Impatiently lurking with bated, fetidly undead breath, Atari's upcoming game Alone in the Dark has a June 24th release that will launch it into 2008 as the first blockbuster survival horror game of the year. This Monday, Atari previewed the modern sequel to the Alone in the Dark series in the dimly lit Dogpatch Studios in San Francisco, appropriately accompanied by a decor of fake flaming oil barrels and Central Park-flavored appetizers such as salted pretzels and tiny hot dogs. They were delicious.
The presentation, introduced by Infogrames' president Phil Harrison and demonstrated by producer Nour Polloni, illustrated some of the key experiences in store for the game that hope to deliver the Alone in the Dark franchise back amongst the ranks of today's more popular survival horror titles. With plenty of innovative approaches to the genre that range from dynamic environmental effects to a seemingly seamless cinematic gaming experience, will the new Alone in the Dark make a noble enough impression to match its series' historical prestige?
Hit the jump for my personal impressions and a hands-on experience with Alone in the Dark.
The new Alone in the Dark will feature series protagonist Edward Carnby, this time faced with the bizarre and supernatural mysteries that riddle modern-day Central Park. In an attempt to develop a compelling version of the series for today's gaming audience, Polloni stressed that the impending cross-over between film and videogames heavily influenced the "truly cinematic experience" of the game. In this spirit, the game will feature a chapter-based format divided into eight individual parts, each laden with carefully developed story arcs of revelations, conflicts, and cliffhangers. If you happen to forget what was happening the last time you were playing, you can watch the 'Previously on Alone in the Dark' trailers that conveniently precede each episode.
Beyond the episodic format, the game features other attributes that attempt to blend the interactive with the cinematic. The game is lacking any obvious UI with the exception of the occasional tutorial tips, providing a movielike perspective on-screen. This experience was particularly impressionable in the first part of the game, where Edward wakes up in a blurry first-person perspective that requires the player to continuously blink by pushing the right analog stick in order to regain clarity. As Edward is shoved ahead by a henchman, the perspective necessitates the player to continue blinking, truly evoking a confused and bleary-eyed introduction into the madness that's on the brink of unfolding.
Combat and Object Use
In regards to the use of pocketable objects, while the concept of using sticky tape on a bottle of flammable liquid to devise a cleverly delivered explosion is fairly interesting, this function distracts the player from the game's horror-themed pursuits. Complicating oncoming zombie attacks with these object-oriented tasks places emphasis on the action as opposed to the scary obstacle, thereby making the experience much less scary overall. Perhaps this experience is more fully developed as one becomes accustomed to the gameplay mechanics, but overall I was never truly fearful of anything that was attacking me, because I was too busy figuring out what object combo to use next.
Alone in the Dark does make some interesting impressions by exploring features that break some gaming molds, but I felt that the overall experience was somewhat inconsistent to the developer's aspirations. While the real-time explosions and environmental effects are compelling, the clunky object-oriented gameplay had me distracted from much of this impressive presentation. In the same vein, although much of the visuals are laid out to capture a compelling, cinematic experience, the character designs and interactions are so unconvincing that I developed very little interest in the actual story.
Altogether, this game is teetering on the edge between success and failure for me. If I had more time to become accustomed to the gamplay and give the narrative a chance to sink its hooks in, perhaps the current disconnect between features would seem less of an issue. But while the core ideas surrounding Alone in the Dark seem to be all there, many of the key features seem poorly executed.