Alone in the Dark (2008)

The Most Clever Game Anyone’s Ever Ruined

I’m going to dispense of my usual formalities and confess something to you, my audience.  I recently found the negative side of doing reviews.  That problem is that I feel the need to complete a game in order to give a review of a game.  No game has caused me as much frustration or annoyance in recent memory than Alone in the Dark, developed by the douche nozzles at Eden Games and published by Atari.  Now, even though I’ve ruined the surprise at the end of my review by telling you my feelings up front, I hope you’ll still read on and find out how this game did this.

First, the story.  We wake up as a dude with a scar on his face in a building where some very strange shit is going down.  As no other TV show, movie, or video game has ever done before, we’ve been given a amnesiac protagonist.  How original!  As he makes his way through the building, he sees these strange scars running across walls and sucking people into them.  Some people get possessed in the process and start attacking you.  Eventually, you meet Sarah Flores, an art dealer also stuck in the building.  They make their way through the building and meet Theophile Paddington, an injured old man who seems to be one of the few that knows what’s going on.  But no time to tell you, we need to move.  And I can’t tell you while we’re walking.  I can’t do two things at once.  So fuck it, we get into a car and race off to Central Park.  Theophile hands a stone that seems to be at the heart of the troubles over to our character (now identified as Edward Carnby, the character from the original Alone in the Dark games … that took place in 1924), and then Theo proceeds to shoot himself in the head, saying he’s going to meet them at the museum.  So that’s helpful.  Edward gets injured and they visit an ambulance in the park and, using the ambulance’s records, discover that Edward Carnby disappeared in 1938.  You go to the museum and the ghost of Theo gives you a message.  You find that Lucifer is trying to come back to Earth through a doorway underneath Central Park using something called the Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry Potter has nothing to say about that.  In the end, Edward has to make a choice once the door has started to open.  Sarah takes the stone from him to save him and we must choose to kill her before Lucifer takes her over, or not kill her and walk away.  Either way sucks for the world.  Kill her and Edward becomes Lucifer, leave her and she’s still Lucifer.  We don’t find out what happens after, which is fine because I was totally done playing by this point.

I took more notes while playing this game than I have on any other game I’ve reviewed, most of them out of anger and frustration.  So let’s break this down piece by piece.  The story is decent enough save for the notable cliches that it uses.  Amnesia is so overblown in games it’s not even funny anymore.  I can probably pull 20 of them off the top of my head within a minute.  After that, the story is fine with nothing special to it.  I would’ve liked an ending that made sense, but I’ll live.  The graphics go back and forth.  A lot of the environments have a great horror theme to them, with spikes coming out of the ground, giant chasms created by Lucifer tearing the earth apart, a nice fog here and there.  But then you look at the characters and they’re ugly as hell, especially their hair.  I know they had better hair effects back then, but this game was still doing the massive globs of hair and not individual strands.  And the beards looked weird too.  The fire in this game is rather nice.  It flows from object to object the way you’d expect, the way it lights up things around it seems accurate, and it usually looks really nice.  The game also uses an episode system which is nice.  It basically offers you a DVD menu where you can skip over scenes if you want, and the entire story is broken down into 8 episodes as if it were a TV show you were watching.

Alright, let’s get into the crap!  The first episode starts you in first-person view (which can later be switched between first-person and third-person like classic survival horror games) and actually makes you control Edward’s blinking.  So things start getting blurry and you have to blink to clear your eyes.  I don’t often like these games that make you control everything like you would if you were actually there, as if it will immerse you in the story.  You know what will immerse you in a story?  Having a good story.  This blinking thing becomes especially irritating later on when you’re trying to shoot enemies that spit poison at you and you can’t blink your eyes clear by the time they hit you again.  And you typically want to remain in first-person mode because the third-person mode’s camera hates your guts.  Edward hates your guts, for that matter.  He moves so sluggishly and refuses to show you whats going on around you.  You will die often, but not because it’s difficult.  Because the developers didn’t actually let anyone play the game before they put it on the shelves.  And if you’re going to have a game that controls this badly, you should probably have a better checkpoint system.  I think it was at the end of episode 2 (and technically again at the end of the game), but you have a long driving sequence that lasts for about 5 to 10 minutes with NO CHECKPOINTS.  You do the whole thing in one go or you go fuck yourself.  And it’s not easy.  If you slow down or run into one thing, the ground falls out from under you and you start again.  And by the way, we’ll change the camera on you to make it more cinematic, but you still have to control it.  These sections may make you want to kill yourself.  And how could such shitty driving sections have been made by a group who have pretty much only made racing games?

The fighting system of this game is a great idea that they didn’t bother to make work.  You have a gun, but don’t bother.  You can shoot most of the enemies all day, but they’ll get back up.  They can only be killed with fire.  So unless you can find a wooden stick and a pile of fire nearby, you have 3 choices: run, get killed, or construct something.  Before this game came out, all they talked about was the ability to construct things.  And it’s somewhat well done and a pretty good idea.  You have a spray can and a lighter, you have a portable flamethrower, just like real life.  Have a rag and a bottle of booze?  Molotov cocktail.  Just like real life.  You can also shoot a bottle out of midair and it will explode.  …Okay, that won’t happen.  And if you pour alcohol on a gun, you get flaming bullets!  …Okay, that’s just wrong.  Pour it on the bullets and either nothing happens, or the gun explodes.  Pour it on the gun, you’ll just catch on fire.  On the other hand, some of the puzzles are pretty clever.  You have to hotwire a tow truck and put it in place to use it as a ramp, when you see Theo’s ghost you have to close your eyes and read things it points at to make a message, and you have to combine a lens with your flashlight and shine it on things to unlock stuff.  But there were also many parts to the game where you might yell at the screen “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?!”  But don’t bother, this game does everything in it’s power to keep you from playing it.

The music is pretty good and creates a good mood as well.  The problem with this was that it was inexplicably quiet.  I understand using silence to create suspense, but I couldn’t hear the conversations I was having with people.  I had to turn my TV up to double the volume, and then the sound of my friends signing on or an achievement unlocking would startle me with how loud it was.

And for my fellow achievement whores, I did manage to get a perfect 1000 on this game doing little more than just beating it and playing around with a couple other things.  Problematically, you’ll have to actually play the game.  If you’ve got the willpower, or a separate reason to actually muscle through it as I had to, then you can get 1000 points without much time investment.

There are MANY problems with this game, but I think the biggest one and the one that hurts the most is that this had potential to be a great horror game.  But to do that, they’d have to fix the controls, the camera, the enemies, the story, the character design, the checkpoints, and a couple of other things.  But at that point, Super Mario Brothers could be a great horror game if you changed those things.  I don’t recommend you play this game at any price unless you’re really big into achievements, and even then you probably shouldn’t play it.  I give this game “You coulda been a contender!” out of “Did you guys even play this?”

And, as always, please rate, comment, and/or like this post and others.  It may help me get better.