Alone in the Dark 2 (PC) review
"AITD2’s Carnby is the hardest individual you’ll come across. He’ll fight off ghouls, ghosts, and pirates dressed as gangsters (stop hunting for a typo, it’s true) with Tommy guns, a derringer, a sword stick, frying pan, battledore or his bare hands. Consider his attitude: he knows going in that there will be thugs everywhere on the property, to thwart his rescue attempt. But he still chooses to bring only his trusty six-shot revolver, and nothing else! No ammunition for it, save what is in the chamber. Yes indeed, Edward Carnby is as tough as they come, and that means you had better be as well. "
IF YOU CAN'T TAKE THE HEAT, STAY OUT OF HELL'S KITCHEN
Let’s clarify two things right from the onset. Though this game belongs to the survival horror legacy that is Alone in the Dark, the game has few horror elements, and is not at all dark.
With that out of the way, we can begin to take a refreshing look at the much maligned (by the general public anyway) sequel to the brilliant H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Alone in the Dark.
Oh horror of horrors!
Lovecraft did not make the trip to part two. He was held up somewhere along the way, or possibly the stars weren’t right. In any case, AITD2 relies on voodoo for its ‘horror elements’. They are not so much horrific as just weird. And in this game, the weirdness will do as an incentive for you to keep playing to figure out what’s going on. Just don’t expect to be scared by the game's content, because you won’t be (you might be scared of the constant beatings, now that's another matter entirely). There won’t be any ghosts formed from colourful congeries spinning out of armchairs. There won’t be any ‘burrowers beneath’, sliding through their self-made underground tunnels either. Also, don’t expect Miss Hartwood to make an appearance. Most likely Derceto (the house you had to escape from in AITD) spooked her enough to leave well enough alone.
But there will be Edward Carnby, (the hero of the series) and a whole lot more. It’s just not more of the same, and in a sequel that is a double-edged sword. There were those who wanted more of H.P. and more of that same brand of terror. Silently moving about creaky, antiquated New England homes, perusing dusty, abominable volumes, trying to solve portentous riddles. Those fans liked the way the few zombies and Cthulhu-inspired creatures that appeared from time to time, heightened the suspense in the game. Catching their collective breath, they would hit the inventory screen, prepare their fighting functions, and take care of business.
A puzzling sequel
Upon playing AITD, there could be nothing but bitter disappointment for these people. It’s got the same hand painted backgrounds, populated by polygonal pseudo 3-D characters, like Carnby. But one of the first things you’ll notice, is that you are definitely not alone. There are tons more foes in this installment, and it’s enough to drive a non-combative puzzle-solver batty. “Is this a platformer or what? I bought this game to solve puzzles and to be scared! This isn’t what I expected.” If this sounds like you, turn back! You should not venture any further than this paragraph, because in a matter of speaking you are correct. You are not getting what you expected. But if AITD2 has two faults, and this is one of them, it is still doing a lot better than 90% of the other, similar games. It’s guilty of being much different than the original (think Simon’s Quest, the follow-up to Castlevania). A cardinal sin for some, but if you’re like me, you might just say, “Hmm, let’s see what Infogrames has done with Carnby then, it might still be an entertaining romp!” And guess what--it is.
Supernatural detective extraordinaire
In AITD, you spent your time and energy trying to escape from a malevolent house with a cool name. In AITD2, a good chunk of the game’s beginning has you trying to get into a house, named Hell’s Kitchen (not bad Infogrames, but did you really think you could top DERCETO?).
Carnby himself has undergone a bit of a transformation. He no longer looks as stiff, and his librarian-like appearance has been dashed in favour of a more eighties, ‘action hero wannabe look.’ His well-pressed blue suit and newly clean-shaven face prepare us for his new tough/cool guy attitude. No more of this well read, well mannered stuff. What we have here, is Edward Carnby, Supernatural Detective extraordinaire (these are Infogrames’ actual words, or something along these lines, anyway).
Anyway, you’re probably wondering why you’re here at Hell’s Kitchen in the first place. Well, it seems that your good friend, Frasier--er Striker, is there investigating the kidnapping of young Grace Saunders--the daughter of some rich family--and he needs your help. Striker must be a throwback to Carnby’s old library loitering days. Now if there are two things you can’t stand, it’s someone messing with your friends, or someone messing with kids. So that means the bad guy, One Eyed Jack has erred not once, but twice. So at a moment’s notice, you manage to enlist the aid of a very foolhardy taxi driver, to drop you off at the front gates (Carnby is nothing if not noble). But how to get in? Well, I suppose that we won’t want to attract too much attention, so perhaps scaling the wall is in order. But then, we’ve got a little sack of explosives handy, so why not…? BOOM! Down goes the front gate, like a fiery curtain parting. Here’s another clue we’re not dealing with the same guy with the bad mustache from AITD.
Hard as Hell’s Kitchen
And perhaps that is the best way to describe AITD2 versus its predecessor, and many other survival horror games for that matter. AITD2’s Carnby is the hardest individual you’ll come across. He’ll fight off ghouls, ghosts, and pirates dressed as gangsters (stop hunting for a typo, it’s true) with Tommy guns, a derringer, a sword stick, frying pan, battledore or his bare hands. Consider his attitude: he knows going in that there will be thugs everywhere on the property, to thwart his rescue attempt. But he still chooses to bring only his trusty six-shot revolver, and nothing else! No ammunition for it, save what is in the chamber. Yes indeed, Edward Carnby is as tough as they come, and that means you had better be as well.
Unlike games of this type out nowadays, AITD2 allows you to defeat enemies in any number of ways. If you try to run up to an attacker with your gun drawn and riddle him with bullets, you may actually end up riddling leaves on a hedge. That is, it’s not easy to draw a bead on anyone with the camera angles that are in place. There’s none of this sissy ‘auto-aiming’ either. But alas, there is hope. Like all games with these cinematic camera angles, the benefit of the camera being so dramatically moved about also acts as a drawback in combat situations--if you don’t know how to manipulate the system. It’s rather easy to do this in AITD2. Gangsters calling you out in the garden ‘maze’? You have the option of rushing them, and getting all up into their chests with bludgeoning head butts and right crosses. Or, alternatively, making them chase you like a rogue Pied Piper into a space with a favorable camera angle--usually around a corner--to provide yourself with some cover. Then as they come around the bend, (this is particularly effective and excellent to watch when you’ve planned an overhead execution) out comes the Tommy gun to do it’s dirty deed.
AITD2 has the most entertaining collection of enemies I’ve ever come across. From the moment that you appear standing over the fallen guerrilla’s prone body, to the moment you take on One Eyed Jack himself, you know you’re in for something quite special. While reading through the voluminous accounts of the Freebooters’ histories, you will notice, with some excitement, that the main enemy characters will appear in writing, and then in person. You will be able to say, “Hey, that’s Shorty Leg, from the books! I should watch out for his peg leg weapon!” and so on. This build up is great, and it individualizes your opponents to a degree never before approached in this type of game. Coming up against characters with names like Shorty Leg, Bubble Blade, and of course, One Eyed Jack, makes for rewarding encounters, and memorable battles, because you are wrestling with attackers that have pasts and attributes that you have scouted.
They say funny things too. As you enter the garden maze, you’ll hear “Morning sir!” and “Hi GUY!” The way in which these comments are slung at you is very humorous, as the gangsters sound overly boisterous. The first time you come across this, it will evoke a sense of ambivalence; the voices sound sort of inviting, and sincere, and that makes it scarier, because you know they're not. Another gangster tries a more sneaky approach, “Hey you!” all mysterious-like. All this makes for good fun and helps make it apparent that even with the excellent soundtrack (read on!) and good puzzles and story, it’s the personality of game that is it’s greatest strength.
Your mission may be to save young Grace Saunders, but--without giving too much away--Grace herself will have to lend a hand. Playing as the little girl is sheer joy. You will have to use stealth and ingenuity to make headway in her leg of the adventure, and you will have a lot of fun in the process.
Grace will make use of whatever is at her disposal: ice cubes, marmalade, her teddy bear and a chicken's foot will all play integral roles in her success. Carnby on the other hand, will use a grappling hook to pull a switch, divert a group of snakes with a pompom, and in one particularly spectacular stunt, take out a roomful of sleeping pirates with a keg of gunpowder.
Ideas like these are what make this game such a pleasure to play through. AITD2 is not perfect however. It is very difficult, as mentioned, and certain things must be done perfectly to work right. For example, you might be entering a roomful of thugs and you'll rush the pistol-wielding enemy, staying close to him so that he can't shoot you. Meanwhile, the heavier weapon-toting guy behind him will fire away at you, and end up hitting his pal in the backside (how cool is this!). But a slight slip up on your part might have you pushed into a corner with all 3 thugs blasting away at you relentlessly until the inevitable occurs.
In this regard, AITD2 should be commended for its realism. When outnumbered and dealing with semi-automatic weaponry, you need to either find cover to gain a tactical advantage, or lead the dispersing mob after you and pick them off one by one. Sometimes, using a gun isn't even the best idea. It's often more prudent to run a zigzag pattern toward an enemy (perhaps even taking a bullet en route) and take him out with repeated blows over the noggin with a frying pan.
The only way I would see a problem with this very realistic, difficult, and comparatively unpredictable approach to combat, is if you had limited save opportunities. This is the case in subsequent games in this genre like Resident Evil. Importantly, in AITD 1,2 and 3 you can save anywhere, at anytime, and you will. This makes the fear of the unknown very real, because even though you know you've got your adventure backed up, you will still worry about what lurks around that next corner due to the sheer difficulty. Resident Evil evokes this feeling, but only because as you explore, you know you may die at any moment and probably don't have a remotely close save point or object needed for saving.
''...like the most glorious of hymns''
Ah, the music. It's perfectly atmospheric, giving you the necessary and well executed gangster tunes with heavy bass, and pirate tunes with good use of organs. There are somber, introspective, acoustic guitar-driven tunes as you explore new areas, and a somewhat raucous, yet oddly suitable track to greet your ears when you first enter Hell's Kitchen. Playing as Grace, an appropriately cutesy tune with will accompany her as she scampers about. The main attraction would have to be the end music though, which is supremely powerful, making use of traditional string instruments, as well as a guitar and a piano to potent emotional effect.
The sounds are more than adequate, representing everything from Carnby's scream when he keels, to the enthusiastic voice acting that we are treated to when Carnby decides to read one of the many books that he comes across.
Alone in the Dark 2 is not as focused and fear inducing as 1, and neither game is as balanced as 3. But despite its imperfection and high level of difficulty, AITD2 has too much going on, too much personality, too much fun--to be considered anything less than brilliant. Now take up your mother's good frying pan, and go work on that swing.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 14, 2004)
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