Alone in the Dark (2008) Steam Review

Alone in the Dark (2008) is a big production survival horror game turned linear adventure with a story that plays out through cut scenes and big car chases. At its core, its still a survival horror game. The controls are awkward and maybe too overly detailed. The camera is a struggle with your player consuming a third of the screen and you need to switch between over the shoulder third and first person views to get things done. Its cumbersome and awkward, but for any ill will toward the controls the game certainly makes up for it with its production.

Evil tremors that tear through buildings and city streets are turning people evil. Similar to zombies, but they have a lot of self preservation and they can talk too. You play as a Robert, something a former evil inhabited and you meet allies along the way. You’ll be rescuing several short term and long term characters so the game never truly feels alone. Sure you do all the work, but they’re with you most of the way. You’re never in the dark for too long either.

There’s a lot of interesting mechanics in the game that feel alien in a way. The first of which is a blink your eyes mechanic that is only in first person. Go figure. You blink to reduce the blurriness and by the first ten or so minutes you’ll see fine until a blood spitter covers your eyes. Then just blink it away!

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Fire will spread from object to object and you need to catch chairs, lamp shades and bats on fire to use as weapons against the evils. So stiffly hold the weapon in a fire and hope it catches. You can only carry a weapon in third person, so the character will obscure the weapon being held out. So hope that it catches fire. Then you need to hold an analog stick or something else if you’re using keyboard controls to charge your attack. Hold it back, then flick the other way to swing. Other games have done this better and its slow enough where the enemies can run away when they see your flaming board of justice. Fire is the only thing that can kill inhabited humans and kill them instantly. With a chair lit up you can use it to sometimes illuminate an area. Other times the game decides that you failed so it raises the lights on the entire area.

You can use a fire extinguisher to slowly put out fire in first person or switch to third person, hold the stick back and bash down a door. If you’re unable to bash a door down, then you can shoot through the lock. Again, interesting and detailed mechanics yet slow, cumbersome, awkward and deliberate. It turns a typical adventure game into something with a slower pace.

The game has a grand scope. You’ll go from humble beginnings of bashing down doors and tackling issues to get from point A to B. You’ve got a gun, healing spray, a lighter, duct tape and you can pick up melee weapons. Then get to hang off the side of building by wires and hand holds. Its the adventure syndrome of modern games. Truth be told, I’d rather go on an adventure in the guise of survival horror that I would a straight up survival horror game.

There are puzzles such as three bloody finger prints on a keypad. Loading a fire extinguisher onto a lift, jumping and pulling a rope to launch the extinguisher to the floor it needs to be. Getting two wires close, but far enough apart to hot wire a car or a power generator.

The inventory has a unique thing going for it, because you open your coat to reveal all sorts of compartments that has you carrying ten pounds of gear. Just think what could be accomplished if he uses his pockets too! Selecting from the array of duct tape, ammo, and flashlight batteries becomes a chore trying to accurately select something with the analog stick then push a button. When you dig through your inventory, the game is still playing.1

Alone in the Dark plays out in chapters like television episodes that have credits at the end and a “previously on” reel to start each chapter. This can be good and bad. The credits signify that its time to shut off to the game and come back to it later. The reel is a good way of recapping everything if you come back to the game years later. If you chose to keep going, then you just have another cut scene to sit through that you probably remember. Speaking of cut scenes, you’re stuck watching them with no way to skip them and that alone becomes my driving force to push through the game rather than take a brake.

Driving plays out like a lot of other games with forward and reverse, but once you get up to top speed its easy to fishtail at a ninety degree turn. So you learn to slow down, but if you slow down too much the ground will crack and swallow you whole. The first driving sequence is crazy in a good way once you break out of a garage. Buildings are falling, roads open up to create jumps. Other vehicles on the road become hazards. There are plenty of visual cues like a taxi driving through a glass storefront to indicate that you should do the same.

Its amazing to look at and see, but without checkpoints a fun thrilling ride turns into a frustrating challenge. It only reaches a frustration when the game glitches and locks you in the ground. In normal circumstances this is remedied by waiting for the ground to collapse and suck you in. Other times the ground never collapses and you’re forced to restart the chapter rather than the last checkpoint. The odd thing is while it looks as if you can rewind to the last checkpoint, I was never able to. Instead I had to quit back to the main menu and then select the chapter and checkpoint.

I encountered a few glitches such as the game crashing when I went to the display settings. I was supposed to run down possessed people in a car, but I failed to do so in time, so I fought them on foot which triggered a lot of things that were supposed to happen in the car. Other times voice overs would play after they should have like explanations. Speaking of explanations there are a lot of tutorial prompts. If you take too long, they forcefully take over the screen and you need to push a button to send them away. Some of these prompts have images of the controller, which is great, it shows you what you have to do, but other times there’s no image and no text indicating what you push.

The glitches are forgivable for the most part, other than the few that crashed or prevented me from advancing. Even a few times is still too many. Despite the flaws, glitches and cumbersome controls the game has great visuals and that makes all the difference. Some of the textures look super high quality on the default settings, while others look low quality such as the protagonists leather jacket is torn and rather than having tears in it, the skin textures on the jacket itself. Everything looks crisp and clean even among fires, destruction and chaos. There needs to be some atmosphere in the world rather than just the sky boxes.

The character models and hair are good just as the voice acting, but the problem is that its tough to care about the characters. I’m into the story yes. Evil taking over New York City, sure give me that, but I know nothing about them other than their look. A haggard drifter with no memory, a woman who is the normal commoner and a priest who knows more. There’s no reason to like or care for any of them.

Alone in the Dark is still an interesting game despite the controls and the fact its more adventure than typical survival horror.

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