Alone in the Dark
7th Feb 2008 | 15:33
Just in case you haven't brushed up on your ancient games history recently (educational standards are slipping apparently), Alone in the Dark was the first 3D 'survival horror' title released back in 1992 and inspired such great Japanese franchises as Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
The HP Lovecraft-inspired original has returned, although as we discovered when we first saw AITD over two years ago, French developer Eden Games are insistent that this is more of an action-horror game inspired by movies and TV shows such as Die Hard or 24, than a creeping terror title.
(Oh, just don't mention the Alone in the Dark movie. Although any movie starring Tara Reid and Stephen Dorff, and produced by the guy behind the BloodRayne films is doomed from the start...)
"Some of the most brilliant, exciting and tense entertainment of recent years has been TV series like 24 and Lost where you're gripped by a tight dynamic of action, plot twists, character revelation and cliff-hangers," says producer Nour Polloni.
"We wanted players to have the same kind of experience with Alone in the Dark, so we've used that structure to give us the same kind of narrative dynamic, intertwined with the gameplay. This approach lets us carefully plan each episode to hit the right balance, which puts maximum pressure on the player to keep playing just to see what happens next."
Each episode will be approximately 40-60 minutes of gameplay, but thankfully the original plans of actually releasing the game in these bite-size chunks has been dropped - episodic gaming, with the exception of the adventures of Sam & Max, has been a well-hyped, but short-lived, failure.
Alone in the Dark features the main character of Edward Carnby who is sent to uncover a strange and terrifying mystery at the heart of New York's Central Park. This huge area of the famous US city, which spans over four square kilometres, has been completely recreated in-game using the same satellite-mapping technology from the developers' last title Test Drive Unlimited.
The Central Park setting allows the team to have action and set-pieces in Manhattan's busy, crowded buildings and streets, as well as quiet, foreboding forest areas that lend themselves to the spooky real-time lighting and army of nightmarish creatures from beyond the afterlife...
"Firstly, they're pretty clever at finding their way to you - they can spot you not just by sight and sound, but also by smell, then once they've got a bead on you they'll break through or go around most barriers in their path," continues Polloni.
"They won't always come straight for you - they might have their sights set on mauling someone else, and it can be particularly disconcerting when one of them comes out of nowhere and flies straight past you making you think yourself lucky it didn't have your name on it."
AITD will also feature human characters, but it'll be ambivalent as to whether they're actually good or bad. They may only be scared stiff and just want to survive, but you will often have to make a choice of whether to kill them or not, a decision that will ultimately influence which of the game's multiple endings you'll see.
In this regard, the combat system is one of the bravest development aspects of the game, with your character's ability to pick up and manipulate hundreds of objects in the environment.
So you can take a fluorescent light from the ceiling and use it as a makeshift torch until the electricity cable detaches, swing a chair around your head as a weapon, or combine sticky tape and flares to allow you to stick them to walls, or even rats, to illuminate hidden enemies.
"We put the inventory in real time in Carnby's jacket, and with a quick key press, a simple interface lets you choose and combine objects easily," adds Polloni. "There's also a system that lets you assign favourite combinations as presets which you trigger directly and quickly from keys - useful when you're under attack. We think players will soon find combinations they like and use them repeatedly throughout the game."
However, the most dynamic aspect of Alone In The Dark has to be the unscripted fire, which has taken the most work to implement. Everything in the game world - apart from the rain-doused trees - can burn, allowing you to prepare fire traps with lighter fluid, block off doorways from monsters with burning debris, light improvised chair-leg torches or just set foes ablaze, although you have to be careful not to let infernos get out of control.
"Fire can also become your worst enemy," warns Polloni. "There's nothing more terrifying than being trapped in a burning room with the ceiling falling around you and no visible means of escape."
We still have concerns over the console-heavy control system and whether it'll transfer smoothly to the mouse/keyboard PC set-up, but overall we're quite optimistic about Alone In The Dark, which along with Dead Space, means that 2008 could be quite a year for the third-person shit-you-up.
Yep, any game that allows you to use rodents as improvised incendiary devices gets a thumbs up from us.