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Review: Alone in the Dark - PC

by Nick Haywood on 24 June 2008, 12:47

Tags: Alone in the dark, Atari (EPA:ATA), Xbox 360, PS2, PS3, Wii, Action/Adventure

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How hard to control?

So graphically Alone in the Dark is great. There’s real-time lighting, great use of light and dark for gameplay, expansive open areas and actually very little slow down even when there’s a rather large fire complicating things. The clipping could do with a bit of work as several times I had Carnby climbing onto thin air as he shimmied up onto a ledge and the he also suffers from that annoying animation-completion thing of not being able to do anything until he’s finished going through the motions of jumping, walking or smacking something with a fire extinguisher.

No, the biggest problem with Alone in the Dark is the control system, which probably couldn’t be any more clunky than if it was designed by a skip lorry operator. Movement itself is one problem. You don’t so much move Carnby as drive him about like a human shaped remote control car. Left and right rotate him in that direction while forward and backwards does the same thing. But as the third person view changes with each room you enter you wouldn’t think this would be a problem, but it is… Why couldn’t we just have had up, down, left and right and have Carnby react to that? We’re used to other games working in this manner so why try and be different?

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It doesn’t help that the PC uses joypad buttons in the tips section or that the font on those tips is so chunky as to make a Q, O or 0 indistinguishable from each other. So fairly soon on I did find myself yelling at the screen that I don’t have a bloody orange button as I’m not using a sodding joypad and will you please realise this… and breathe. Relying on one button for interaction with the environment is a bad idea as positioning Carnby for the particular thing you want means he’ll often pick up a chair instead of turning on the lights… or pick up the vase in the middle of a fight instead of the much more useful samurai sword.

And these less then intuitive controls really don’t help given that a lot of Alone in the Dark sees you needing to get stuff done quickly… early on you’ll need to use a fire extinguisher but despite the game telling you often that you need to press button ‘0’ to spray, it doesn’t tell you that you need to be in first person mode to be able to do that. Using a burning chair as a torch to light your way is good but seeing as Carnby does no more than dawdle, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have burnt his hands before making it through the passage.

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I think the problem is that Eden wanted to make Alone in the Dark with a real-world feel to it… so stuff looks and behaves it you’d expect it to, which is fine, but it falls over a bit when it comes to how you would interact with that world. For example, your inventory is your pockets and the lining of your jacket which has a selection of handy clips and holders for various items. But do we really need to select bullets, select gun and then select combine to start using bullets with a gun? I reckon the answer is no, and it sure as hell is no if that’s what you find you have to do in the middle of a fight.

Alone in the Dark feels a little like it’s been gameplay tested by Mr Spock, putting all his powers of logic into the game and utterly forgetting that this supposed to be based in a ‘real’ world. So logic would dictate that combining sticky tape with a bag of blood would make a bag that now sticks to things… and if you punctured the bag with a knife and then throw it so it, it will stick to a nearby monster who is then pursued by other blood-lusting monsters. Except that we all know it just wouldn’t work in real life…. And this juxtaposition between the slightly absurd game-logic and ‘real’ world rules just underlines how silly some of the solutions can be.

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That said, Alone in the Dark is a damn good action/puzzle/adventure romp with some really stunning gameplay moments that almost makes up for the skewed logic and decidedly unhelpful controls. The fact that Alone in the Dark is set in a real world location and brings together threads of real-life rumour and folklore is a big bonus and goes a long way to making Alone in the Dark more believable. But then the crappy controls drag you back to reality as you hammer away at the ‘Q’ to get Edward to drop the chair and pick up the bloody gun!

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Overall, if you persevere with Alone in the Dark you’ll be rewarded with an engrossing story told with superb visuals, effects and soundtrack. But I have a feeling that even knowing that goodness awaits a lot players will get fed up within the first 30 minutes or so. It’s a shame but I can’t say I blame them. Overall though, if you do stick it out Alone in the Dark is a welcome return to some good old-fashioned horror story-telling and so because of the controls system, Alone in the Dark is going to miss out on a Recommended Award. Here’s hoping that the Wii and Xbox 360 versions fare better because for games of this ilk it’s high time we had something along the lines of Alone in the Dark, which has plenty of plus points constantly hobbled by crappy controls.

Superb story, brilliantly told
Great visuals and soundtrack
Dark and scary
Logical puzzles, some tougher than others

Awful controls, even when using a joypad
Ludicrous ‘logic’ in places
Some clipping issues
Fights, and therefore progress, hampered by useless inventory system

Great story and atmosphere ruined by useless controls

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aah right - rubbish controls.. i've played the gothic series though, so i am kind of used to strange control systems.. i'll still give this game a go, depending on how quick i can get a job and money i might still be able to get the collectors edition.. yay!!

any demos? I did a search and could only find ‘alone in the dark: the new nightmare’ from 2001, or the 1996 demo..
Promised so much. I thought this would be pretty decent.