Needs More Cowbell

Needs More Cowbell
The Tragedy of Alone in the Dark

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 9 Mar 2010 13:34
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The Characters

It was nice to see that Alone in the Dark was a true sequel to the original games in the series (Edward "Seamy Face" Carnby apparently having lived for the 80-odd years since the first game by supernatural means) rather than a cop-out modern-day reboot with the same character names and little else in common. The old-man mentor character was pretty intriguing, too, especially when he sets up a future meeting with Edward shortly before unflinchingly shooting himself in the head.

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Unfortunately: Whenever I'm annoyed by crowbarred-in love interests in games and Hollywood movies, I ask myself one thing: Are they really as bad as the one from Alone in the Dark? Little Miss Whatever-Her-Name-Was is shrieky, irritating, virtually needless to the plot and constantly nagging you to pull your socks up and get to the objective du jour. At one point, the game forces you to save her life before you can continue. That's like making me drive a car that only works while I'm banging my head against the steering column. Speaking of which ...

The Driving

What I like about the cars in Alone in the Dark is their versatility. You usually just drive them, granted, but if they outlive their usefulness, you then can siphon out the petrol to make molotovs, or just leave a trail of fuel as a fuse for a makeshift carbomb. On top of that, you can sit in any seat, check the glove compartment, honk the horn and turn the lights on and off. An average developer might say to themselves, "We don't need to put all that in because there's no reason to do it." A better developer would say, "Let's put it in anyway and let the players come up with reasons."

Unfortunately: The game's physics would make Isaac Newton pull his own teeth out, and that's never more obvious than when driving. The entire chassis once flew off my car because I drove up a curb too fast. On another occasion I sped over a mild dip in the road and watched as my entire vehicle was catapulted into the skybox. Exhilarating, but unhelpful.

***

Given more time and play testing, Alone in the Dark could have been great. Of course, that's not saying a lot. Given more time, a piss-stained bathroom floor could become the Garden of Eden. But here's a statement that will need some defending: I think that being a colossal failure is far closer to greatness than being simply mediocre. Is E.T. for the Atari 2600 not one of the most well-remembered games of its time, after all its functional-but-not-amazing contemporaries vanished from general memory? History remembers only the truly great and the truly awful. With that in mind, there could still be time to become the next Hitler if you start murdering people now.

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw is a writer and game critic best known for Zero Punctuation, a video review series on The Escapist. The site you are currently reading, conveniently enough.

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