|Title||:||Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare|
|Platforms||:||Sony PlayStation, Dreamcast|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Genetic memories. They're the fears we inherit from our ancestors, the instinctual imprints that tell us to be afraid of the dark. Infogrames capitalizes on that blueprint with the PlayStation and Dreamcast release of Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. [PSX version reviewed here]
When a friend of paranormal investigator Edward Carnby is found murdered on Shadow Island, the detective hitches a ride with anthropologist Aline Cedrac to the scene of the crime. A freak storm brings down the plane, separating the two heroes. As each investigates the island manor, they uncover strange happenings involving an ancient Indian civilization, a mad scientist, and a world of darkness.
Alone in the Dark is a game in the survival horror genre pioneered by Resident Evil, though the Dark games far predate that series. Unlike Resident Evil, Alone has a more horrific motif, with zombies and strange creatures springing not from a corporation's genetic manipulations, but a paranormal source beyond human comprehension — a theme more closely related to Silent Hill.
Gamers can choose to play as either Carnby or Aline, who will explore the mansion and encounter other characters in their own way. Radios keep the two explorers in touch regardless of which storyline a player pursues. As the two heroes weave in and out of each other's journey, the details of each storyline don't exactly match up, but the overall plot is identical.
Like Resident Evil and unlike Silent Hill, Alone uses stationary camera angles to give a predefined perspective on each room Carnby and Aline examine. To give the players uniform control of the protagonists through these immutable camera changes, 'Up' moves the hero forward, 'Left' results in rotation to the hero's left, and so on. Players familiar with the Resident Evil controls will pick these up effortlessly, immediately feeling themselves in the main character's role. One unique control feature is moving the flashlight or gun with the left analog stick, while the digital pad moves the player. The right analog stick is neglected, which leaves no option for analog control of player movement.
The gameplay is typical for a survival horror game. The manor holds many locked doors, and just as many hidden keys to find. An automap feature helps, but does not delineate locked doors beyond the room in which the player currently resides, nor does it denote the player's exact location in a room. Unclear floor and key labels make it more difficult to determine where to go next. There's plenty of literature to read in the form of wills, diaries, and journals, all of which tell an interesting tale for the player patient enough to wade through them. Game progress can be saved at anytime with a single-use Save Charm, which are in finite but sufficient supply.
Contrary to the game's title, the dark is the place Carnby and Aline are least likely to be alone. The poorly-lit estate hosts many shadow creatures that flee at the switch of light. These monsters take many blows to defeat, and they tend to regenerate. The plentiful ammunition does you no good without a chance to use it: it's common for a beast to leap from a newly-formed rift, take a cheap shot, and then disappear into the shadows.
Alone does not always try to be subtle about its scares. Music increases in volume even when nothing's amiss, leading players to always be on their toes. Screams and distant gunshots may never be explained, as will whatever unknown struggle just caused the entire room to quake. The voice acting is of only decent quality. Aline's casting is weaker than Carnby's; she speaks in a firm, strong tone of how scared she is.
The monsters vary in appearance, but the recurring characters are better attired. Carnby has the appearance of Christopher Walken, if not the demeanor (thank Infogrames for small favors; otherwise this game would be much too scary for anyone to play), while Aline looks less snooty than one might expect from an anthropologist. She and other characters have a slightly angular appearance that fits the dark environment.
A flashlight illuminates the details of the surroundings with some of the best lighting effects in any PlayStation game. The appearance of whatever the flashlight hits changes drastically, with shadows and reflections being perfectly cast. It's wise to use the flashlight even in well-lit areas, as important items will reflect it.
Alone in the Dark is not innovative in its gameplay, but it does offer some thrilling scares and superb lighting effects. Turn off your own lighting and let this new nightmare work its dark magic.
This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 16-Jul-01