Back in 1992, Infogrames delivered unto PC gamers one of the scariest experiences they'd encountered to date in the form of Alone in the Dark, the first 3D survival horror game. I myself spent many a night playing the original title, guiding Edward Carnby through that haunted Louisiana mansion, scared out of my mind but unable to pull myself away, like a nightmare you can't wake up from.
Sixteen years and three lackluster sequels later, Infogrames subsidiary Atari and developer Eden Games attempt to breath new life (and new death) into the series with an all-new Alone in the Dark, featuring a strangely displaced Edward Carnby in a modern-day setting. New setting, new gameplay, and terrifying new enemies, none of which are more terrifying than your average game critic.
I love a good yarn, and I was hoping to find one in Alone in the Dark. Instead I was introduced to yet another amnesiac fighting demons and carrying around a spooky stone. It doesn't help that our hero is challenged in the dialogue department, having been endowed by the game's writers with a nasty blue streak. You can count on hearing the words f*** or s*** nearly every time our scarred-up hero opens his mouth, an attempt at gritty realism that comes off as adolescent and trite.
The problem is, who - if anyone - at the publisher or developer actually played this game and decided it was a good thing to unleash on gamers? Did they not realise how horrible the game is to control or how screamingly annoying the camera is switching from third person to a fixed shot is? Did no one say, guys we really need to make this game less of a frustrating mess, even for people who play lots of games? The answer to these questions seems to be "no".
For a game set in an eerie looking Central Park, with monsters around every corner, Alone in the Dark isn't really very scary. You'd assume this would be a given. You even have the trademark torch that runs out of batteries, yet there are few scares. When a monster lands on the roof of your car for the first time you might jump, but then when you've seen another magically fly 100 metres in order to do so it ruins the mood somewhat. There's a constant fear of death, but this isn't down to the setting but the inevitable fumbling in your inventory. One of the scariest moments occurred early on when Carnby appeared to be having some kind of seizure, his body uncontrollably gyrating on the spot. Alas, this was a bug, just one of many that occurred during my play through of the game.
As a lesson in ambition and creativity, AITD is an awkward (but welcome) role model. Though no one element is particularly polished, the game's plenty varied, and it happily defies genre characterization wherever it can — racing segments, rappelling, and a handful of great ideas keep things fresh. Though with such methodical, purposeful design every step of the way, it's tough to sit back and enjoy what's otherwise an engaging, surprisingly cinematic caper. You likely won't be thrilled by the time you sit through both of the equally lame lose-lose endings, but I can't imagine you'd regret your time in the Dark.
The game sounds like almost as much of a mixed bag as its review scores.