Alone in the Dark • Page 2

The Garden of Eden.

The game's episodic structure tightens the levels around you. You rarely have time to tire of a location on the way, and the next revelation is never more than a few minutes beyond. Storytelling is handled in-engine, and Eden Studios is careful to keep you on the hook, gradually drawing back the curtain on Carnby's mysterious past, and Central Park's secrets, and driving the events of the game's one night between elaborate dramatic peaks: spectacular but sensibly transparent boss fights, a cache of Paddington's diaries, precursory showdowns with the game's principle villain. High-concept but unpretentious, it's a story of unremarkable people doing remarkable things, and then turning out to be remarkable anyway. Carnby - greying and surprisingly old - is a rugged everyman, and Sara - your AI-controlled counterpart almost throughout - is an agitated foil for much of the spectacle, but both are soft and sympathetic in their own ways, surprising one another.

Eden's TV-drama ambition is also a positive influence. The DVD-style chapter system allows you to skip the difficult bits without missing anything important (a godsend in at least two situations), the episodic structure offers "Previously on..." story summaries that pick you up the morning after a late night, and the camerawork and scoring affectionately pillage Spielberg and Bruckheimer: cliff or building-side rope climbs are a regular fixture, and every one is memorable and exotic, whether you're dodging debris, watching a subway carriage fall a thousand feet past you into the gloom, or inching upwards suspended by the flaming wreckage of a helicopter. Set-piece cut-scenes are rapid-fire money-shots.

For all its good qualities though, Alone in the Dark is a frustrating game to play. Having done so well to avoid the tried-and-trusted genre tropes of idols, badges and keys scattered around zombie-infested buildings that have to be transported past endless set-piece encounters to achieve things, Eden messes it up with a hopeless control system that proves just as pointlessly convoluted. It doesn't just grab defeat from the jaws of victory, it has to press a dozen buttons in a complex sequence across a number of different screens and view perspectives to do so.

3

The inventory system is a bit fiddly, but the limits it places on you add to the tension.

For example, the left stick has to do movement and turning (both of which are clunky and leaden), with the right stick swinging your head left and right on a narrow arc. This is because the right stick is meant to be for swinging baseball bats and smashing fire extinguishers through wooden doors, so you can understand why they did it, but as a result getting around quickly is always difficult, and manoeuvring in close quarters is clumsy and awkward. There's a first-person option, which separates moving and strafing from turning, but you can't pick one - you have to use both at different times. Third-person is for interaction, while first-person is for looking and shooting. The game switches you between them where necessary, and on a couple of occasions for no obvious reason.

Elsewhere, you find yourself having to concentrate to do even the simplest things, like healing, which involves pressing right on the d-pad, then holding the right trigger as a medical spray is held over an affected area, then pushing the left stick around to move to the next wound. Running away from a monster, turning and throwing an explosive to shoot in mid-air requires a left-stick click to turn swiftly, a pause to equip gun and explosive, then using the left trigger to set up your throwing arc, angling it with the right-stick and pulling the right trigger to fire at the right moment. By this stage the enemy is either upon you or too close to throw the explosive without blowing yourself up too. You can use the left and right bumpers to cycle items available to each of Carnby's hands, and set-up d-pad direction presets for favoured configurations, but these options just complicate the interface further.

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