Alone in the Dark has a long history - some say it started the whole genre of survival-horror, even if the first Alone in the Dark was more like an adventure game. Atari's re-imaging of the old series has been in development for quite a while, promising a proper big-budget revival with next-gen visuals, with a new story set around New York's Central Park.
Alone in the Dark already managed to create some "buzz" around the fact that Atari supposedly threatened to sue some websites for 21bf posting (negative) reviews of the game "too early" - so early that Atari decided that the only possible explanation was a pirate copy. They knew that they definitely didn't supply a review copy, and surely no stores would dare break the release date. While I can't be sure how the sites fingered by Atari obtained their copies, my bets are on the obvious explanation - a store broke the release date.
As the news spread, Atari quickly withdrew their complaints and hoped that the whole thing would just go away. In retrospective, it looked like Atari really didn't want to see early reviews of Alone in the Dark. In fact, I got the impression that Atari wouldn't mind if we didn't review the game at all. Up until the launch, there was a constant stream of pre-launch marketing material from Atari. Interviews, screenshots, videos... everything except actual playable code. When the time came for a review copy, Atari fell silent. Ultimately our only choice was to buy the damn thing from a store and after spending 30 minutes with the game, I understood why Atari was not too keen to dish out review samples...
A Scary Story
Alone in the Dark embraces the tired plot device of a hero suffering from amnesia. During the early parts of the story both you and the hero are equally confused as the story tosses you around a Manhattan high-rise building while everything around you is getting trashed and zombies lurk behind every corner. Once you make your way out, you are pushed to the Central Park that is being overrun by all kinds of supernatural evil. The story feels forced - you are constantly pushed along a single route and there is virtually no room to actually play the game. I guess this is "cinematic storytelling" - gameplay boxed to small bite-sized chunks. You are constantly interrupted by canned in-engine sequences, and should you get stuck, there are no alternate routes.
Alone in the Dark tries to alleviate the problem by emulating a TV series on a DVD. The storyline is split to episodes, and each episode has a number of chapters. If you get stuck, you can always fast forward or skip over to the next chapter, and whenever you continue from a saved game or from a chapter point, you get a nice recap of the story so far with a nice "previously on Alone in the Dark" sequence. While I dislike the idea of skipping content, the short story recap works well.
On the flip side, skipping ahead is made possible by the fact that the whole game feels like one big pre-determined sequence of canned animation. Sure, you can move your character around, fight some supernatural enemies and fiddle with some items, but it all feels so meaningless as all you do is push your character forward in a pre-determined line of progression through the game. I've seen some pretty damn linear games, but AITD is up there with the old laserdisc titles such as Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. Any resemblance of choice always turns out to be a pre-determined bit that you were meant to do. Even when the gameplay opens up slightly in the Central Park you are still boxed in to follow the intended route with infinite chasms, piles of debris etc. blocking your path elsewhere.
Games: Alone in the Dark
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