enerations from now, Resident Evil will likely be remembered as the franchise that popularized horror in video games. For those of us who were playing games prior to 1992, we know that the true origin of pixilated scares is Alone in the Dark. Its story was greatly inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, but its gameplay, which blended survival, horror, exploration, and puzzles, gave birth to a new breed of gaming. A testament to its greatness, many of its signature features are still found in modern day horror games. It’s been over a decade since Alone in the Dark unleashed its genre-breaking lightning. Could it do it again?
Developer Eden Games, best known for its work on revolutionary racer Test Drive Unlimited, has channeled an amazing amount of creativity into this Alone in the Dark reboot. Much of the gameplay falls is into “wildly innovative” category. For instance, one of the controller’s buttons blinks your character’s eyes. If you hold this button down, he closes his eyes completely. As odd as this function may sound, it is used to deliver some amazing gameplay moments. This off-kilter conceptualizing is present in all of the gameplay, and most of it brought out a surprised “wow” from me.
Take an ordinary car for example. When you enter it, you can open up its glove box, turn down its visor, crawl into its back seat, hot-wire it if the key is missing, and should you choose, leap from it while roaring down the road. You can even use it as a rolling bomb by shooting its gas tank. Item management is just as unique. Doing away with static screens, all item management is handled through your character’s jacket, which you view from a first-person perspective.
Eden Games even went to the length of incorporating a DVD chapter selection system that allows you to jump to any point in the game, even if you haven’t gotten there yet. Each leap is accompanied by a “previously on Alone in the Dark” clip that brings you up to speed on something that you may have missed. This cool little idea will allow people who either don’t have the time or are stuck on a specific part to see the finale.
Like the Alone in the Dark games of old, much of the gameplay is comprised of puzzles. Most of them offer inventive solutions, whether it be using fire in newfangled ways or combining items for explosive results. This game has the makings of a certifiable hit, but the entire experience is corrupted by myriad problems. For one, the game has no polish. From the graphical glitches to the bothersome collision detection, you are constantly wondering if you are playing a finished copy of the game, or if Eden Games accidentally submitted the alpha code. The game’s pacing, which starts out at a breezy clip of a Hollywood disaster movie, slows down to a crawl as players are asked to hunt down specific targets spread across a huge Central Park environment. These stretches are tedious, and are here to artificially lengthen the game.
Functionality wise, the first-person targeting system works well, especially for the arc-based projectile throwing, but the weapon play, which asks players to do little more than press the analog stick left or right, is a study in how to not do melee in games. To top it off, the story, which piqued my interest early on with its incredibly dark atmosphere and complex characters, ends unexpectedly without any real conclusion. It would have been better if the main character turned toward the screen and said, “Sorry, that’s all we have so far. Come back when we actually finish making the game.”
Alone in the Dark can be applauded for its innovation, but it cannot be saved from its dysfunction. Had Eden Games added polish, or dare I say it, play-tested the game, it could have been a welcome addition for survival horror fans. If you can tolerate the broken experience, you’ll be treated to some memorable and original moments. Given the amount of frustration you must endure to get there, it’s a lot to ask. But if you are a game aficionado who is interested in seeing all the breakthroughs this industry has to offer, Alone in the Dark breaks new ground just as much as it breaks gameplay.