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Atari Alone in the Dark review

Verdict:

Horrific, but not in the right way. A great concept buried in a mire of mediocrity.

Review Date: 14 Aug 2008

Price when reviewed: inc VAT

Reviewed By: Mike Jennings

Our Rating 2 stars out of 5

Alone in the Dark invented the survival horror genre back in 1992, and this remake tries to tap into the mix of great gameplay and terrifying action that made the original so succesful.

The concept was to mix adventuring with the scariest moments from horror movies, and it's given birth to some hugely popular games and films, including Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Alone in the Dark itself was turned into a not very good film in 2005.

The new version gets off to a good start, with some decent graphics and a thrilling opening that sees a couple of angry antagonists beating you around the head. This segues into an explosive descent down a lift-shaft riddled with live wires.

Proceed further, and problems quickly emerge. The controls are the main issue. You can play in third person (watching your character) or first person (looking through his eyes) , but both views are flawed. In third person, your character - the original Alone in the Dark lead, Edward Carnby - is ponderous, sluggish and poorly animated, and the scenery often gets in the way. The same could be said of the 1992 game, but that was then.

First person view is slightly better, but it's still slow and can't compare to the immersive experiences offered by recent games such as Call of Duty 4 and Crysis. In either mode, Alone in the Dark requires more precision in places than the controls allow. There are more frustrations when you try to interact with objects. You're often directed to use an item by pressing a button that, instead, dropsit. When we got our heads round this, we still couldn't use things in ways that seemed appropriate. A fire extinguisher, rather than putting out fires, could only be used to hit things.

Fully automatic

The gameplay shows the same lack of intelligence. Puzzles often solve themselves while you wait. A burning corridor ran out of puff, letting us walk through unscathed instead of having to figure out how to put it out (presumably by beating someone with a fire extinguisher until they agreed to do it).

The game's five levels are divided into episodes, each containing five acts, and all available to play. Each is preceded by a TV-style 'Previously...' summary, which is a nice touch, but being able to play the ending from the start ruins any sense of linear progression through the story.

The cinematic approach causes other problems, too. Step into a room and, if there's something you need to pay attention to, the game will show you it with a quick, artfully rendered close-up. These look nice, but they make things far too easy.

Other ideas show promise, but are too poorly implemented to make them worthwhile. For example, Edward can heal his wounds with a can of spray-on skin, but the locations where you can get hurt are predetermined and offer nothing new.

The seeds of a good adventure are lurking here. The graphics look great, and even the voice acting is decent. But too much is wrong to make it look like anything but a lazy cash-in.

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