Sometimes, the only reason you finish a bad game is ambition. Or because you’re extremely bored and the summer releases are few and far apart. Or, why not, just to warn other people of what’s in store for them.
All of these reasons are somewhat valid for Alone in the Dark. The game is quite poor, from start to end, with little to justify a bit of mercy. I suppose that, initially, innovative gameplay was the main idea, and placing the player in extreme situation, where he should have used both his reflexes and his brains in order to escape, and for the most part, it actually worked. Alone in the Dark is a tense game, with many moments requiring fast reflexes or a bit of thinking in order to deduce the puzzles’ solution, but that’s entirely useless in its current form. Because AitdD has the worst user interface I have seen in the last few years, in any game, on any platform. Bar none.
While using the keyboard, the classic W, A, S and D keys aren’t used as you might expect, like in any other action adventure game since the 1860s. Nooo, apparently someone thought it was a good idea to turn your character left and right using the A and D keys, turn him backwards using the S key, and make him go forward using the W key. It boggles the mind. And, mind you, the camera is fixed, with predefined angles, which change the keys you need to press to move your character. Thus, when I had to escape a crumbling building falling over me (in an extremely spectacular fashion, to be fair)… I died. Many, many times. You need to shimmy over ledges, avoid falling rocks… not a chance. Finally, the hammer struck when I was hanging from a rope, and the game instructed me to press the PrintScreen key to jump from the rope. Although I was warned about this “Kodak moment”, I still couldn’t believe my eyes. The PrintScreen Key!
After a decent amount of effort I managed to escape the crumbling building part, where the game begins and you’re given some vague hints regarding the game’s story. Still, escaping that damned building posed a new problem: the combat. The New York residents (the game takes place in New York, in the Central Park area) are possessed by some bad dude, and can only be killed by using fire. At this point the interface proved to be an insurmountable wall. It couldn’t kill squat, I couldn’t even use the “attack” function, as it’s more than just a left click, keep my flashlight turned on, and in the same time “direct” my opponent to a fire, and get rid of him. In desperation, I plugged in my 360 controller and the odds evened out somewhat, as the basic controls, like movement, are better on an analog stick. So, armed with the 360 controller I’ve slowly started to make my way towards the end of the game, and once I’ve seen the final cutscene I felt bad for Alone in the Dark. Why? Well…
The bread and butter of Alone in the Dark are the contextual actions. They work, if you don’t bump into some control scheme trouble. You hop into cars, for example, check out the glove box for the keys, hotwire the thing using a nice minigame, and you can even drive it. The problem is that, on occasion, the solution to some puzzle can become hard to spot because you always have to do something new, which might not go well with some people.
Another important part of AoD’s gameplay is the interaction with the environment. There’s something burning around you most of the time, and a lot of puzzles require the use of fire in one form or another to advance. These puzzles are alright, with the exception of the ones which require you to navigate some area against the clock, which made me want to throw the PC out the window several times, because of the interface. Apparently though, the “throwing the PC out the window” part has somehow entered in the developers plans; see, the game is organized in chapters, and you can skip each one any time you want. There’s movies between chapters too, which explain what you missed, structured like a TV series, with the classic “previously on” thing at the start of the movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where you can skip through chapters until you reach the ending before, and I don’t think I like it either; perhaps this feature would have been nice to be unlocked after you beat the game once.