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Alone in the Dark 3 (PC) artwork

Alone in the Dark 3 (PC) review

"Alone 3 tries to blend the first game’s unparalleled approach to otherworldly detective work, with the second game’s more lighthearted but equally smart MacGyver-esque sleuthing (and jacked-up combat), in order to arrive at a happy medium. To the credit of the developers, the mixture does reach a medium, but it’s not happy. "

I remember being stoked to get this game because the original Alone in the Dark was so singularly awesome (it still is today despite looking like shit), and its first sequel, Alone in the Dark 2 was so... special. I think I loved Alone in the Dark 3 as well, and I believed it to be on par with its great forerunners, because, as Hemingway put it, it was pretty to think so.

The harsh reality is that I loved Alone 3 for what it represented – further Alone nourishment to sate my growing appetite for the series – and the fact is this third entry in the canon was never that good. I wish I could chalk this conclusion up to revisionist history; I cannot. Sadder still is that some of the major flaws which manifested here, began to first push through the cracks from beneath the smooth surface of the second game. I should have seen it coming.

Edward Carnby has always been a certified bad ass – that much is irrefutable. He thrives on danger in a fashion which goes beyond the absurdly cliché. He’s a supernatural detective. Not because he’s dead and wants to solve crimes, but because he’s a dick with a nose for Cthulhu's minions, dead pirates and fedora-wearing gangster ghosts... And now, for the first time: cowboys from beyond the grave.

That's right; this time it’s off to Slaughter Gulch (I’m not kidding) to find Emily Hartwood, the woman with whom Carnby once shared top billing as star of the first game. It turns out she disappeared on set while filming ghost town schlock in the middle of a ghost town. We are privy to a particularly groan-worthy exchange between Carnby and a mysterious employer who coaxes him with big money to venture out to the Mojave desert where Slaughter Gulch is located.

Once you get past the extremely hokey voice acting – and it’s hard to shake, because God knows I don't want Carnby to sound like a slick, seen-it-all-before douche – it’s off to the rescue. Upon your arrival, a shocking occurrence: the only bridge into and out of town blows up, Ecstatica-style. How inconvenient. And so begins the strangest Alone yet.

Besides spookiness and fisticuffs, Alone has always been about puzzles: place a couple of mirrors strategically to have a pair of monstrous statues fire upon one another instead of upon you – and so on. The games got away with their obscure solutions because Carnby was furnished with dodgy tomes, which, when combed through, provided the strangely appropriate answers he needed.

In an effort to ramp things up as sequels are wont to do, puzzles here are more obtuse than ever, but with less supplementary context. An example of one of many ludicrous sticking points: Find a locked door? Why not pound on it with gunfire from your newly acquired Gatling gun? Why not? Because it makes no fucking sense – that’s why not. There’s a section later on which requires Carnby to cross a precipice. There is a safe path to walk above the ether but the path isn’t explained, nor is Carnby’s ability to play Jesus touched on. The best approach then, is to step safely, and save, step safely and save. Good times. Strangeness is an Alone hallmark, but the strangeness was always rooted in some tenuous strand of logic befitting the game's world. Not so here.

Alone 3 tries to blend the first game’s unparalleled approach to otherworldly detective work, with the second game’s more lighthearted but equally smart MacGyver-esque sleuthing (and jacked-up combat), in order to arrive at a happy medium. To the credit of the developers, the mixture does reach a medium, but it’s not happy.

We’ve established that the puzzles are poorly thought out and introduced, which makes detective work an exercise in "try anything in your inventory, and failing that, look for a walkthrough online." Fortunately, the combat part of the equation fares much better. Alone 1 purists who struggled with the sequel’s hard ass arcade-y shootouts (disadvantageous camera angles didn't help) won’t be similarly alienated here, because Infogrames have introduced adjustable difficulty levels.

The gesture is appreciated, and Carnby duking and shooting it out in the Wild West had the potential to be a winning concept, but it’s difficult to get away from the taint of the puzzles; they almost completely ruin the experience. As it stands, you likely will turn to a walkthrough if you feel that the adventure is one worth seeing through to the end – and you really shouldn't, because it isn’t. Without the smart problem solving bits to temper the running around and shooting, Alone is reduced to a fairly pedestrian action game with haunting music and extremely odd scenarios (Carnby reincarnated as a cougar? Check).

Alone 3 might have fared a mite better were this my only beef. But it’s not: the relentless dark makes all the areas look the same when they're really not. Just because we’re playing a game called alone in the dark does not mean the developers were forced to stick with a palette almost exclusively made up of shades of indigo. And even when Alone 3’s puzzles are clever, there's enough of Carnby's insistent "I'm not in the right place!" when he clearly appears to be, to make you second guess a brilliant solution. The game is lacking in Alone’s inimitably dreadful atmosphere and Alone 2’s cleverness and remarkable soundtrack. If this, by some stroke of misfortune is your first Alone in the Dark game, journey back to the beginning instead; despite their intention to bring it all together here, this is where Infogrames lost their way.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (November 24, 2011)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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EmP posted November 25, 2011:

It always hurts to tear into the games you love. But the alturnative is to be one of those whiney head-in-the-sanders who want to judge everything on yesteryear's merits, even if they've become hopelessly outdated.

I nevet got any further than the stupid hendge maze at the start of this game. The one with the pondersom zombies that lumber around after you yelling "Hey, guy!" and "Hello, Joe!" Dunno where that came from.

It's obvious you still carry a fondness for the series, and that carried over well in your disapointment with this outing. The little glances back to the previous games and acknowledgment of the slowly budding flaws might even trick unwary readers into believing you as a trustworth voice. High praise, indeed.
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Masters posted November 25, 2011:

Thanks, Gary. Actually the HI GUY, and HEY YOU of the hedge maze come from Alone in the Dark 2, the game before this one! ^_^ This cowboy one, nobody really played. Except me, apparently.
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EmP posted November 25, 2011:

See, it's stuff like that which makes you look creditable.

Review the new(est) Alone in the Dark. I dare you.
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Masters posted November 25, 2011:

Yuck. That game looks terrible. So bad they made a new fixed-up version and re-released it subtitled "Inferno" I think. Which still sucked, I'm told.
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zippdementia posted November 25, 2011:

Yeah, yeah, do it... I dare you, too. The Inferno version is indeed better, but it still sucks. Probably not as bad now as you've been led to believe... unless you play the god-awful Wii port. That smell coming from the CD is not the smell of a raging inferno... it is the smell of raging diarhea.
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honestgamer posted November 26, 2011:

Having never played an Alone in the Dark game, I get the sense that I would like this one more than the previous ones because this one--based on your descriptions and the screenshots--doesn't sound particularly scary. I'm not big on games that offer an atmosphere of genuine horror. I prefer puzzles with light moodiness and perhaps an air of mystery. This game sounds like it has a cheesy mystery (and narrative) and obtuse puzzles that would be frustrating rather than compelling, plus the visual style looks like Dragon's Lair meets purple and blue. I'd respond to this review by going back to play one of the earlier games in the series, but I'm too much of a wuss. This was a little bit longer than a lot of your recent reviews, but your writing style throughout kept things lively and interesting. Nice job!
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Masters posted November 27, 2011:

Jason, I'm pretty sure you can handle the scares in these games. Don't you play Silent Hill and Resident Evil??
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zippdementia posted November 28, 2011:

Yeah, Alone in the Dark isn't very scary anymore. The biggest "oh shit" moments unfortunately come, now, from out-dated controls. Still worth a play, but if you've made it through any Silent Hill, you've already seen more fear than Alone in the Dark delivers.

True fear is to be found in Amnesia. Holy shit that game. Dead Space II is pretty good, too, though on more of a high-octane sort of stress-out than true "I don't want to go in the room" fear. Heavy balistics weapons will do that to a Survival Horror title.
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joseph_valencia posted November 28, 2011:

Clock Tower for the SNES remains the scariest game I've ever seen someone else play, because there's no way I'd play it myself.

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