Alone in the Dark
Why the PS3 version will be better.
For once, PS3 owners should be grateful for having to wait ages for a game to show up on their platform. Because, in Alone in the Dark's case, this is no loveless and unoptimised port; this is the game it should have been in the first place.
At Leipzig, Eden is in confessional mode. Few studios would have the balls to kick off a presentation by systematically listing the massive amount of flaws in their recently released game, but that's what happened. "We have absorbed and taken every piece of criticism about the game that was constructive and would help," a rep says. Tom says you're welcome.
First up, Eden has taken on board the camera issues. Gone is the restrictive single-stick system which the player often fought against, and gone is the dynamic, somewhat zoomed-in perspective. Instead, players see Carnby from a more conventional zoomed-out third-person view, more central to the action, and, crucially, are given the option of full manual camera control with the right stick.
"Now we are giving control to the player...this is maybe the most important element we are changing," Eden's spokesperson admits. We're handed the pad, and straight away you can tell it's a change is for the better. It feels fluid and natural, with a semi-automatic system moving the view back behind the player once you start running.
It begs the question why they didn't go for that system in the first place. "On the 360 version what we wanted was to have more immersion with the camera being really close to the player." Fair enough, but plenty of people found it clunky and irritating. Indeed, recent focus testing with the new system revealed that people didn't feel any less immersed anyway, but hey. Later, when pressed on its original choices, Eden admits it was simply too close to the project. It might well feel much more like an action game, as they say, but not enforcing the original claustrophobic viewpoint on players makes for a far more playable experience.
Other movement elements have been overhauled too. Carnby now runs by default, so there's no longer any need to hold the run button down the whole time. He changes direction quicker too and feels more responsive and fluid - though when you need to be careful and walk, you can still do that. You just nudge the analogue stick a little. Simple.
Elsewhere, the inventory system has also been given a few tweaks here and there. While you still press down on the d-pad to check the contents of your coat, it's not such a ball-ache. The completely imprecise analogue system that made it tough to cycle through items has gone. Now you only have the choice of flicking through your items with the d-pad. A small, but worthwhile change. You also don't have to pick up and insert batteries the whole time, or combine objects in a specific order to make them work, or confirm that you want to drop items. Such pedantic niggly little things, and worth changing.
Certain combat-related facets have also been tweaked. The core analogue stick 'swing' melee system has been retained, but now requires the left trigger to be held down to activate it - and, because of the improved camera system, you have a better chance of knowing who's about to smash you up.
A less necessary change is that the combat is now apparently much easier. Enemies now take fewer blows to take down, for example, meaning that perhaps three hits will take them down instead of, say, ten. This means that those scenarios when you're set upon by half a dozen furious creatures stand less of a chance of annoying the hell out of you, but we'd have perhaps preferred that to have been related to the difficulty level choice than just railroaded through; the pressure of playing Alone in the Dark - like Resident Evil games - was sometimes a positive.
One absolutely essential change, though, is to the hateful driving mechanics. As someone who played through the infamous New York driving section 45 times before succeeding (and severely injured my sofa in the process), the most important change has been to introduce mid-level checkpoints. In addition, the twitchy drift-heavy handling has been kicked out, and replaced by a sensible model that gives you half a chance. The crazy physics aren't quite as mentalist as they were either, and the traffic has less chance of snagging you into the yawning rift of doom. Thank you Eden.
In addition to all these little nips and tucks, the developers also felt it was a good idea to explain what that whole end-of-game root-burning stuff was about earlier on in the narrative. So, at the end of Chapter 3, for example, instead of having to move a blockade of wrecked cars to drive across a big rift in Central Park, you have to set fire to one of these apparently evil roots. Later, in Chapter 6, another change has been made, where Carnby climbs aboard a metro train and finds himself under attack in a somewhat different way than he was in the 360 and PC original.
But 360 owners of Alone in the Dark, at least, need not feel completely hard done by. Eden has confirmed that it is working on a patch which will implement most of the changes that have been made to the upcoming PS3 version. It wasn't completely clear on exactly what would and wouldn't be tweaked or fixed, but it's fairly safe to assume that the control, camera, inventory and driving changes will all be taken care of.
With a release date now set for November, be sure to check back nearer the time to see what we think of the new, improved Alone in the Dark.