Alone in the Park
I was raised to adhere to the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.” Using this logic, when the time came to write about Atari’s Alone in the Dark reboot, this article should have probably ended a sentence ago. In case I’m being too subtle, let me say it plainly: I hated nearly every moment spent with this game. And that upsets me; not in the way of wishing awful, terrible things to befall the characters, but because there are some – in fact, many – good ideas at play, all ruined by mind-bogglingly amateurish execution and design decisions.
I don’t have any personal experience with the early origins of the Alone in the Dark series, though I am told that it was once actually worth playing, an early hallmark of the survival horror genre. After an abysmal movie adaptation and this attempt at a franchise reboot that’s just plain Dead on Arrival, perhaps it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie and rest in peace.
My time with this iteration of Alone in the Dark came to an abrupt stop immediately after starting it; I got most of the way through the initial hotel stage and shelved the game again for several years. At the time, I hadn’t even gotten far enough to get a whiff of its stink; it was just one of those cosmic “coincidences” where an unseen power attempted to intervene and save me from greater anguish. Of course I didn’t listen, and a few years later I returned to finish – and be finished by – the game.
Going back to the game, I felt pretty ambiguous. I quickly came to detest the combat mechanic of having to burn enemies in order for them to stay truly dead. I never felt equipped to deal with any baddies that cropped up, and it became too unnerving to try to find (or create) new sources of fire each time even the smallest foe stood in my way. So I did what anybody would do in my situation: I ran as often as possible! Alas, the running stopped when I reached the hotel’s parking garage, and was replaced by – gasp! – a mechanic even more torturous…
I don’t know where to begin about the driving sequences in Alone in the Dark. The cars handle atrociously, seeming to skid more than drive, and making it through the initial driving level was more a testament to luck (and tons of restarts) than to any actual skills of mine. Believe it or not, but when Edward finally crashes the car in Central Park, I actually welcomed being forced to beat enemies into submission with a blunt instrument before burning them to cinders. Thankfully, there are only a few driving segments in the game, only two of which are timed, so at least this particular torture was finite.
Also about the time I crashed into Central Park, I had finally found something about the game to appreciate. I was (and still am) pretty impressed by the variety of things to do with your inventory items. Many of them can be combined and used in unique ways: stuff a rag into a liquor bottle to create a Molotov cocktail; apply tape to a bottle to create a sticky bomb, or attach a box of bullets to it to make an even more powerful, throwable explosive. The list goes on, and I had a good time thinking of new and clever ways to use the items cluttering my limited inventory space to get me out of sticky situations. Not to mention the plethora of different types of gameplay that have been thrown together – at times it’s a first-person shooter, switches to run-for-your-life survival horror, then insists on some of that godawful first-person platforming…I mean, it’s like the developers just couldn’t decide when to stop! And just as I was starting to think I had left disappointment behind and was beginning to forget about the game’s early disappointments, along comes a whole new frustration to make me want to ragequit there and then!
Once I made it to the relative safety of the ambulance in Central Park – and boy, was I ever glad to make it there! – I began to realize how fucking awful and downright ludicrous the game’s story and writing were! I won’t go into many specifics on the story, not out of some notion to not ruin it for anyone else, but simply because it was ridiculous, and I simply stopped caring – I just wanted to get to the end. Anyway, during the ambulance scene (don’t get me started on the fact that the paramedic seems to have some sort of access to FBI files on his computer, as he can literally get personal documents about Edward on-screen) Edward turns to Sarah, the damsel in distress he saved in the hotel, the girl that’s supposed to be his romantic interest and that will FALL FOR HIM in a matter of a few hours, and threatens her when she offers to come along and help, “Don’t fuck around or I’ll shoot you myself.” Seriously you guys, my eyes started rolling so uncontrollably…
Unfortunately, they weren’t rolling hard enough to keep from having to stare at the graphics that are simultaneously great and fugly. I’ve never seen this much care put into making a game character look infinitely hideous. Edward Carnby has got to be the nastiest-looking person every committed to digital memory. And yet I can’t fault shoddy graphics, as the detail in his vile visage are incredible, from individual pores to his rugged beard stubble. So, just like everything else in the game, even the graphics defy reason.
I’ll gloss over the next few hours of punishment. Suffice it to say I had to endure more driving, kill several of those damn cracks that chase you and drag you in, deal with an inventory system that refused to give me back my used ammo and/or healing items if I died and reloaded a game, somehow overcome the broken movement mechanic, etc etc.And finally, at long LONG last, I made my way to what I was sure would be the absolute bottom of the barrel in a game filled with low points.
Confession time: I kind of – well, ok, not “kind of”…I definitely – broke an unspoken rule of mine, and read a review of the game while I was still playing it. I can be forgiven, though – playing this game, I had to preserve some sanity and make sure I wasn’t the only one “not getting it” somehow. Well, I wasn’t, but reading the review let me find out about a certain section I came to dread getting to: The Roots of Evil. If you’ve played the game (and I hope you haven’t), and if you persevered long enough, you remember this as being two major sections of repetitive gameplay, forcing you to suddenly burn down monster tree roots that have sprung up all over the place, and bringing the game’s momentum to a grinding halt.
Wanna know what’s my most shocking revelation of the entire playthrough? After a little while, chasing down and burning the Roots of Evil to the ground became one of my favorite parts of the game. Here was something I actually got good at! More importantly, I could take a car from place to place, meaning I was rarely required to stick around for battle with the Humanz, and could always go on the hunt for more ammo and supplies. Now, saying I enjoyed this section more than the rest of the game is like picking which bit of a turd sandwich is the damn tastiest, but it was a surprise to me nonetheless. Best of all, with the destruction of the Roots, I was very close to finishing the game, which I did shortly after, and I haven’t looked back since.