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Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

Score: 100%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Pocket Studios
Media: Cart/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror/ Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

It's Survival Horror in your pocket, and oh buddy, are you in for a surprise! Yeah, I looked at the screenshots too, and I thought they were nice for cut-scenes, but little did I know I was looking at actual in-game action shots! The giveaways are the little icons you'll see on some screenshots that show it really is you moving the character (Carnby) around in these excellent and detailed environments. They're static screens, to be sure, but the effect of 3D is heightened by having Carnby change size proportionally as he moves further away or gets closer to you. It may sound cheesy, but there's a reason most of Western art is based on using a vanishing point to imply perspective on a flat surface. The effect works really well, and makes you wonder why more people didn't try this for other games. As the name would imply, Alone in the Dark is dimly lit, even by Game Boy standards, which makes it a must for those well-lit areas. And, after you've been creeping around for a while in this game, a well-lit area is exactly what you'll be looking for! Incidental music adds to the scary vibe here, and disproves the idea that GBC is limited to a repetitive, dull score for games. Any fan of the great Survival Horror games can attest to how important music is to the total experience, and although you won't walk away whistling 'The Theme to Alone in the Dark,' you'll remember the vibe for a long, long time.

With the focus on stylized visuals, Infogrames didn't lose sight of how important strong menu and item design is to a good gaming experience. Anything you can pick up is either clearly defined and outlined in the manual, such as health or ammo, or it will stand out from the background and be very obvious. Entering battles brings up a new interface, which is easy to read, more brightly lit and intuitive to navigate through. Very nice, all the way around.


Gameplay:

Believe it or not, AITD for GBC is a full fledged Survival Horror game that may stretch your notions of what a Game Boy game is all about. The principles of a game like Resident Evil tend to be that it looks pretty, has plenty of atmosphere, puzzles and (of course) evil bad guys. AITD was an early set of games that tried to bring a spooky, 'haunted house' experience to PC gaming, and succeeded. Most of those games, although still being sold in package deals and bundles, are too antiquated to rouse our interest today, but the vibe was right. Spook-fests like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and others owe some fundamental debts of gratitude to AITD for breaking early ground in the market, and you can go all the way back to text adventures for examples of games that cultivated the fertile soil of fear. Emotionally, we don't need much to be pushed out of our comfort zone, and the big problem with a small system like GBC is making the experience believable. I'm not saying you'll jump out of your chair and scream like a little baby the way I did when I first played Resident Evil, but the vibe here is still right.

Edward Carnby is called on to research the death of his former mentor, Charles Fisk. Fisk died while doing some snooping for Aline Cedrac, who called him in to recover lost Indian artifacts that were stolen and secreted away to Shadow Island. Carnby will have to travel to Shadow Island and face his own fears as the creeps come out of the woodwork intent on nothing less than putting him in an early grave. After a long introduction, done with graphics and subtitles, we're thrown into AITD as Carnby, unarmed and carrying only the few essential he could take off the boat, along with a 2-way radio he'll use to stay in touch with Aline. Exploring is incredibly simple, and the controls involve moving Carnby with the D-pad and either picking up items from the environment to add to your inventory, or using the currently active item. The search/examine rule is in effect, so Carnby will comment on objects he thinks can be acted on, often giving you a hint as to what you should do. Once you have the right sequence of items or single 'key' item, you'll go back to the object and do your thing. Sound familiar? It should, as the formula doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. Mostly, because it works. Battles pop up from time to time, and after some warning, Carnby's view changes to a battlefield image, not unlike an RPG or something like Parasite Eve. As long as you have ammo for your gun, you'll be able to defend yourself against groups of enemies who descend on you quickly. No one-shot kills for you, so keep moving and put some distance between yourself and the creatures, and when it's all over you're back in the game.


Difficulty:

Battles can feel intrusive, but the hardest thing about them is that they don't advance the character in any way. So, unlike the RPG model, we're still in the world of pure Survival Horror. Although items can help you buy time against creatures, Edward doesn't change fundamentally, so you'll have to rely on the same (if not more) skills and reflexes to fight the last boss as you started using in the first battle. And puzzles can be somewhat of an equalizer if they're hard, but I can't say anyone in the target audience will find them too challenging. Things like keys require more in the way of memory than brain-power, but any level of complexity for a GBC Cart that goes beyond standard side-scrolling drudgery is a welcome addition to the library.

Game Mechanics:

Broken into parts, you'll find that the exploration doesn't involve much more than looking out for strange objects in each room, examining them and using them. A simple inventory screen helps keep the items in a place you can revisit when you're stuck on a puzzle, and using them is as simple as selecting them from the inventory and activating them back in the main screen. Selecting the gun or ammo won't do much, as you'll have your chance during the battles to manage weapons and health. Bottles of potion can be found during the non-battle segments that can affect health, but also may do other things. Two button control betrays the developers' desire to keep things simple, and once you realize there's ample warning before battles and no harm in thoroughly searching environments, the game is just about getting sucked in and having fun. Managing interaction with characters is a big part of solving puzzles, and saving frequently is another. A built-in save really takes the edge off of exploration, since you feel empowered to try anything and that should be the fun part of the game anyway. Up to 3 different slots can be saved and replayed, but I didn't see that a second slot could be saved in mid-game after you'd started the first one.

Battles still maintain the simplicity that makes the other game mode excellent, but change interface and controls. Using an item is really just as simple as shooting your gun, but ammo is precious and in short supply. So, using all the objects in the room where you run into a creature, you bob and weave and take pot shots until the evil things expire. Some objects have a use during battles, mostly to raise health. Infogrames did well to partition battles, since the experience of having a zombie creep up on you wouldn't be quite as dramatic on the GBC as it did on the bigger consoles. So, the slight pause and text saying 'I tawt I saw a zombie...I did, I did see a zombie!' (not really) gives the player a chance to shake off any frustration about a puzzle or confusion with the level and just blow some stuff up. It would have been nice to have a knife, but nothing like that exists, so if you run out of bullets, kiss your tush goodbye. Somewhat of a severe lesson to learn, but nothing that some careful shooting couldn't fix. The diagonals, when enemies attack, can be hard lines to shoot through when you're using the GBC's little D-Pad, but it's completely expected that you'll lure enemies around obstacles to get them on your own terms.

Alone in the Dark is an instant classic, and except for the fact that GBA is on the scene today, I can imagine AITD would be a clean sweep for serious recognition and heavy adulation. No question this will be a hit, unless people can't get to the suspension of disbelief that makes playing a Survival Horror game on a tiny screen okay. For my money, it's a really unique experience that will appeal to folks who may not have liked what the GBC had to offer previously or were hooked on scary games. Scary may not be exactly the correct word for this little guy, but ambitious, fun and innovative should all apply.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

GameBoy Color/Pocket Action Man GameBoy Color/Pocket Bob the Builder: Fix It Fun

 
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