Alone in the Dark

Review

posted 8/19/2008 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: 360
Let's start with the most obvious problem - the controls. I don't know if it's a game developer law or what, but must every survival horror-type game have the worst controls ever? It seems like ever since Resident Evil hit the scene good developers have fallen into the mindset that big scares come before good gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately Alone in the Dark comes up short of both, but with its interesting story I'm willing to forgive the lack of genuine scares.

What I can't forgive is the controls, especially now that we have more than a decade's worth of games that demonstrate how to control both a first and third person adventure game. At this point you wouldn't think that it's rocket science, you just point the character in the direction you want and he moves there. But alas, that's not what we have to put up with in Alone in the Dark. The game tries to be friendly, it allows you to change from the first and third person perspectives at almost any time (exceptions being action sequences, such as climbing ropes and whatnot). But for reasons that escape me, the two player perspectives actually use completely different control layouts. Worse yet, there are some things you can't do in the first person perspective, and vice versa.

For whatever reason, Alone in the Dark doesn't get either the first person or the third person perspectives right. When you're in the third person perspective your movements are often imprecise and unruly. Whereas, the first person perspective is too slow and sluggish, making it hard for you to actually do all of the things you would want to do in that perspective. And that's not even the worst part, if you prefer playing the game in the first person perspective (as I did) you'll quickly become annoyed by the amount of times you will have to switch back from the third person mode. Every time a cinema hits, or you get an important call or you interact with the background in any way, you will switch back to the third person perspective. Every single time. This isn't just an annoying little quirk you have to put up with, this is something that is extremely disorienting, especially when you're in the middle of a large battle of some sort. And not only will you be switched back to the default third person perspective, but you will also be pointing in the wrong direction. So I found myself having to run away, switch to the first person, look around to see where I was, pull out my weapon and then try and kick some butt. By the time I was done doing all that I had already been hit a couple of times and forced to use the medicine spray (which, surprise, takes you out of the first person perspective). Imagine doing this hundreds of times throughout the course of the game and you'll start to understand how frustrating this game can be.


And did I mention that the button layouts are needlessly confusing? Alone in the Dark wasn't one of those games where I stumbled with the controls for the first little while, even at the end of the game I was making life-ending mistakes because of the confusing controls. As I mentioned earlier, you have two sets of controls depending on whether you're in the first or third person perspective. But it's actually worse than that. Believe it or not, this game actually has four solid pages of control instructions in the manual. That may not seem like much, but it's about three times longer than even the most complicated first person shooter. The game gives you a different button layout for when you don't have anything in your hand, when you do have something in your hand, when you're driving, when you're throwing something, when you're on a rope, when you're shooting something, even when you're using a fire extinguisher. Performing even the simplest tasks (like combining items and throwing bottles) is made needlessly difficulty by this set up.

It's also worth mentioning that for the most par the weapons in this game are all but useless. You see, the bad guys (all bad guys) in Alone in the Dark can only be killed with fire. The good news is that there's fire everywhere (and if there isn't fire nearby, you can make it with your trusty lighter and bottles of gasoline). Early on the game wants you to beat the tar out of your enemies with whatever you see on the ground, such as boards and chairs. Once you've knocked the enemy out (which is no easy task, I might add), you are supposed to pick them up and drag them to the fire. If you don't do this fast enough they'll get back up and you'll have to repeat the entire process all over again. This task is only made more frustrating when a second (or lord forbid, a third) guy shows up. Thankfully you can combine your gasoline with your bullets to create fire bullets, but even that isn't enough to kill some of the characters you face in the second half of the game. I found myself spending most of my time just throwing bottles of gas at my enemies and then shooting them to watch them (everybody around it) explode. This works ... unless your gun is out of ammo, which you wouldn't know because it doesn't actually tell you how many bullets you have. Needless to say, the process of killing enemies is made much more difficult than it should be.

But let's say you can get past these problems. Let's say the story is captivating enough to keep you going through the first seven levels. Well the developers (Eden Games) have a surprise for you ... the single most tedious task of all time. Without spoiling too much, at a point late in the game you will need to drive around a virtual Central Park in order to track down a bunch of roots and burn them. On paper this sounds okay, but in practice this becomes a multi-hour task that requires all of the patience you have stored up in that head of yours (or wherever patience is stored up). It's as if the developers realized that they had spent so much time working on this recreation of Central Park that it would be a shame not to do something with it, so they made you run around (or drive around) and kill a bunch of roots. It goes without saying that this part of the game is absolutely no fun, it would be as if Rockstar Games made you find and kill all of the hidden pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV before you could beat the game.
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