It's quite hard to do justice in text to the complexity of the system Eden Studios has built, and we'd recommend that you check out a couple of the tech demo videos that we've popped up on Eurogamer TV for you (Tech Demo One is in this direction; head through this portal of blue for Tech Demo Two). Suffice it to say that having sat down and watched the game in action for over an hour, we've seen no sign that these abilities are gimmicks. They're core to how the game plays, to how Carnby fights his enemies and to how Alone In The Dark distinguishes itself from every other game we've seen.
That's half of the equation. The other half is the atmosphere of the game - the graphics, the music, the art and the sound. On this front, too, Alone In The Dark does rather more than merely pique our interest. It's downright exciting, even to our cynical souls. Graphically, its next-gen credentials are impeccable, with plenty of attention lavished on making sure that the draw distance and framerate are excellent in the large outdoor spaces of Central Park. Characters and monsters look pretty good - especially Carnby himself, looking tough and world-weary, and complete with an ugly scar down the side of his face whose provenance, we're informed, will be explained at some point in the plot.
It's the scale and the cinematic nature of the game, however, that Alone in the Dark really gets right. The prologue, in which Carnby wakes up groggy and bleary-eyed in contemporary New York, seemingly kidnapped by some dodgy occult-dabbling types, rapidly transitions from stumbling through a somewhat mundane apartment building to a thrilling sequence. Said apartment building starts collapsing and disintegrating around your ears, entire floors slipping out from one another and crashing through the ceilings of those below, as you desperately try to survive the chaos.
Several heart-stopping minutes later, Carnby is left hanging by his fingernails from a gargoyle high above a New York street. Cue the opening titles.
Your introduction to driving is equally good, with the monster that's attacking New York (there are definitely shades of Cloverfield here, although the monster appears to be underground rather than a Godzilla type) going into overdrive as you bomb through the city streets. Skyscrapers crack and tumble around you, great fissures open up in the ground underneath you and cars are sent hurtling by violent upheavals in the earth - and all the while, the game's amazing and hugely dramatic Bulgarian choral soundtrack floods the room.
For a good example of the utterly brilliant music - and a fairly decent example of the graphics, to boot - we'd suggest taking a peek at Eurogamer TV's gameplay footage trailer.
This isn't what we've come to expect from survival-horror, and if anything, our biggest concern about Alone in the Dark is that it may not be able to match its normal gameplay to the sheer drama and bombast of such fantastic set-pieces. The signs are promising, though, with the team creating an episodic structure (it's laid out much like a DVD, with episodes and chapter marks all accessible from a front-end) which will, presumably, have a number of climactic moments in each episode.
Much has been made of the fact that this structure will allow people to skip parts of the story they find too difficult; we're not sure we see the problem, frankly. After all, you could buy a movie DVD and skip to the final chapter to see the ending if you wanted, just as you could look up a God-mode cheat for Doom on the 486, but why bother ruining it for yourself? It's just nice to have the functionality there in case you do want to get to that chapter for some reason. If anything, it's just another example of a different way of thinking about games - which is exactly what Alone In The Dark promises to deliver, from its unusual DVD menu system to its groundbreaking physics, or even small touches like the ability to play either in first- or third-person, whichever you prefer.
We're going to get our hands on a more complete preview build of the game some time in the near future, so we'll get a chance to find out just how justified our obvious excitement over Alone In The Dark is. In the meanwhile, if this game hasn't been on your radar up until now, it definitely should be.