Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Alone In The Dark: The Review

Developer: Eden Games/ Hydravision
Publisher: Atari
Platforms: PS2, PS3, XBOX 360, PC, Wii
Release date: June 20th 2008
Genre: survival/ action horror

So i've put this off for a while. 

I'm still slightly unsure about posting this review. Mostly because i still haven't completely finished it yet. Don't get me wrong, i've only got about an hour of gameplay left, and i think that is more than enough to give my view on the game. It's just bugging me that i've not finished it, for every other review i've finished the game before i post a review, hence the sometimes great distance between posts.  
Though there is also some trepidation on my part because i don't think this is the sort of game that CAN be given a numerical value for its achievements as a game.
Though i only really use numbers as a rough guide on my final feelings upon completion of a game, like a low score is one to avoid, an in between one is somewhere between "meh" and a shrugging recommendation. if its high, then i really enjoyed it. aside from that I'm a major hypocrite and dislike grading reviews numerically, they should just be a thumb up or down at the end, and reasons listed within to justify said thumb...ness.

So, onto the game. Right from the start its VERY cinematic. it feels like an action movie, or disaster movie from start to finish. You reprise the role of Edward Carnby, paranormal investigator. Well, except for the new nightmare, which apparently is not canon. That or there just ignoring it for some reason. Anyway, i'm digressing here. 
The game opens in a first person perspective, with Edward's vision blurring. To clear his vision you blink by clicking in the right thumbstick to shake of his disorientation.
"Neat" i thought, and it was, but its by far the least impressive thing to occur in the first hour of gameplay set in a collapsing tower block just outside central park. Its your job to get out before it comes down on you can escape the destruction and get into central park to investigate the cause of all this.
Apparently new york is being torn apart by quakes caused by "fissures" living streaks of lava that move with a malevolent intelligence.  These fissures can even spread inside a human host, turning them into a "humanz". Creatures which can ONLY be harmed if you can set fire to the fissure running through there bodies. Ill get to the fire in a minute.  There aren't many different creature designs in the game, id say 7 or 8 at the most, so its more resident evil 4 than fatal frame 2 if you catch my drift. Though all serve a great purpose and are placed in just the right places, like walking down a foggy road in central park, an upturned hotdog cart on the right, a burnout out car smashed into a tree on the left, and barely discernible shapes running at you through the fog....
Its got Mise-en-scene up the yin-yang. Like i said, its a action movie in the form of a survival horror game. So with any action theme there, of course, is driving sequences. Said driving sequences, and i had to pause and contemplate this shocking development, was actually fun, and i dont like driving games. It has a level of detail that i just adore. You can smash a window to open a locked door, check the glove compartment and  shade for keys or items, hotwire it if theres no key. Hell, if worst comes to worst you can shoot the gas tank for a makeshift bomb. 
Theres a few innovations in this, for one it is set in episodes and even has a "menu" like a dvd so you can skip "scenes" if your having trouble, or go back to redo others in different ways if you choose. I personally haven't used tis, but its good to have the option if its needed rather than not have it and get people stuck forever at one puzzle y'know?
Now the biggest design point of note is the fire. This game is all about arson really, and by that i mean beautiful high definition arson. Fires spread realistically, which takes some getting used to, i set fire to a door to get through it as it was locked and as i was checking my jacket inventory a spark jumped onto me and set me aflame. its little touches like those that i love and get infuriated by at the same time. the enemies main weakness is fire, so you can mix and match items found strewn about the park, bottles of petrol, fly spray and a lighter or something and makeshift your own fiery arsenal.
I'm only touching on one small factor, but the biggest selling point for this game, for me at least, is the freedom. Im not talking about the sandbox gameplay though. In GTA you can go anywhere, but every mission has very little ,if any, freedom of expression. Which im pleased to say 'Dark has in spades.

Example time - You have to ,at one point, cross a room full of enemies and kill them all very fast. How is up to you. My long time friend and reader ,who isn't much of a survival horror nut, Shot his way through by soaking his bullets in paraffin to make them more flammable, and therefore more harmful to the enemies.
How did you plucky young reviewer handle it?, well after years of yelling "your doing it wrong!" at the dumb gits in horror movies i went to bloody town on it.
STEP 1: break open a vending machine for a water bottle and drain it.
STEP 2: go into the kitchen and fill it with cooking oil.
STEP 3: add some bullets to the mix, wrap it in double sided tape and stab a whole in the bottom.
STEP 4: Trough it onto the back of the little creepy crawler creatures and let it wander about the room, leaving a deliciously flammable trail.
STEP 5: drop lighter.

the trail is set aflame and takes all the creatures in the room with it.

Just one small example but the point is you can be john maclain or bloody maguyver, it all depends on you. For that reason alone i can give a recommendation to alone in the dark. Combine that with Good graphics, the sheer fact that they recreated the landmarks of central park, brick for brick is reason enough to applaud there efforts. Add to this some good choices on the design part, like having an older, mid 40's, guy be the protagonist and the like and another stellar soundtrack by oliver Deriviere ( the composer for obscure, no free download this time folks, Once again cementing the fact that this guy could give Akira Yamaoka a run for his money for the title of greatest composer in horror games.

I could go on and on about the bits i love, like having your coat be your inventory and have healing and switching items occur in real time, even during fights. Its so ambitious you can really see why it was in development for so long. 

That said, now goods out of the way....

I think a list is appropriate.

Dying randomly for no reason.
Falling through the world for no reason.
Solving a puzzle without doing an obscure but mandatory action and getting stuck in a cutscene cycle.
invincible enemies.
cars exploding when you hotwire them
dodgy movement controls.
getting stuck on corners when your a foot away from them.
general bad collision detection.
randomly losing all your items when you die.
cars destroying themselves on the slightest collision
frame rate lag in large set pieces.

I could go on but needless for me to say, as you've no doubt heard it already before.  This game is hampered by an unbelievable amount of unfixed bugs in the programming.
This doesn't ruin the game, its so ambitious that it more than makes up for the problems by giving you such freedoms, its just annoying. It stops you form being drawn into the game, you are never unaware that you are safe on your couch playing what seems like an interactive movie.
Whilst i do like that it also means there is no scare factor involved. The imagery is there, to be sure, but it never grips you, and just when it starts, a bug occurs to throw you for a loop.
Like i said, it doesn't ruin the game, just hampers the experience, but not enough to warrant an avoidance rating.

I could go on and on about this game, the good and the bad in equal measure. So i quickly surmise before this piece becomes the entire front page. I love alone in the dark, not as much as silent hill 2 or obscure but ive had fun with such a mind boggling freedom of choice in the game and i can overlook the bugs for that and i can safely say it is worth the money to pay for it instead of rent it. The games good and keeps you playing for long stints at a time, has good , albeit, buggy design and on the 360 it has achievements that stretch it out and amp up the fun factor a lot.
For once i would recommend the 360 version, if only for the achievements adding another dimension to the gameplay when used in conjunction with the dvd menu mode.

Overall i enjoyed it and im getting a good 8 out of ten vibe for this, though im also implementing a new score based on scare factor from now on, which this, due to bugs, fails at unfortunately, which is a shame as other than that its a pretty decent game. ambitious, but decent.

SCORE [8/10]

SCARE FACTOR [2/10] - Slight jumps and gore.


Endaso said...

Nice to hear someone liked the game - outside of Chris' forum, I've heard mostly negative opinions.

I've yet to try it myself. I hesitate to play the PS2 port, given that so many PS2 ports are intentionally gimped anymore.

Danny said...

Yeah, i think the 360 versions achievements helped make the game for me, because it just forces you to do things you normally wouldn't and lets your imagination go nuts with some item combinations.