It's been a long time since we've had a new Alone in the Dark game - perhaps too long! The point and click horror genre has morphed into the survival horror genre, where staying out of arms' reach of ghouls and ghosts and keeping the pace is just as important as finding out who killed the Colonel in the Billiards room with the candlestick. Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, only the second AitD game to grace the PSOne, has been pretty well advertised - even on Television - as the next step in horror gaming. After the atrocities of Fear Effect 2, publisher Infogrames couldn't have picked a better time to release it, and it hits home all the sweeter for it. The subject of the story is once again supernatural detective Edward Carnby, whose adventures bring him to Shadow Island to investigate the mysterious death of a close friend. Together with anthropology prof. Aline Cedrac, the quest for his killer takes them over his notes and research on the sinister island, and the game earnest begins with their unfortunate plane crash on the edge of the island, from where you decide which of the two leads to take control. The pair uncover all manner of disturbing ills, including the terrible truth about the dead fellow, gruesome scientific experiments, suspense and excitement. It sounds odd, but it's rather like Indiana Jones crossed with Hellraiser. The story is rich and unfolds in an interesting and consistent manner - I've no complaints about the way the game drags you around and spooks you. There are a nice couple of twists in there too.
Although both Aline and Edward make it to the island successfully, they wouldn't be Alone in the Dark if they fought it together, so you get to choose which you play for certain scenarios, and their paths cross every once in a while. In-keeping with the excellent narrative, both have individual reasons for investigating the island and Edward's pal's demise. The story varies from one character to the other, but so does the gameplay, with Aline taking a more pacifistic approach to matters that Edward might just blast his way through. The inventory that the pair each control includes things like weaponry (a modest amount for Aline and a decent arsenal for Edward) and tools. One of the most useful items in the pair's inventory is the humble torch. Both of them have one, and far from illuminating a comic-like spotlight on the wall, it brightens murky rooms and casts eerie shadows. Even the modest PlayStation with its ancient graphics chip makes a decent go of things here. Another useful item is the walkie-talkie, which helps keep Aline and Edward in touch with one another. The good thing is, you might be stuck looking for a vital clue to find your way past an obstacle, and your partner might be lurking just on the other side and in a position to help you. If at any point you hit the contact button, the other one pipes up and if there's information to be shared, a conversation brews. It's a clever way of synchronising the two adventures without having them intersect if they don't need to.
On the whole, visually The New Nightmare is quite consistent, but it does show up the design's teams hastiness to get it out the door at times. Take for instance, the aforementioned shadow casting. It looks all right, but there's almost too much darkness, and you wonder why Edward doesn't just whip out some more batteries. It's meant to be moody, not black and white. The PlayStation itself is to blame for some of this, but there are times when you think they could have tried a little harder. If the in-game sections are a little lacking at times though, the easily distinguished CG sequences are outstanding. The animation is spot on, with some lovely lighting effects and tremendous detail given the ailing PSOne hardware. The colour is surprisingly rich too, unlike other survival/horror games where an absence of life usually means an absence of detail. Gore is red, not grey, as they say. Interestingly, if you're in possession of a PlayStation 2, you're more likely to enjoy Alone in the Dark 4, because of the console's ability to apply crude anti-aliasing effects. The jagged edges on some of the polygons that make up The New Nightmare are hideous. Chuck the game in a PlayStation 2 however and it's a whole new ballpark, moving the game up a notch from a good looking PlayStation game to a very good looking PlayStation game. Granted, the Dreamcast and PC versions will lose some of the graphical obscurities, but there's no reason to go upgrading to enjoy this.
Aged in the Dark?
Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, is less survival horror and more adventure horror. There's plenty to keep you jumping out of your skin, mostly thanks to the tremendous sense of atmosphere that brims from every pore, but there's a narrative side to things too. The audio is eerie and awkward too, the perfect accompaniment. You're in the game, and it's in the game with you. Although any adventure game is going to lose a lot of its excitement once you know how things pan out, there's definitely scope for people to go back and still enjoy it, particularly given the two characters' different reasons for visiting Shadow Island. This makes the game somewhat unique amongst its adventure cohorts. I've deliberately avoided spoiling puzzles and upsetting much the plot here, and I've managed to keep the various creatures that lurk in the shadows under wraps too, but hopefully you'll appreciate that - there's an excellent adventure game here, marred only by a few jagged polygons in places, and unless you're some sort of wussy cushion squirmer, you'll want to make it part of your collection.