Review: Alone in the Dark
Posted 24 Jun 2008 at 17:32 by Will Buxton
|"At times, you can bump into the remarkably bad AI and they still won't attack you..."|
Atari did all the right things. They hyped it, they showed off all the nifty little features in numerous press demos, and they hyped it some more. They even released it right at the start of the summer, a time in the year infamous for a lack of any games what so ever. They then hyped it a little bit more. Hell, they even had the ever-useful tactic of media controversy. There was only one flaw in their strategy: they forgot to make a game.
You would have been forgiven for thinking that Alone In The Dark was the first of the 'new-wave' of Wii titles – the good third party releases, with the likes of The Force Unleashed and The Conduit following at some point in the future. Titles with intuitive, workable controls and graphics that didn't look like something an N64 could produce when pushed. Unfortunately, Alone In The Dark is not one of these games. It's buggy, ugly, frustrating, illogical, and so, so disappointing.
It doesn't start well. Several trailers show a corridor (on the Xbox 360 version, presumably) with a back-lit fan spinning at the end, casting a dramatic rotating shadow. Within a minute of being in control of Edward Carnby, your character, you find yourself in said corridor, and the fan is also present. However, it's appearance is slightly less dramatic and a little more comic, as it looks like cardboard-cut out fan being spun round in front of a piece of blank white paper. I wish I was elaborating for journalistic effect, I really do, but it's genuinely laughable how poor the lighting is in this game. OK, the use of the torch is kind of cool, (although it's no Condemned), but unless the environment is already pitch black, it kills the framerate, dropping it from acceptable to taking on the appearance of something done in Microsoft PowerPoint. This problem would be bordering on the forgiveable if the graphics were impressive, but textures are bland and a too many models look like they're made out of Lego.
Nope, this isn't a PS2 screenshot. We wish it was.
The one place where the game doesn't make you wonder if someone has vomited on the inside of your TV is – wait for it – the sewer level. This nicely highlights another massive issue with the game – it's got enough bad design choices to rival Iron Man. Clichéd levels aside, the first two chapters act as a tutorial, but it's done so awfully you'd be better off being taught how to play by a blind, deaf, mad, alcoholic Amy Winehouse. For example, you're told a thousand and one times how to do simple, easy actions, but you're never told about some of the more complex stuff, even actions that will prevent you from automatically dying. Due to the enthusiastic use of invisible walls, jumping is pointless. Unless it's a scripted sequence (in which a little minus icon appears), jumping does nothing of use. One-foot high benches simply are not scalable, and as for the inexplicable piles of rubble that represent the edge of the bland, dull area you can wonder around in, well, a four-year old child could clamber over them, but apparently not Edward Carnby!
The driving sections, especially the one through New York, is arguably the most frustrating single gaming sequence ever. If you die and get caught by the pursuing fissure, you have to restart the entire chase, and die is something you'll do frequently. Tapping any obstacle causes you to die, and the combination of a tiny draw-distance plus steering that feels as if the front of the car isn't attached to the rear makes the whole experience skip-able. I could not be more thankful for the episodic system in place that allows you to skip entire sections, although just flicking through the chapters menu ruins the story somewhat. Oh, look, another bad design choice!
I could go on, so I will: ammunition is rare in places which would be a nice Resident Evil-esque touch if the standard zombie enemies didn't take 4 rounds to the face at 2 metres distance to take down. This problem can be gotten round by saving magazines for when you really, really need them, and dodging the laughably bad AI the rest of the time. At times, you can touch them and they wont attack you. If they follow you, you can change direction, and they'll do one of three things: turn and follow, walk to where you changed course and stop, or keep going until they find a nice wall. Those who don't want you dead aren't done any better, as shooting the annoying friendly NPC's (so much for being Alone, eh?) does nothing, not even a call of "hey, watch it!" or similar. At one point, a builder's buddy is killed by the evil bats of death that do nothing but irritate you immensely for a 15 minute-long section, and he reacts by shouting, but remains standing dead still, facing the wrong way. The building he's in is pretty much the only thing you can set on fire that you aren't meant to, and he makes no attempt to leave, nor does he panic.
The soundtrack is the game's saving grace, which is suitably tense and mysterious, and the voice acting is suitably strong, although the swearing is badly timed. Sound effects, and mixing, however, is a different kettle of fish. Every step in the flooded sewers comes with an awful, generic, and identical "sploosh-sploosh" sound effect which made me mute the telly, and in one instance, in a cut scene, gun shots are heard half a dozen seconds after the gun is fired.
Third-party Wii titles are famous for, more often than not, having dire controls. For once, the aiming is actually rather done well, and most of the controls (especially, surprisingly, the Nunchuck's motion-sensitive controls) work very well. Just, whatever you do, don't try and look in your inventory, especially if you have your pistol out. Oh, wait, you actually like checking how many rounds you have a dozen times? That's cool, you'll be fine!
Criticising the story and atmosphere would be mean after such criticism, but it should be noted that the plot suffers from the same issue as Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and Tomb Raider – the introduction of ancient mystical cults turns what could have been an intriguing and potentially gripping storyline with a grounding in reality into something which could easily be mistaken for a side quest in a JRPG.
The game can be summed up very simply: it's a very large chunk of poorly implemented potential, littered with poor design, and as such is very, very frustrating to the point that that you'll never want to look at again. Read on for our (rather low) final score and it's breakdown.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Alone In The Dark is a truly shining example of both how to make a bad game and how to over-hype a game. Avoid.
Very good music
When it all comes together, it's playable
It only all comes together perhaps twice.
Awful visuals and framerate
Needed another six months work at least