Alone in the Dark Reader Review
I won't bother explaining the history of the series, because hopefully most people now days know how to use things like google, wiki, etc.
Sound and Music
As I've read in other reviews, the graphics really aren't good enough by modern standards. There are some things that look nice. You start the game, laying on a bed and the sheet looked like a linen sheet and you could see the fibres, and the metal bar at the end of the bed had chips in the paint and stuff. It looks quite good at first glance. There is also a lot of fire in the game and that all looks pretty good. On the whole though, it just doesn't look that great. It would have looked stunning a few years ago, but in this modern age of games like COD4 and Crysis etc, it just doesn't match up. Especially some of the character models. Also there was some kind of blotchyness sometimes, like you are looking at a poor quality video file that got converted too small and ended up blocky/blotchy/patchy etc..
It's Ok. It's a zombie bashing survival horror with the exorcist voices and stuff.. The usual thing. It's ok though, and does the job. Just don't expect anything more than typical teen horror, and don't expect the dialogue to be any better either.
Gameplay / Combat
Ok so here is the bulk of the review. The game came close to being so bad that I could have just made a one sentence review saying "Avoid like the plague". But there are some redeeming features with this game so I have to explain those.
There are a lot of things I like about this game, the problem is how they do those things. For example, it takes you through a drama story where you meet various people, escape from buildings, find locked doors and have to find a circuit breaker to open the door, etc..etc.. It's all stuff that has been done before in countless games, but I usually always like it. I also sometimes find that with constant shooting in games like "FEAR", you sometimes lose some of the immersion as your focus is so much on the firepower element. So it has the right idea basically! The problem as I said is how it does things.
As well as the right idea with the drama aspect, it did do a few things right with the gameplay which I have to give it some credit for. For example, when you open your inventory, you look down and your character opens his coat and you can see all the items in little pockets and stuff. What I also liked is that you can combine items with other items. This is one of the reasons I mentioned "Old School" in my title, because I haven't seen that done for a long time. I don't play survival horror games so perhaps it's done all the time, but the last time I combined inventory items to make something new to use, was about 20 years ago when I used to play point n click adventures, like Monkey Island etc. So I like that it involves more than just finding the stuff, you have to actually think about how you can use them together. Other old school elements are the puzzle solving aspects, like finding yourself in a room with no apparent way out, and you have to figure out what to do. Another nice feature is found in combat. You grab an object like a chair or a big axe or a big metal bar or whatever, and your character holds it. You then move the mouse left and right, and your character lifts and pulls the item back, to your character's left or right depending which way you moved the mouse. So when you then click the left mouse button to swing and attack with the object, it swings from the direction you chose to swing from. So if there is a fire to your left, you push your mouse to the right and your character lifts the big iron bar up to his right, and then you press the button and you smack the zombie from the right, and like that you can smack it into a fire. It's nothing genius, but it works, it works quite nicely, it's kind of fun for a while at least, and it isn't something I have seen done before. So I have to give them credit for things like this.
Where it goes wrong, is in the other 95% of the game... First off is the view. It suffers from a real identity crisis in this area, because it can't decide if it wants to be a first person game, or a third person game. At first I was horrified, and in a way I still am. You switch to first person, and every 10 seconds or so (NOT even an exaggeration..) the game forces you back into third person view, because that is the only view you can use to bash down objects or swing your weapon in a fight etc. And yet you can't just say, "Well sod it I'll just stick in 3rd person mode then" because firstly, you again are forced back to first person view when you want to do something like use the first extinguisher, but also because the controls suck in third person, and it has that ridiculously stupid, OLD, console-game flawed camera view problem... The problem where they view your character from some stupid artistic "on the floor" or "up in the corner of the room" camera angle, and although it looks arty, it's bloody useless for playing the game because you can't see what is 6 foot in front of your character etc..
So the result is that you are forced to switch back and forward over and over and over again. In a way I can sympathise because you sometimes need to get a good look at the surrounding area, and 3rd person views help with that, whereas first person is good for looking up close at things. But really, that isn't a good excuse, because most games manage anyway. In the million FPS's I've played, I rarely ever thought, "Hmm I wish I could look over the edge of this cliff". And if they really wanted to be clever, they would just do what the System Shock games did and let you lean forward/left/right so you can look over the edge of a cliff etc. So basically a fixed first person or third person view would have been fine, and the game would have benefited from it massively.
In addition to the annoying view switching though, the controls are a serious issue too. In first person view it is actually quite playable, and feels similar to a first person shooter. Although the up/down sensitivity is slower than the left right which takes some getting used to and can't be fixed in game. But overall it is quite playable like that. But when you go into third person mode, it has that horrible thing where you kind of "drive" your character. You can't side step unlike first person mode, so if you want to be a few paces to your right, you have to turn 90 degrees, run forward or reverse your character, then reach where you want to be and turn 90 degrees back again. I think most survival horror gamers, especially ones who play on console games, will be so used to this that it will barely be an issue. But to people who play fluid games that are controlled extremely well/perfectly, (first person shooters etc), it is annoying. And what is worse is that even although I got used to it after a while, every time you go into first person you start getting used to A and D letting you strafe, and then when it jumps back to third person, A and D have changed to rotate keys and there is no way to strafe. Urgh..
In addition to general controlling your character problems, there are problems with actions too. For example a large part of the game is beating down doors with a fire extinguisher or a bin or whatever, and the controls are just ridiculous for that. In reality you would grab it and smash the door EXACTLY where you wanted to hit. That is impossible in this game, and instead you have to drive your character into a position and then swing and hope it lands in the right kind of region. If not, you have to manoeuvre your character into a new angle and try again. Admittedly you get better at this as you go on, but it still sucks. If you are out by a few inches your character swings away and you hear banging noises, but actually he is hitting the door frame and doing nothing. So you have to adjust slightly and if you go too far, you end up hitting the middle of the door which takes all day. Again, Urgh!
Then there is the problem with dragging bodies, although I think this is an actual bug, rather than a design fault. But basically, major Urgh!
Overall I have to give it some credit for doing a lot, but it just does all those things so badly. Yes, it has driving, first person shooting, third person melee, and an inventory... all on one game! But minus the ability to choose your swing angle (left or right), the GTA games have all those other things, and they are all done better and MUCH tidier/polished than this game.
Really, there should be no bonus points for trying to do a lot, because it's at OUR expense. It's better to keep things simple and make them extremely well, than bite off more than you can chew and everything is bad as a result. All it did was make me think back to games like Max Payne, and realise how wrong this game really went. I love the idea of a slightly more adult story, presented like a movie or TV drama. But games in the past (like Max Payne / System Shock / Deus Ex / etc) achieved that and yet with absolutely great gameplay too. Their camera controls were perfect and shooting was realistic and instinctive and visceral and accurate. And games like Halflife2 were using puzzles long before this game was even a concept. And unlike this game, Halflife2's puzzles were often working with REAL physics. Not just "press this and this happens". It's a shame because it could have been a great game if they either scaled things down slightly, or if they just presented it like a first person shooter. Or even just presented it like a typical 3rd person survival horror. Aim it at all the people who bought Resident Evil or whatever, remove the 1st person view and instead tidy up the third person controls, and it could be a lot more fun. FPS's are so stale, and this has a proper inventory, a decent story and setting etc.. so it could have ended up being like a Deus Ex type of game with shooting and inventories. Instead it ends up being like a horrible mess of 1st person and 3rd person, awkward controls, and it also seems to move too slowly too, which is partly due to the irritating controls.
As with most console games that end up on the PC, it is lacking in the control department, but I suspect that even console players when playing this on their console will still find it lacking. It surprises me at just how bad the reviews are for this game, because it reminds me a lot of Bioshock. It has a lot of the right elements, but they just could have been done better. You are running around spooky places clicking switches and stuff, and in Bioshock you are shooting and blasting stuff with your powers, in this game you are shooting and blasting stuff with your axe. The main difference, I think anyway, is the crappy controls. I think if you could flow through the game smoothly in first person view, and all the interaction was as fast and easy as Halflife2 or something, then it might have been a bit faster paced and might have been similar to Bioshock. But it just isn't.
I think the only people who would stomach it for more than half an hour, would be the hardcore survival horror players. And of that niche bunch of players, I would guess that half of them will be put off by the poor controls. Smacking zombies is ok, and at least works... but dragging bodies into a fire is something you need to do and I would actually go as far as saying that that element of the game is technically broken.. And then the bashing down of doors which again is a big part of the game, although that isn't broken, it just doesn't work well and it becomes a massive chore and it's difficult and frustrating and annoying.
5 / 10