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Retro Game Review: Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare

For my second installment of Not-Quite-Retro-Gaming-Month, I was going to reinstall and play Gothic, a medieval RPG that I thought was a major bore back in the day (but which a friend thought was quite fun), but I really wasn’t in the mood to install and slog through an RPG just yet.

Anyway, in lieu of the Gothic experience, I decided to have another go at an older game that I actually liked the first time around (who knows…maybe I’d think it was trash now). The game I chose? Well, as the title of this post indicates, I chose Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare, which I guess is rather fitting, since there’s apparently an Alone In The Dark movie coming out (directed by Uwe “I Only Make Shitty Movies Based On Videogames” Boll—honestly, look at his upcoming slate of films: Bloodrayne? Far Cry? Jesus.).

Getting back on topic, though. I’ve never actually played any of the first three games in the Alone In The Dark series – though Sparse tells me they were a lot of fun back in the day. Indeed, it could be argued that the Alone In The Dark series was the first of what became known as the “Survival Horror” genre, which gave us such gems as the five trillion Resident Evil games, as well as Silent Hill. Of course, while both the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series are both well known for their dark looks and overall atmosphere, Alone In The Dark was very bright looking in comparison—something which the makers of Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare seemingly had in their minds when they went about making their game. Indeed, Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare probably took a lot of its inspiration for its updated character designs from games like Resident Evil, ironically enough—now Edward Carnby (the series’ main character) sports shoulder length black hair and a long trenchcoat, as well as a double-barreled pistol and a triple-barreled shotgun. Yeeeeah.

So yeah, the game: the story is that Mr. Carnby and a Ms. Aline Cedrac are heading out to a mysterious island off the coast of the northeast U.S. called, imaginatively enough, “Shadow Island”, which is home to our game’s central antagonists, Obed and Alan Morton—two scientists in a long line of scientists studying ancient civilizations and something called “The World of Darkness”. Of course, at first neither Carnby or Aline have any notion of this kind of stuff: Carnby is investigating the death of his friend, and Aline is tagging along to translate some ancient stone tablets for Obed. But soon their plane is attacked by some creature, and they both end up at a strange, spooky-looking mansion (actually, Aline lands on top of the manor, while Carnby is dropped off in the woods several hundred yards away).

You can play the game as either Carnby or Aline – and, in a nice touch, the game is actually different (and you learn different bits about the overall storyline) depending on which character you choose. Either way, you make your way through the manor (and several other various locations on Shadow Island), trying to unravel the mystery of just what’s going on with these Morton fellows, fighting strange creatures along the way (including lots of reanimated corpses, both human and animal). Also along the way you have to solve the usual litany of puzzles and traps to advance, as is the usual for the genre. Though it must be noted that Carnby’s is the more “action-packed” storyline, what with more beasts and fights, while Aline’s story focuses more on puzzles and the like (since she’s, y’know, a girl, and we all know that it’s always the men who are up for the fightin’, right?).

The game’s storyline is probably the best part. You find dozens of journals and papers written by long-dead ancestors of the Mortons along the way, filling you in with their various experiences (not all of which were good), slowly fleshing out the plot as you go along. The music is also suitably creepy – definite horror movie territory (interestingly enough, the main theme of the game was done – I believe – by Stewart Copeland, former drummer for The Police). The graphics also aren’t too shabby (especially considering the game is three years old now), but it’s a lot easier to have a game look pretty if most everything is static objects, I’d wager.

The bad? The controls are wonky and slow. But again, this seems to be a complaint with most every survival horror game, and it’s obviously not going to be rectified any time soon. The hit detection is also often atrocious, but especially in two key parts of the game: one, in Edward’s big fight in the manor library against some flying lizard type of thing—the lizard is hovering above your character and, on the screen, is between you and the character. You have to fire grenades at the creature, and often you can’t tell exactly where you’re aiming and end up not hitting the creature at all. Second, and most atrocious, is the final boss fight in the Aline storyline; she and the boss are both standing across from each other on a rock bridge in some caverns. Now, you’d probably think it would be as simple as aiming and firing (since the dude is huge and is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU), but no. One time I was playing through the game I actually depleted ALL of my ammo in the boss fight (hitting him along the way, or at least it looked like I hit him), and yet the game didn’t detect a single hit on him. Not fun.

However, if you think you can deal with several minor annoyances like this (though the whole “you can’t hit the final boss in one of the storylines” is rather a major annoyance), you might actually enjoy the game if you’re a fan of the “survival horror” genre.

And one last thing: hilariously enough, the blurb on the back of the game’s jewel case is nearly impossible to read. Or at least most of it is, since whoever designed the packaging didn’t realize that dark text on a black background doesn’t really go over too well. Nice.

Tune in next time, when I actually talk about something relevant. Maybe. Hey, I can always squawk about Ashlee Simpson and how she was caught lip-synching on live TV! Right?

Maybe not.