It’s never been my favorite genre, but I’ll say right here that I absolutely love horror games! The best horror games elicit a real sense of dread and fear. You don’t understand what’s going on, you can’t understand what’s going on. All you can do is try to make it to the next room and hope that there isn’t something waiting for you around the corner.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and even Dead Space (more of a “creepy shooter”) all do this. That’s what makes games like Alone in the Dark such a disappointment. You go into it expecting to experience something creepy and challenging, but instead have to deal with a half-baked story and clunky gameplay. And the real disappointment? It could have been good!
Alone in the Dark isn’t one of those games that’s just plain bad. Rather, it’s of the sort where you can tell that the developers were indeed trying to make something new and interesting, but just weren’t able to pull it off. The whole game just feels half-baked; if it had spent more time in development, I’m convinced it would have at least played well. Unfortunately, the proper amount of time wasn’t spent and we’re left with only the potential for a great game, not the thing itself. So, what sort of impression does Alone in the Dark make? To be blunt, not much of one.
I don’t have much to say about the story, it starts out strong but ends up in a nonsensical mess and our characters don’t fare much better. For starters, I don’t recall ever finding out much of anything about why our protagonist, Edward Carnby, is motivated to do anything in this story, nor even why he should even care beyond the fact that there’s evil afoot. I remember that he had amnesia, that he arrived with the evil that’s invading, that he wants to recover his memory, and…that’s it. No reason for losing the memory, not plot point about why it’s so important that he recover it, no explanation for why he’s our last, best hope, nothing. Same with the other characters, they’re all throw-aways; I don’t even remember any of their names. I know at one point the girl, who I guess is supposed to be the mandatory love interest, gets possessed and potentially killed. The game plays it up as some heart-wrenching moment but it just came across as tacky and thrown-in just to have a sad scene. However as unimpressive as the story and characters are, they’re not what did this game in, it was the gameplay that did that.
No matter how well the other elements in a game are implemented, a game’s quality is mostly determined by the gameplay. Garbage gameplay can tank even the most well-written of games, while great gameplay always overshadows poor narrative. Unfortunately Alone in the Dark’s gameplay doesn’t do it any favors.
Let’s start with the lesser of its problems: the controls. They’re…okay. The controls function well enough, you can move about freely and can do what you need to do, but they’re not outstanding. It’s mostly due to this control mechanic they tried to work in, a system that was supposed to better emulate picking-up and using thing in real life (see the above video). It was novel, and not necessarily a bad idea, but it was just poorly implemented. The rest of the game didn’t make it necessary to use all that often and just wound up making having to deal with it annoying.
Then there’s the inventory system…that stupid, STUPID, inventory system. If there was one piece of this game that ensured it would tank, this, ladies and gentlemen, this would be it. Yes it had a neat item combining system, but unfortunately it just took too much time. For those of you who watched the linked video, you would have noticed that to equip and/or combine items, you had to stop what you were doing and open up your jacket to see what you had in stock. Again, that’s not a bad gimmick for a menu, in fact it’s kind of cool and clever, but the general clunkiness of the controls tended to make it unwieldy. Normally I wouldn’t hold a kind of clunky menu against a game, after all it’s just the inventory menu. If I can do what I need to do without holding up the game too much then there’s no problem right? This is not the case in Alone in the Dark though and why? Because it doesn’t pause the game. You have to everything in real-time, it doesn’t matter if you’re wandering around central park or in a boss fight. Need to make a fire-bomb, then you need to stop and make it, allowing anything to just walk up and take you out. In a pinch and need to heal? Well, the I hope you can find a quiet, out of the way spot to do it because the enemies aren’t going to just sit and wait. One could argue that this helps add to the tension, which I would agree with if the menu system wasn’t so clumsy. If were a little more streamlined and agile, then yes it would have done a lot to add to the tension of an encounter. As it is however…
So, that’s Alone in the Dark 2008. It had potential but unfortunately it didn’t capitalize on it. These were just the main issues with the game, I didn’t even get to all the little annoyances (seriously, if you want to see more of what was wrong with this game, just youtube the car chase segment). Maybe you had a better experience with it than I did, but for me it’s one of the crummier experiences I’ve had as a gamer.
…still this game had one thing that was awesome: the main theme! Letting this theme go to waste is perhaps the biggest crime that this game has committed!