Alone in the Dark is back from a somewhat lengthy hiatus and it’s ready to make an impact on next-gen consoles. Unfortunately, Atari’s latest offering lends credence to the saying “let sleeping dogs lie”. Sterling McGarvey over at Gamespy said it best when describing this game, “I’ve never seen such contempt for the gamer.” It’s as if developer Eden Games was trying to exact revenge for something you might have done because the game is so frustrating to get through. It’s not that it’s a difficult game to play, rather the game play and mechanics make it near impossible to enjoy.
It’s not like developer Eden Studios, Atari’s sole internal developer, didn’t try. They did, and they aimed high with some of their concepts, from doing a survival horror game with open world, sand-box elements to innovative inventory mechanics, as well as their DVD style menus that allow you to skip levels. Unfortunately it feels as if they tried too much, and in turn didn’t focus on what makes a game great, its game play.
The game focuses on Edward Carnby, a mysterious man with the innate ability to battle evil and come out ok. The game starts out with Carnby in an apartment building across the street from Central Park, in midtown Manhattan. You need to haul ass out of the building because it’s being torn apart by some mysterious force. It’s a good level to get you familiar with the controls and allows you to learn some of the basic controls and maneuvers.
From there it’s time to head to the games central destination, Central Park. You’d think it’d be easy considering the building you’re in is across the street from the park, but think again. You have to drive there, in a bizarre route that travels along the side entrances of the park. It wouldn’t be so bad had the driving controls been somewhat manageable. The driving sequence has to be one of the worst in history and it’s surprising considering Eden Studios previous release was Test Drive Unlimited. Once in Central Park it’s your average shoot ‘em up style game with little imagination.
One of the highlights touted as revolutionary was the games inventory system, which is accessed by looking down in to your coat at what you have in your pockets. While it may seem like a good idea, it fails on so many levels. Perhaps the biggest complaint is that the game is not paused while you’re rummaging through your coat. If you’re trying to put together a Molotov cocktail by combining bits of a hankie and a bottle of whiskey, and you’ve got monsters bearing down on you, forget it, you’re screwed. You’re also limited as to what you can carry, which may add a sense or realism, but the process to drop items and add others into your coat is extremely cumbersome and a bother.
One of the games few bright spots was the level of environmental interaction and its combination with the inventory system. You’re able to combine items in your inventory to further enhance your capabilities in fighting. Fire, which is one sure way to down an enemy, could be used in conjunction with a bottle of whiskey to create a Molotov Cocktail, or you can use your lighter with a bottle of mosquito spray to create a mini flame thrower. You could even pour on lighter fluid on your bullets to create a flaming bullet, further damaging your enemies.
The games other bright spot is Olivier Deriviere’s haunting score. The music really stood out and gave the game a chilling effect. It was definitely the highlight of the game and if you could find a copy of the soundtrack I’d highly recommend giving it a listen. Other than that the sound effects were your standard fare while the voice acting was performed admirably.
Perhaps the biggest question that should be asked of this game is who at the publisher or developer actually played this game and decided it was a ready to launch? There are a lot of fundamental problems with the game that you’ve got to wonder just what Atari was thinking. It’s no wonder Atari went on a rampage when a lot of the negative reviews started coming in before the games release. It wasn’t because the reviewers were playing an unfinished copy as Atari claimed, oh no it was a final copy all right. It’s just that the game itself is unfinished. Your best bet is to save your hard earned cash and fill up your gas tank, or if you really have to see it for yourself rent it.