Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare was released a while ago, so a review appearing now may seem strange to some; allow me to clarify why I’m doing this. Anyone who is familiar with my work knows that I’m somewhat of a nostalgia freak. Throughout this review, you’ll notice sprinkles of history pertaining to the Alone in the Dark series of games. If you don’t dig on gaming history, skip the first couple of paragraphs.
The year was 1992. The operating systems of choice were MS/DOS and Windows 3.1 (or 3.11, I forget). Games were still distributed on 3 ½ inch diskettes and adventure games were prominent. This was the year that gaming would change forever. This was the year that Infogrames introduced us to Alone in the Dark. AitD is considered by some to be the grandfather of the action/adventure genre. It introduced many gamers to a real time, three-dimensional world driven by a polygon based graphics engine and multiple camera angles. The story unfolded with a certain cinematic quality that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud.
Three Games, Three Stories, One Hero:
Edward Carnby, paranormal investigator extraordinaire. The saga begins with the questionable suicide of Jeremy Hartwood, the owner of the Derceto Mansion in Louisiana, which is believed to be haunted. Edward’s task is to catalogue any valuables left within the manor. Though this seems simple enough at first, Edward is soon plagued by hideous monsters and becomes trapped in the nightmare that was Jeremy’s daily life.
The saga continues with the disappearance of Edward’s friend, Ted, who happened to be investigating the kidnapping of Grace Saunder. Edward delves into the depths of another haunted mansion, this time belonging to a pirate by the name of One Eyed Jack. Upon arriving at Hell’s Kitchen (the mansion), Edward discovers that Ted has been murdered and more questions surrounding Grace’s kidnapping. A race against time begins to get Grace before she’s sacrificed by a Zombie Witch.
Upon vanquishing a horde of Zombie pirates, Edward is enlisted to investigate the disappearance of an entire film crew on location in an old western ghost town known as Slaughter Gulch, deep within the Mojave Desert. Emily Hartwood was among those that vanished, further piquing Edward’s interest in the case. Edward must solve the riddle of the curse of Slaughter Gulch as well as that of a mysterious cowboy named Jed Stone.
The Alone in the Dark games used Infogrames’ polygon engine to take two-dimensional objects and render them as 3D in real time. Though this created an “origami” look, the smooth control of the characters more than made up for it. The engine had definitely begun to show its age by the third instalment of the series. By the time Alone in the Dark 3 hit the shelves (1995), much more visually appealing titles were available.
Alone in the Dark 2 ½ (+ 1 ½): The Smell of Fear
This latest instalment in the series sees Edward Carnby once again investigating something paranormal. This time around, his friend Charles Fiske has been found dead after investigating ancient Indian writings on Shadow Island. Edward has enlisted the help of Aline Cedrac, an ethnologist, on his quest to Shadow Island to assist Obed Morton, the foremost in the Abakanis tribe; who is attempting to translate some Abakanis tablets. Before they arrive however, they are attacked by a shadowy beast and forced to parachute out. Aline lands on the roof of the manor and Edward in the garden. Soon thereafter, both encounter shadow beasts, and thus the stage is set for Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare.
The story unfolds via cut-scenes and Aline and Edward’s radio communications. The voice acting is rather well done and the ambient music truly creates an eerie environment. If you’ve got surround sound, turn off the lights, drop some acid and prepare to be scared silly. The background effects aren’t just white-noise in this game. If you hear Zombies moaning, they’re probably just around the corner. Also, floorboard squeaks can indicate hidden trap doors.
Visually, this title was a breath of fresh air, seeing as the last Alone in the Dark release was about five years ago. Though revolutionary for it’s time, seeing as not many quality adventure titles make it onto the shelves these days, the un-mapped polygons just wouldn’t cut it in today’s FPS saturated market. As with most horror genre games, AitD’s settings and locations are very dark. This isn’t only to establish mood; light plays an important role in gameplay and to the plot. One of the most useful tools at Edward’s disposal is the flashlight. Not only does it light up its field of vision (which, granted, looks cool), it can also keep certain denizens of the mansion at bay.
Raise your hand if you remember owning a computer and not using a mouse…
Navigating the island can be rather frustrating to new gamers. There is no mouse or gamepad control. Wait a minute, if you can’t use the mouse or gamepad, what does that leave? Well humble gamer, think back to the late 80’s and early 90’s. Back in the days when mice were optional with new computers, we used to use our trusty keyboard, and that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. Keyboard keys can all be remapped though, which I thought was an excellent idea. Personally, I use the keypad for movement and the WASD keys for various core functions. The way Edward moves can also take a little getting used to for those new to adventure games. Left and Right rotate his position and Back and Forward move him. No matter which camera angle the AitD engine has selected for the current scene, the keys always function in the same fashion. Actually, for battles this can be somewhat frustrating. I’ve had to retreat to a different screen and have creatures follow me just so as to have a good angle from which to fight. If you’ve ever played Resident Evil though, the controls are all too familiar.
As with most of the AitD games, you’ll have the option of controlling more than one protagonist during the course of your trek. At the beginning of the game, you have the option of selecting either to play as Aline or Edward. This is interesting because, depending on whom you choose; the story unfolds differently, basically creating a new gaming experience. If you select Edward, you begin in the woods outside of the manor; Aline begins on the roof. Though certain elements intertwine (it would be stupid if they didn’t), it’s effectively a different game for each character.
Your primary functions are movement, flashlight and radio. You can also aim and use your selected weapon. The auto-aim, though not truly automatic, does allow for your character to “lock onto” an opponent before firing. This is truly an improvement over Alone in the Dark 2, which was, pardon my French, a bitch to do combat in. The map of Shadow Island is useful because it allows you to check where you have and haven’t explored, as well as which doors are still locked.
Within the item menus, you’ll find some useful information about your weapons, documents and objects you’re carrying. A quick note, make sure you examine every key you pick up because the description it gives tells you where you need to use it. Photographs can also be rotated to check whether there’s writing hidden on the back. A useful gaming tip: when in combat, use the item screen to reload your weapons because this pauses the game, whereas automatic reloading takes time and you’ll take some damage in the process. When examining documents, take note of everything in red; these tend to be clues or solutions to future puzzles.
And now for something completely different…
Personally, I found the plot to be the strongest point in this game. I was bombarded with flashbacks of past games (not acid) such as Gabriel Knight, Resident Evil, Phantasmagoria and to some extent, Sanitarium. The story revolves around the Morton family and the attempts of Grandfather Jeremy to genetically combine elements of Light and Darkness (Good and Evil). His grandsons follow his research with much success, though a rivalry develops, leading to many problems. If you enjoy adventure games, you’ll want to read EVERYTHING, not only for clues, but also to follow the plot.
RAD Game Tools strike again with this title, so BINK videos make up the cut scenes and audio is handled by the Miles Sound System. Though this may not seem important to average gamers, I find it interesting.
Overall, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is a pretty solid title. I found it to be a rather enjoyable play experience though on more than one occasion, I was startled and spilled my beer. Sadly, this upset me and I had to deduct a point on the overall play experience so as to avenge my loss. Enjoy.
[ 13/20 ] Graphics
[ 15/20 ] Sound
[ 09/10 ] Plot
[ 15/20 ] Gameplay
[ 08/10 ] Fun Factor
[ 10/10 ] Creepy Factor
[ 08/10 ] Overall Impression