Gamestyle Archive intro: this review dates from late 2001, which is kinda ironic as the game itself is set around this period; a nice touch from the developer. Back in 2001 the survival horror genre was full of inventive titles and players armed themselves with anything including a camera! Great moments and scares were aplenty. This review is from JJ.
I would expect that the majority of gamers are not aware of the Alone in the Dark series and the impact it made when the first game was released. Infogrames aim to put that right with the multi-platform assault of Alone in the Dark 4: The New Nightmare, which has been released for the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 with a fantastic version on the Game Boy Colour.
For this review we’re concerned only with the Playstation 2 incarnation and how it measures up to its rivals in the survival horror genre, the genre it created. For some reason I feel I’m going to be mentioning Resident Evil in this review, several times! You could be forgiven for believing that Resident Evil created the concept of Survival Horror, such is its domination and notoriety. This is not the case; the spark came from the very first Alone in the Dark, which terrorised gamers when it was released. Capcom just added a large dose of Hollywood and the rest is history. This is in essence the difference between the two series; Alone in the Dark is a gritty, dark, atmospheric European film while Resident Evil is a Hollywood blockbuster full of lavish visuals, simple plot and disposable characters. It was a matter of choice between the two games, if you wanted gore and dead easy puzzles, Resident Evil was the place to go. Alone in the Dark was a purer form of horror with challenging puzzles and the feeling that there was no place to run or hide.
The game makes an overdue return but it seems that it has been influenced by the game it helped to form, as you will soon discover. The game starts with an impressive opening sequence not only because of the visuals but the direction and angles employed by the developer. A refreshing change to the plodding nature recently seen in Capcom’s Devil May Cry/Resident Evil. The action is swift, decisive and sets the story well. In this sequence you are introduced to two characters, the feisty Aline Cedrac and the ever cool Edward Carnby. As with Resident Evil 2 you have the option to play as either enjoying a different perspective on proceedings but crossing each other’s paths throughout. Edward is following in the footsteps of his friend (Charles Fiske) who was found dead just off the island whilst in the middle of an investigation. Edward offers to take over the investigation but the client (Frederick Johnston) under orders from his boss (Lamb) insists on one condition, that Professor Aline Cedrac goes with him.
The aim is to recover ancient tablets from a long extinct Indian tribe (Abkanis) that are on Shadow Island under the control of Obed Morton. These tablets put together as legend has it, can open up the gates of hell allow the Shadows out into the world. You soon realise that Professor Morton has been conducting experiments and venturing into the underworld. Aline has issues of her own and has been haunted by nightmares of a disfigured man since she was a child. On route to the island their plane crashes due to forces unknown and they become separated. To add anymore detail would spoil the game but it is well worth sticking with, as the story doesn’t kick in until an hour of play. After then you will need to know how it all ends.
Shadow Island is a very apt setting for the horrific nature of the game just like those classic old black n’ white horror films. Credit to the developer as this version does offer a 60hz mode. When playing on my portable it could only display this mode in black n’ white (did not accept the 60hz signal) but I found it even better. As expected Alone in the Dark relies on pre-rendered backgrounds to convey the setting and does so with some style. It is hard to describe but the backgrounds have a more chunky and realistic feel than other games. One problem with the Alone in the Dark is just that, it is incredibly dark throughout, I don’t think the brightness setting on my widescreen television has ever been so high.
Your character carries a torch that proves invaluable for many reasons one of which is being able to search the darkest corners of the screen. Without the torch you may on occasions struggle to find your way around leaving you to bump around the screen to find the exit. A brilliant element of the game design is that most of the Shadow creatures are afraid of light. Therefore shinning the torch directly at them will be enough to keep them on a leash however shine the torch away or turn it off, then they will pounce. You can through forward planning almost shepherd the creatures around the rooms in some bizarre sub game or just blow em to where they came from. This helps save ammunition throughout the game and by holding down a shoulder button and using an analogue stick; you can control where the torch is pointing.
Unfortunately the D-pad controls your movement and this method suffers from the same problems experienced by Resident Evil. Even with practice the art of movement combined with pointing the torch in another direction is complicated and needs constant correcting. This said however I do think the game would be poorer without the torch. I found playing Alone in the Dark a welcome change to Resident Evil as the atmosphere and setting is far more appropriate. You are not a victim of a sinister corporation an its experiments gone badly wrong. Instead you are trying to save the world against the evil Shadows who are posed to return.
Adding to the atmosphere is the fact that Shadow creatures can just suddenly appear like the effect used in Timesplitters. Shuffling zombies are slow and easy targets, the foes you’ll face in the game have a similar IQ but move much faster. These factors mean that you have to be on your guard at all times. There are zombie-esque creatures at certain points in the game but a shotgun soon sees them off. Given the pre-rendered nature of the game, this was never going to win any awards for graphical greatness. The backgrounds are as mentioned previously are impressive and well put together by the artists and overall tower above those used by Resident Evil.
The presentation throughout is of a high standard and this even applies to the official web site, which is well worth a visit. The characters themselves are not as detailed and put against each background stand out for the wrong reasons. A friend who has the Dreamcast version of the game commented that the Playstation 2 version here was far more gritty and rougher than the Sega effort. Whatever the reason there are some nice touches such as reflections, lighting and the sound (very important) are all excellent.
Overall this is a very positive review however I cannot help but feel that some of the unique identity of Alone in the Dark has been lost. The puzzles are now quite straightforward and in previous games I cannot recall this being the case. If it wasn’t for the story, torch and backgrounds this would be a bog standard Resident Evil clone but it’s a dramatic improvement over number 3 in the series. I hope that the next instalment keeps the upward trend going and carves out its own identity. Alone in the Dark 4 is well worth your time if you are, or once was a fan of the series or Resident Evil.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10