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Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

Score: 70%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Darkworks
Media: CD/3
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare uses prerendered backgrounds with in-game models moving around on them, like pretty much every game in the genre. The environments are sharp and detailed, and what you can't see very well, you can use the flashlight to illuminate. The flashlight in The New Nightmare reminded me of the one in Nocturne, although it's not quite as sharp. The models in the game are quite detailed, although they don't animate as well as I would have liked, and they don't have the infamous 'real clothes' of Nocturne. Fortunately, the game's camera angles are usually nowhere near as atrocious as those in the Nocturne engine games. Sure, it sets you up for an annoying angle every now and then, but it's not as endemic as in most survival horror games.

Sound, on the other hand, isn't quite up to par. The 'music', such as it is, is grating and disjointed, taking you out of the experience as opposed to drawing you in. The sound effects are passable, but they're nothing you haven't heard before--gunshots, explosions, growls, and so on. And the voice acting ranges from laughably bad to merely passable. Aline is flat in the opening movie, and while she improves as the game progresses, both characters are given some pretty stupid lines and never quite get emotive about their roles.


Gameplay:

Combine this with a frustrating control scheme and an atrocious save system and you have one of the more frustrating game experiences in recent history. It's frustrating because it comes so close to greatness--the plot is solid, the graphics are sharp, but the execution leaves a whole lot to be desired.

Edward Carnby, protagonist of the original Alone in the Dark games, returns on a quest to find out just what went wrong on Shadow Island. Along for the ride is Aline Cedrac, who believes it's going to be a relatively mundane translation effort for some rare tablets found there. Of course, things go horribly awry from the beginning, and you have to pick which of the two characters to play as in your quest to find out what really happened.

The two stories are intertwined--indeed, you'll interact with the other character as you play your own quest, and while the 'stories' don't quite match up completely, there's enough overlap that you don't feel cheated. Even so, the two branches play considerably differently. Carnby's story tends to concentrate more on combat and less on puzzles; Aline's is definitely more solve-oriented. She also starts off at a pretty serious disadvantage, lacking even a weapon to shoot enemies with.

The game plays much like any survival horror game you've ever tinkered around with. Manipulating the environment is considerably more frustrating than it should be, though, because you do almost everything with the space button. In addition to this, a number of places in the game have very small 'sweet spots' that are very frustrating to hit. This can lead to shuffling about, trying to get positioned right, which is never a fun experience.

Compounding this is the atrocious save system. You have to use Save Tokens, which is fine and dandy--they're pretty liberal with them throughout the game, so it shouldn't be much of an issue to make it through without running out of tokens. However, when you save the game, it doesn't really save the game completely. You have to recomplete whatever zone you find yourself in. This can be fantastically frustrating, as some of the zones require a long sequence of actions and combat situations to complete, and repeating that sort of stuff is never fun.

Admittedly, many of the problems with the control scheme and the save system result from the fact that Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is a port of a PSX game as opposed to the other way around. But that doesn't excuse the developers from fixing it on the PC.

And it's a real shame, because despite its issues and relatively short length Alone in the Dark is a fun game. It kept me intrigued long enough to find out what was going on; I didn't feel like I was playing 'to play'.


Difficulty:

Carnby's adventure is considerably less challenging than that of Aline, mainly because he finds better firepower more often and rarely has to worry about running out of ammo. One of the first things to learn in this game is that you can run past most of the enemies, conserving your ammunition and making your life a whole lot simpler. This is especially vital in Aline's slice of the game, as she rarely runs across ammunition. Some of the boss fights are almost trivial; other ones are downright challenging, almost to the point of frustration. Despite this, most good gamers should be able to make it through both stories of the game in a long weekend.

Game Mechanics:

Alone in the Dark uses the keyboard pretty much exclusively, although you can set it up to use a joypad if you have one. You use the arrow keys to rotate, and you have a separate key to pull the weapon 'up' to fire. There's also a 'freelook' button that you can use to wave the flashlight around or aim the gun, but the game usually autoaims the gun for you anyway so that you don't have to worry about it too much. Unfortunately, the rest of the mechanics aren't as tried and true. I already commented on the save system; the inventory menus are almost as frustrating, especially since it's the only realistic way to reload your weapon. I personally would have preferred a Nocturne-style mouse-and-keyboard control scheme, but alas it was not meant to be; the lack of a 'quick-turn' key can make some battles a lot cheaper than they should be. The grand total of four save games is also pretty frustrating, especially when you know your hard drive can hold more.

Alone in the Dark singlehandedly started the survival horror genre. Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare doesn't really push the genre anywhere it hasn't been before, which is a shame; I hoped for at least some evolutionary game mechanics. Instead we get a solid story that's unfortunately wrapped in a few layers of cruft. Fans of the genre should probably check the game out, especially if they remember playing the original; it's easier to see past the game's flaws when you've dealt with other games that have the same ones. But those who are looking to get into the survival horror genre can pick much better games to jump in with. Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare isn't the worst example of the genre, but there are more solid efforts out in the market today.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



K6-3 450/P2 400, 64MB RAM, 16MB 3D accelerator, Win9x/Me/2K Professional, 400MB HD Space, mouse, keyboard, soundcard
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Age of Empires Windows America

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated