Saturday, July 05, 2008

Occasionally Abandoned In Vague Murk

Alone In The Dark is the most frustrating game I've ever enjoyed. It's packed full of really good ideas, is pretty damn atmospheric (until someone speaks), and generally shows more ambition than almost anything in the last two years. Unfortunately, it's about a year away from being finished.

First up, the title is just plain wrong. Point one: You are rarely alone. Point two: It is rarely dark. Even putting the darkness settings way down to 'emo bedroom', it is still pretty well illuminated for the most part, and you have a full and luxuriant view of the horrible monster chewing your face off.

The plot and voice acting are absolutely atrocious. The writers seem to have confused swearing with mature and well-written dialogue. All the characters swear constantly. It's like it's been writeen by a bunch of 15-year-old boys (as opposed to most videogames, which are written for that demographic). It's genuinely painful. It's particularly galling because there are moments of brilliance in the presentation, particularly the graphics and score.

The plot then. The main character has amnesia. Duhn duhn duhhh!

What dark secrets will be uncovered? I am fucking gripped from the onset by this original and bold premise! I realise that, as a group, videogame characters suffer more head injuries than the average person, but this doesn't justify the prevelance of this default crutch for bad writers. Suffice it to say, it's a very clumsy attempt to bring the character from the original, 1920's set games into the present day. Precisely who this panders too, I am not sure, because fans of the original games released nearly 20 years ago are not that desperate to see the character returned. Most people playing games back then, and bearing in mind that these titles were niche even then, who is being targeted for this?

Anyway, the rest of the plot. Basically, Lucifer has decided he's going to come back to Earth. Unfortunately for him, your character is some sort of immortal ghostbusting MacGyver. The whole game involves improvising weapons and puzzle solutions from whatever you can find lying around. Again, unfortunately for Lucifer, he seems to have come back on prom night, meaning the streets are scattered with cars just loaded full of booze and duct tape.

The bugs are incredible. Given that the physics engine in this game is one that has been the industry standard for about five years now, to break it this badly requires a serious commitment to dodgy coding. Minutes before sitting down to write this, I watched as a hot dog cart started to mysteriously, and with no external force, roll towards me. Then it exploded. At one point, all the objects within 15 feet or so of my character started very slowly to float upwards. There has been nothing quite as funny as Boiling Point, in which the developers once proudly announced they'd fixed the bug that made all the leopards in the game float at treetop height, but it's pretty daft nonetheless.

It's barely possible to control the character a lot of the time, and yet the combat almost redeems the game. The idea that you can combine most of the items into the games into impromptu weapons means you're always scrabbling for something to use to defend yourself - and it really sets the game apart from anything else on the market. The fact that you can just set nearby detritus on fire to ward of enemies means that there are a genuinely huge number of emergent tactics available to you, and the enemy AI almost copes with whatever you do.

It's not enough to rescue the game, and it's sad to think of what it could have been, but it's interesting and certainly not dreadful. I did get it for free though.

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