Alone in the Dark (X360) Review

360_alone_in_the_dark_cover

The Short

Pros

– Has the best, most realistic fire effects I have ever seen in a game

– Soundtrack is pretty good

– Graphics look decent

– Filled with gobs of great original ideas

Cons

– Most of those original ideas are executed on a range from “poor” to “abominable”

– Controls are clunky, muddled, and a mess

– Tries to combine genres (open world, driving, horror, third-person combat) with horrid results

– Has almost no ties whatsoever with the previous Alone in the Dark games

– Speaking of which, since you spend most of this game a. In a lighted area and b. With some girl, you are neither “Alone” nor “in the Dark” for 90% of this game

– Gratuitous swearing doesn’t make your game “edgy” or “mature,” it makes it just gratuitous

– Final “fetch quest” that then becomes a longer final “fetch quest” might be the worst ending sequence in the history of modern games

The fire in this game is literally the best part about it

The Long

This may sound like I’m a horrible judge of character, but I was really looking forward to Alone in the Dark. The developmental stuff they showed portrayed it as a better Resident Evil 4 with an insane number of gameplay innovations. It had some great music, the graphics looked nice, and all their innovations were ones I thought would be cool. It actually reminded me a lot of how I felt about Dead Space, where they touted a bunch of new, crazy features (like the integrated hud in Dead Space) and I got super pumped and actually watched developer diaries which I never do because that crap’s boring.

Well, Dead Space ended up awesome, and Alone in the Dark ended up garbage. I guess it’s the universal law of balance: one had to suck for the other to be good.

The first sign that this game was going to be crap was it’s obvious attempt to make it “hardcore” and “edgy” by adding a bunch of pointless f-bombs. Again, I’m fine with swearing in my media if it serves a point, or at least fits a character (aka Kaine from Nier). Alone in the Dark is clearly just doing it to prove that “This ain’t your grandma’s Alone in the Dark, with its Lovecraftian horrors and actual scares.” Combined with a butt-stupid plot about demons and a prophecy and the end of the world (yawn), a horrid script and bad voice acting, and hey…recipe to suck.

The inventory was one of those cool things I was looking forward too. Sigh…

The second big tipoff was the fact that it controls horribly. Now, Resident Evil 4‘s Leon isn’t exactly super nimble (at least not in cutscenes), but you could tell his design was deliberate and the game was created around the limitations the game presented. Alone in the Dark just controls bad. The camera is especially awful, with a weird shift between first and third person that I swear makes no sense, bad aiming, and just…it’s bad, ok?

And then you have the inventory system, which really makes me sad this failed. Basically they wanted to pull a Dead Space and have most of the game actually integrated without need of a ton of hud. So when you go to your items, Edward (your PC) pops open his coat like a flasher and you get to look down at what you are carrying. You can then mix these items (in a sort of makeshift crafting system) and experiment to improve your bullets, make molotovs, and more. In theory, this is a really sweet idea. It’s often an unexplained mystery as to how video game characters hold all that garbage they pick up, and this was a cool feature. Unfortunately, there are two problems. 1. The game doesn’t pause when you do this, meaning you are looking down your shirt and then all the zombies can bite your face off and 2. “Realistic” inventory system means you can’t hold enough to sufficiently fight back. I could see this working if they ramped up the “survival” in the “survival horror” aspect of the game, cutting back the enemies (and making the fights more dangerous) and forcing you to rely on using very little to go a long way, but they don’t. It just sucks, which really makes me sad.

Alan Wake also had DVD menus. Except that game was a lot better than this one.

Another cool idea they had was with injuries. Similar to the “coat inventory,” they wanted the way the game showed you that you were hurt to be as realistic as possible, so you actually see cuts forming on your character’s body and then have to manually apply bandages, sprays, etc. to them. Far Cry 2 sort of did something like this, and I wish more games did, but in this game the fact that 1. You don’t have enough inventory space and 2. The game doesn’t pause when you heal rears its ugly head again. As a bonus, the wounds look more like textures pasted on, like temporary tattoos or iron-on stickers, so it isn’t believable.

Something that does work as advertised is fire. For a game about being in the dark, there is a lot of fire in this game, and the only way to kill zombies is to blast them in their “fissures” (aka “weak spots”) with a fire-based weapon. You can also just burn crap down, which is more fun than the actual game. The fire crawls and licks up walls, spreading and leaving scorched, burned wood behind in a realistic manner. It’s really good looking and reacts like real fire does (instead of just sort of sitting there until triggered by a planned event, like most fire in games). It’s just too bad they don’t really do anything with this fire other than make it look pretty. Again, a real “survival” horror game where you had to escape from a real-time burning building would be awesome, but even the one time this happens in the game seems overscripted and overplanned. Boo.

The graphics aren’t bad, but forcing you to switch from third person to first to shoot is a horrible design choice.

These little shines of good ideas (which are squashed by bad execution) are then completely destroyed by the game it’s put in. Mandatory driving sections look cool, but after doing the first one something like 8-9 times on hard, dying over and over because the controls are awful and one mess up kills you, I was ready to throw my controller out the window. Requiring you to go from third person to first person for aim is also an awful, cumbersome system. The fact you have to use fire to kill your enemies is neat, until you have to go through the stupid inventory system in order to make “fire bullets” to finish them off.

Tacked on the worst ending sequence in any game ever and a horrid ending to the story, and you have an overal abysmal experience. The ending sequence is especially awful: the game forces you to go back all over the park you’ve been journeying to burn a bunch of evil tree things, then after you finish it’s like “Good job! Here’s like fifteen more!” You know what? Screw you game. 

Yep, your game sucks. Don’t look so surprised.

Alone in the Dark had potential, but it falters on every step. Even its good ideas are ruined by total design incompetence, putting this game squarely in the “garbage” category. I can’t suggest a purchase at any price, even the “enhanced” Alone in the Dark Inferno edition on the PS3.

Still, the fire is nice. Have a pity one out of five stars, Alone in the Dark. Maybe somebody will take your ideas and make a better game out of it.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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