churning waters of action/adventures, then Alone in the Dark: Inferno is a must play, much more so than games like BioShock or Half Life that are primarily first-person-shooters. But if you are an adventure gamer who is on the outside looking in when it comes to this genre, then let the PS3 Alone in the Dark: Inferno suck your point-and-clicking soul over to the dark side.
Final Grade: B+