Never in my life have I been so conflicted about reviewing a game. Even though I have reviewed literally hundreds of games, I have never been as torn as I am right now. In some regards Alone in the Dark is a masterful accomplishment that should be noticed and honored. But at the exact same time it's one of the most broken and frustrating games I have ever experienced. It's neither the best game of the year nor is it the worst, but I'm finding it almost impossible to put my pure hatred for the game on paper.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Despite not having a number next it its name or a subtitle of some sort, Alone in the Dark is actually the fifth game in this long-running adventure/survival horror franchise. While never as popular as the games that came after it, Alone in the Dark had a hand in crafting such fright fests as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. With a huge budget, some sharp graphics and an intriguing storyline, it looked like Alone in the Dark was poised to reboot the franchise and introduce a whole new generation of gamers to Edward Carnby.
Despite its shortcomings, Alone in the Dark has one of the most exhilarating first acts of all time. Picture this; you just woke in a mysterious building with a bunch of monks holding you and some old guy hostage. Before long the building starts to come alive (so to speak) and horrible things start to happen to your captures. Free at least, Edward Carnby (who conveniently can't remember who he is or how he got here) is forced to escape this building before it crumbles to the ground. But don't look now; because your adventure doesn't end when you escape this evil building ... it's only the beginning.
The set-up's tension is only made more urgent when you realize that it's not just the building that is doing strange (and destructive) things ... it's all of Manhattan! Giant roots are starting to pop up out of the ground, buildings are collapsing all around your head and the whole city seems to be in utter chaos. As far as set-ups go, this is one of the most intriguing. With the game's amazing graphics and real sense of danger, Alone in the Dark managed to keep me captivated early on. I couldn't wait to see what was going on in New York City, who those monk characters were and where this adventure was going to lead me.
And herein lies the problem with the game, from this set-up you might think that I was having a great time. And you know, for the first hour or two I was having a lot of fun. But like so many things in life, once you get over the high tension and exciting danger, you start to see how the game starts to come apart at the seams. The things you start to forgive in the first couple hours end up coming back to you and haunting you, to the point where this game feels more like a chore to play through. And this is my conflict, for everything that it does extremely well, there is at least one thing that is does so poorly that it makes you not want to go on. But then, you've come this far, don't you want to see how it all ends?
Alone in the Dark was originally designed to be an episodic release ... and it shows. While the game fits together, it's clear that each episode tells a unique part of the story and almost always ends on some big cliffhanger. On top of that, players are even treated to end credits each and every time they complete one of the game's episodes. It's a shame that Atari wasn't able to fix some of the technical problems that plague this title, because the story is solid and there's a nice sense of pace to the game. If this had been done better it would have made for a memorable eight-part game.
For me the game starts to unravel at the end of the second episode, in a sequence that had me driving through the streets of Manhattan doing my best to avoid giant roots, falling buildings and flaming busses. In total this driving sequence is no more than four or five minutes, it's an extremely brief part of the game that looks cool and does a good job setting up the next episode. But for whatever reason this short five minute long sequence ended up taking me more than an hour to beat. It wasn't my driving that was the problem; instead it was the game's rampant glitches that ruined it for me, a few that actually made it impossible to complete the level. After going through it flawlessly a dozen times, I decided to do some investigating to see why I kept dying at the end. Come to find out that the problem wasn't my driving ... but rather the game not being able to load part of the level fast enough. I literally had to pause the game and wait for a few seconds to let the level fully load, or else I died.
Sadly this was just the start of my Alone in the Dark woes. Not only does the game suffer from a couple of game ending glitches and some freezing issues, but it also has a number of curious design decisions that take would could have been a memorable adventure game and turn it into one of the most frustrating video game experiences you can have. What should have been an exciting survival horror game with amazing graphics was quickly marred by some terrible controls, an unruly camera and characters I couldn't stand.
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