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Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360) artwork

Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360) review

"Alone in the Dark is considered to be one of the pioneers of the survival horror games by fans of the genre. With the first game, and namesake of the series being released in 1992, Alone in the Dark set the standards for future horror survival games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Although many feel that Alone in the Dark has since become overshadowed by the aforementioned titles, it is worth noting the series still continues to exist to this day, with the current Alone in the Dark game b..."

Alone in the Dark is considered to be one of the pioneers of the survival horror games by fans of the genre. With the first game, and namesake of the series being released in 1992, Alone in the Dark set the standards for future horror survival games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Although many feel that Alone in the Dark has since become overshadowed by the aforementioned titles, it is worth noting the series still continues to exist to this day, with the current Alone in the Dark game being a major change of game play styles and also a comeback for the series.

Alone in the Dark immediately thrusts players into the story. The player wakes up, dazed and confused, to a pair of armed thugs that appear to have kidnapped you. Vision fuzzy, players follow the instructions of the thugs until they are attacked by a strange fissure that appeared on the wall of the building. Steadying yourself, you stumble upon a mirror and get a good look at your face. It is then that you realize that you have no memory of who you are, what the monster was, or why the thugs had kidnapped you. While traversing through the building where you were held captive, you discover that the monsters are attacking innocent people residing inside. Arming yourself, and killing several monsters, you happen upon Sarah Flores, an art dealer trapped inside the building. You found out that the man who had held you captive is named Crowley, and that a mysterious old man named Theophile Paddington, claims that he knows you, and that you are to play an important role in some sort of prophecy. You also find out that your name is Edward Carnby, and not much else beyond that. Before there is a chance to discover anymore about your past, you must make your way out of the building and escape the monsters that have besieged New York, and investigate the rumors that the monsters and fissures are coming from underneath Central Park.

Game play is definitely where Alone in the Dark shines. The game clearly tried it’s hardest to distinguish itself from other horror survival games, something that it has succeeded in doing. One of the key game play elements is the fact that enemies cannot be killed with anything except fire. This isn’t the “burn the bodies of zombies or they’ll turn into Crimson Heads” gimmick from the original Resident Evil, though. Enemies will simply refuse to die if they do not come in contact with fire. Although the player can choose to empty three pistol magazines into an enemy, they will simply fall down for a minute or two, before coming back to life to resume its attack. The player quickly learns that they’ll have to get creative when it comes to dealing with enemies. Setting things on fire and attacking enemies with them is an option. Making improvised flamethrowers, Molotov cocktails and bombs are another. Finally, although not very believable, Carnby can douse a pistol magazine in gasoline, thus allowing the gun to use “fire bullets”.

Alone in the Dark focuses on allowing the player to make different items by combining various everyday objects and testing it on the demons from hell. The game features a variety of creative menus in order to keep the game from become mundane. Instead of the standard item inventory menu divided up into boxes or item slots, the inventory in the game is Edward’s jacket. Both sides of the jacket feature loops that Edward can put things into, and the inventory is limited to the amount of space in the jacket. In the center of the jacket, Edward has his pistol and flashlight holsters, both of which cannot be dropped. The right side of the jacket contains explosive or projectile items, such as bottles of gasoline, or cans of aerosol spray. The left side of the jacket contains more “essential” items, such as a lighter, tape, or bandages. An interesting feature as it is, it is important to note that the game does not pause itself whenever the player decides to rummage through Carnby’s coat for a particular item, adding tension for those moments one a certain item is crucial to survival.

The healing “menu” is similar to the jacket inventory. Hitting the left or right buttons on the directional pad will make Edward look down and examine his wounds. Each wound can be scrolled through, from the right to left side or vice versa. Wounds will appear on the body, legs and arms. The deeper the wound, the more visible it is on the healing menu. There are two ways that Edward can patch himself up. The first is a first aid spray, which is basically an aerosol can of magic that instantly seals wounds. Each time the player brings up the healing menu, Edward will automatically equip a first aid spray if one is in the inventory. All the player is required to do is hold down A for as long as each wound requires attention. Each wound must be sprayed individually. Occasionally, Edward will become so severely injured that the second type of treatment is required, and this requires the use of bandages. When Edward is hit with an especially damaging attack, sometimes a countdown meter will start in the bottom corner of the screen. This indicates that Edward is severely injured. The bandages work the same way as the first aid spray, and the player’s countdown meter disappears as soon as the wound is bandaged. If the meter runs down to zero, the player will die. While the healing system might seem overly complex or tedious, the player will sustain a great deal of damage throughout the game, and the way that the player must interact with the healing system keeps in more interesting than say, selecting “USE” on a first aid kit.

Another big part of Alone in the Dark’s game play is the sandbox style driving and exploring found in games such as the Driver, Grand Theft Auto, and True Crime series. But make no mistake, Carnby won’t be stealing cars from citizens waiting idle in traffic, or blasting criminals while weaving through traffic doing triple digits. No, Carnby will be using motor vehicles as his transport throughout Central Park. When the monsters attacked, people panicked and abandoned their cars. Some drove off the road, while others got into horrific accidents. Regardless, a large number of abandoned vehicles are now scattered around central park. Any vehicle found intact can be entered and driven. Carnby can choose to search the glove box for items, or flip down the sun visor in case the reckless owner left a spare key there. Then, it is time to start the actual car. If you were lucky and picked a car where the keys were left in the ignition, it is a simple matter of turning the key and leaving. If not, then Carnby will have to hotwire the car. Hotwiring is a little mini game that is the same for all vehicles, although the “solution” wire differs from car type to car type. After ripping open the panel, you will be confronted with a choice for three different wires with different colors. You connect both ends of the wires together to achieve a result. However, connecting the wrong cables together might have an unexpected result, such as turning on the interior lights or activating the horn. Once you’ve found the right wires to put together, it is a simple matter of hitting R at the right time when the prompt shows up. Although it is practically essentially to finishing the game in a reasonable amount of time, not to mention crucial to passing several missions, the game’s driving engine and glitchy programming makes putting the pedal to the metal a pain, and feels more like a chore at best. Cars will get snagged on extremely small objects, such as a rock, or sometimes on nothing at all. Collision damage seems similar to playing a slot machine. Sometimes you can nudge a park bench going extremely slowly, and all four doors and the top half of the car will magically fall off. Other times, ramming into another car going full speed will barely do any noticeable damage at all. It is this seemingly random damage detection that makes it difficult to gauge when to get a new vehicle, although heavily damaged vehicles will start spewing a large amount of smoke from its hood. The game has several scripted sequences where the player is supposed to reach a certain point on the map in a very short period of time, and some of these are very frustrating, not by the game’s difficulty itself, but more of the fact that the driving engine and glitches seem to work together to make the game as difficult as possible. This is unfortunate, as some of these segments would have been quite enjoyable and very dramatic had it not been for the landslide of glitches that prevent the sequence from being the way they were intended to be played.

Alone in the Dark certainly isn’t what most would call a platformer game, but there are several sequences that have Carnby jumping from dangerous ledge to dangerous ledge, swinging from ropes and avoiding falling objects. Fortunately however, the game spares players from the frustration from difficult jumps that always seem to appear midway through a platformer game. In fact, most of these jumping and climbing segments are included in the game more for dramatic effect than to challenge players.

As with all horror survival games, Alone in the Dark has a few puzzles. But unlike most other horror survival games, these aren’t the ridiculous nonsense that seems to be in almost every Silent Hill and Resident Evil games. Alone in the Dark has a variety of fresh and interesting puzzles that perfectly balance difficulty with gameplay, ensuring that the puzzles aren’t too hard, but still provide a bit of a challenge.

The controls are not that unique, although they are well laid out, making the game significantly easier to play than most other survival horror games. Not surprisingly, the right trigger controls attacking. While with a gun equipped, Carnby will go into first person view with one press of the right trigger, and the second press will fire the gun. While holding a melee weapon, Carnby will throw said weapon. A well timed throw of a flaming weapon will kill an enemy. With other times equipped, such as the lighter, holding the R button will make Carnby use them. The left trigger lets Carnby lock onto enemies when equipped with a melee weapon, or ready a throwable item when one is equipped. The right bumper is used to scroll through crucial items that can never be dropped, such as Carnby's handgun, or a Zippo lighter. The left bumper allows the player to scroll through non essential items, such as alcohol bottles, aerosol sprays and blood packs. An exception is the flashlight, which can be used in the left hand while the right hand holds a gun or a lighter. The A button is the general, all purpose, context-sensitive “action” button found in most games these days. It can be used to pick up items on the ground, open doors, use machines or search closets/drawers/glove compartments. Holding down A makes Carnby start sprinting. The button is also used to select items within the inventory. The B button is used to deselect things, or to cancel an action. The X button controls jumping. Pressing the Y button will toggle between first and third person views. Certain items and weapons can only be used in first person. The left analog stick controls character movements, while clicking down on the analog stick will make Carnby perform a quick turn. The right analog stick controls the camera when a non-melee weapon is equipped. Clicking the right analog stick will enable the player to look behind Carnby. When Edward has a melee weapon in hand, the right analog stick controls the direction the item is being held or the direction the item will be swung in. The directional pad controls a variety of item and status related “menus”. The Up button shows the favorite item combinations that can be set by the player. The left or right buttons will bring the healing “menu”, and the down button opens the player’s inventory. The back button lets the player access their mobile phone, which doubles as a PDA for mission objectives and a map.

The fact that Alone in the Dark has ports on the Playstation 2 and the Wii might be worrisome for those concerned about the quality of the visuals, but the Xbox 360 version looks fairly decent. Special attention was paid to fire effects, the destructible environments, and the textures of various objects. Although it is not a game that goes overboard trying to impress gamers with its graphical capabilities, the game’s visual aspects are more then sufficient and nothing seems lacking.

The soundtrack of Alone in the Dark is a predictable, Latin-opera sounding orchestral affair, although for the most part, the music was used well. During the first few chapters, the soundtrack might appear to be overcompensating in order to create drama that isn’t there, but later in the game, the soundtrack is perfectly justified. The sound effects in the game don’t vary that much, although there are a sufficient amount of sounds that the game doesn’t repeat itself too often. While the voice acting is fairly decent, the voice tracks aren’t timed so well, as characters have sentences spoken so close together that if feels like one long, run on sentence.

Alone in the Dark, while an awesome experience and a fairly good story, is not very replayable. There are no unlockable costumes, weapons, or items. There is no harder difficulty (the game is fairly easy as it is), and most, if not all the achievements can be gathered in a single playthrough. For those who enjoy horror survival games, or a decent adventure game, this might be worth keeping on the shelf to take off and play once in a while, but other than that, the game is pretty much a one time experience.

-Good atmosphere
-Creative menus
-Creative combat
-Excellent soundtrack

-Glitchy driving system
-Lack of replay value
-Not very challenging

Probester's avatar
Community review by Probester (September 27, 2008)

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drella posted September 27, 2008:

I'll say this much: that big, massive paragraph describing each and every function of the controller is wholly unnecessary. Lose it. It doesn't provide any persuasion to play the game, and reviews are aimed at people who haven't played the game, so your target audience can't place most of it in context. "Holding down A makes Carnby start sprinting." Ugh. No one is going to read through all that.

Put yourself in your readers' shoes: do you care what each button does before you buy a game, or just, in general, what cool stuff you're doing in the game? The answer is obvious. So shouldn't, you know, give the fun stuff a little more importance? And be covered first? You're losing track of your goal.
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Probester posted September 27, 2008:

Noted. I noticed that my controls were pretty long, matching almost my gameplay section. I'm working on a revision of that. I thought about dumping some stuff from the gameplay section as well, since it's massive compared to things like audio and visual, but I felt most of the stuff there needed to be said.
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honestgamer posted September 27, 2008:

Your gameplay section SHOULD be massive compared to your sections on audio and visuals. But more importantly, you shouldn't really have sections at all when writing an essay-style review. You should make sure that you go through the key points as you review a game, but you should never look at one section and say "Well, that's not long enough compared to this other section" and add text for that reason. You should spend more time talking about important stuff and less (or no) time talking about minor details.
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Probester posted September 27, 2008:

Well, when I said I was concerned about the length of sections, I was speaking more of content as opposed to plain length. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't add text just to make something longer. It's just that when I see a section mcuh smaller than others, I feel like I should have paid more attention to that particular section. Although in this case, there really wasn't much to say in the short sections.

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