I also admire the game’s distinct MacGyver tendencies. Combine handkerchiefs with bottles of meths and you get nice Molotov cocktails. Use the meths with the gun and, hey presto, burning bullets. Use the lighter and a spray can and you have a close-quarters DIY flame-thrower. You can even throw potentially explosive items in the air and hit them from a distance with your handgun. All cool stuff.
What’s more, Eden has had a brilliant idea that has a huge impact on both the way the game plays and its atmosphere. Alone in the Dark is set up like an American serial TV series, a la Lost, Heroes or 24. It’s divided into episodes, and those episodes are divided into sections, with each section acting as a checkpoint. This means that, for one thing, you can stop playing for the night then kick in the next evening and you’ll get a great ‘Previously on Alone in the Dark’ sequence that gives you a recap on events so far and takes you straight back into the action. More importantly, the DVD-style interface allows you to skip a sequence should you get horrifically stuck. It’s a clever way of ensuring that even the less skilled gamer should be able to see the end of the game, and while I think there are some repercussions, it’s still an idea that I’d be happy to see other games copy.
Finally, it’s good to see that Eden has gone the tonne and the direction of the story right. The plot flows well from episode to episode, with some excellent Lost-style reveals, a few good shocks and some brilliant daredevil moments. An unexpected link to the original game is well handled, and the smallish cast, the dialogue and drama work generally quite well. In an awful lot of ways, this is a new Alone in the Dark that does the first game justice. It could even have been the new gold standard for survival horror games – or at least until the new Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Project Zero titles show up.
Unfortunately, it isn’t, and it all comes down to the way Alone in the Dark actually plays. It’s as if Eden put all the work into the big picture – the world, the physics, the visuals – and forgot the smaller picture of how it would feel for the player to interact with its creation. Even with the option to switch at will between first-person and third-person views, Alone in the Dark feels slow, unresponsive and kludgy. On foot, your hero seems to take ages to move or change direction, and it’s not helped by abrupt changes of camera angle in the third-person view. Lord help you when you’re trying to escape some eldritch foe or evade some perilous situation. Half the time you haven’t got a hope.
Melee combat is a nightmare. Attacked by demonic New Yorkers, your chances of fending them off with a chair or length of pipe are diminished by the fact that you can never quite predict how your movements of the right analogue stick will translate into swinging or chopping movements on the screen – even with a left-trigger lock-on, you’ll be wishing for a return to the good old days when one button equalled one attack. Targeting with ranged weapons isn’t an awful lot faster, and even tossed explosives have a tendency to bounce in unpredictable ways. When your opponents are as numerous, tough or fast moving as they can be here, the result is a lot of frustration. Things get slightly easier when you realise that flame is the key to the quick dispatch of hostile fiends, but combat in Alone in the Dark is a tense affair for all the wrong reasons.