Alone in the Dark (AITD) for the Xbox 360 is the latest installment in the long running survival horror franchise, which began way back in 1992 on the PC. The original Alone in the Dark has often been hailed by many as the original survival horror game. So, 16 years on, does the franchise still have life, or should it just be buried in the dark? Read on to find out.
The game starts you off by throwing you straight into an interactive cutscene, with no clue as to who anyone is, or what is going on. You quickly discover that you are Edward Carnby (the star of previous AITD games), and that you have been thrust forward into time from the 1920’s, to modern day New York, all whilst not aging a bit. That’s as much story as you’re going to get out of me. The reason for this is that the story in AITD is actually pretty good, and I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. Sadly, the story never reaches groundbreaking heights, as there are too many generic and predictable sections riddled throughout.
The gameplay is also very hit and miss. In order to create something unique and exciting, developer Eden Games have apparently thrown every idea possible at the game, and decided to keep most of them. What this means is that there are some truly great design elements and some truly horrible ones.
The basic gameplay revolves around running around Central Park and the surrounding buildings, killing various creatures, and generally trying to figure out what is going on. Whilst doing this you will encounter many different types of gameplay. There are numerous rappel sections which involve climbing up the sides of buildings, driving sections which tend to involve running away from something, and puzzle solving sections that often involve combining various items together. The list goes on. Some of these gameplay elements work really well, and some fall somewhat flat on their face. Rappelling down a wall whilst parts of the building are breaking off and cars are blowing up and almost hitting you = awesome. Trying to drive away from a collapsing street in a car which handles like it’s on skis = lame.
Further to this, the controls further mess things up, with a control scheme that is about as intuitive as trying to eat a brick. Seriously, after you have spent a few hours fighting the controls, it will become horribly apparent that they were obviously designed by someone with the IQ of a squashed marrow. The setup sounds fairly simple. Move with the left thumbstick, manipulate objects with the right thumbstick. The A button is for actions such as running, X is for jumping, and so on. This would be ok, if there weren’t so many different controls for the different gameplay elements. When you open the game manual and there are 4 pages of controls, you know there is something wrong.
One of the main things that hurts the game’s controls so much is the way that your inventory is handled. Pressing down on the d-pad will cause you to look down and open your jacket, inside of which are all of your items. From here you can equip, combine and discard items. Now this may sound cool, and it even looks really nice. But it simply is not practical. For example, you have a monster running towards you, and you want to kill it using a molotov cocktail that you can shoot in mid air. Here is what you have to do: open inventory, select gun, equip gun, select petrol bottle, select cloth, press combine, select molotov cocktail, select equip, exit inventory, and aim. Now, while I have been faffing around in my inventory (and it takes a while because it isn’t always easy to highlight what you want), the monster has reached me, and begun slapping ten tons of hell out of me. Really not fun. All the inventory system needed was for it to pause the game while you equipped yourself, and that would have made it so much better to use.
Sticking with the bad, the game has a tendency to be horribly buggy, and I’m not talking small, hardly noticeable bugs here. I’m talking about bugs which are blatantly obvious, and there is no excuse that they were not fixed. One of the worst offenders was during a driving section where my car was being attacked by bat like things. These creatures would land on my roof, and try to lift my car up. This was all good and well until due to the nasty handling, I had a few crashes and lost my roof. At this point, the bats creatures flew back down and proceeded to land on my invisible roof. Oh, and this was just after the moment where my car decided it wanted to drive itself. Not good at all.
Still, whilst I have kind of ripped into the game a bit, it does have some redeeming qualities, first of which is how innovative you can be when dispatching your enemies. Sure you can shoot them in the head of hack them up with an axe, but wouldn’t you rather puncture the gas tank of car, drive it into a bunch of enemies, jump out, leg it back to the start of the fuel trail and light it like a fuse, resulting in a lovely and satisfying explosion?
Another great feature is how the game is laid out. Basically, the game mimics the format of a TV series, consisting of 8 episodes. Each of these episodes has multiple chapters, or scenes, which you can navigate through using a DVD style select menu. From this menu you can replay certain sections, or skip parts of the game that you are stuck on, to ensure you reach the end. Plus, you don’t need to worry about missing out on any valuable information, as whenever you skip a section (or load up a game) you get presented with a rather smart “Previously on Alone in the Dark” video, detailing all the important things that have happened up to that point in the game.
Even better than that is the soundtrack of the game, which is quite simply, sensational. The music is perfectly suited and always kicks in at the right moment, and the voice acting is great for the most part. Plus the surround sound effects are brilliant, and do a great job of making you feel like you’re in the action. The whole package simply comes together to form an amazing experience in some of the more cinematic sequences, such as the rappelling sections I mentioned earlier.
Similarly the graphics have some real star moments as well, although it tends to only be the more confined spaces that look really impressive, with Central Park simply looking average. The character models are also very impressive, with some great attention to detail on the key characters.
AITD is one of the more difficult games to review that I’ve looked at recently, because it does so much right, but then it also does so much wrong as well. It truly is a hit and miss affair. If you think you are able to put up with the bugs, the controls and the more annoying gameplay elements, then by all means give it a go, because there are some great moments to be had with it. However, most people will likely be put off but the sheer amount of issues that the game has. It’s a shame really, because there are certain sections of the game that really shine, but they are buried underneath a mountain of mediocrity.