Alone in the Dark (Wii)
Developer: Hydravision Entertainment
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: 06/20/08
Alone in the Dark holds a soft spot in the cold dark hearts of survival horror fans. Considered by many to be the first survial horror game made back in 1992, it did things in the game that are still the standard for survival horror games today. At least as far as exploration and puzzle solving go. It’s a shame, though, that not a single Alone in the Dark title released after that has managed to capture some of the magic of that original title, and the survival horror genre has come a long way since those beginnings. Seven years after the last failure at reviving the series, Infogrames/Atari seems to think enough time has passed that people will have forgotten the last horrible Alone in the Dark game and so they have rebooted the franchise with the latest title.
With this reboot it appears that instead of trying to make a clone of other popular horror games and just slapping the Alone in the Dark title on it, developers Eden Games and Hydravision Entertainment set out to create a game that was certainly unique in it’s presentation and gameplay. Does the experiment pay off?
No, not really.
The first thing you should note is that the 360 version of the game and the PS2/Wii versions of the game have different developers. While all of the games follow essentially the same storyline and share many of the same levels, there are HUGE differences in the titles. But we’ll get to that later.
Let’s instead talk about the one thing that all versions of the game share: the story. It has been said that if you put a hundred monkeys in a room with a hundred typewriters for a hundred years that they will write a great novel. By comparison, the story for Alone in the Dark must have been written by two monkeys with one typewriter locked in a broom closet for about six weeks. The story makes no sense. It starts off interesting with the main character Edward Carnby (who is the main character of all of the Alone in the Dark games, though the story of this title has no continuity at all with previous titles) waking up in a room and is about to be executed. At first I had hope for the game in the unique way it portrayed Edward trying to wake up and having to use the controller to blink when his vision got too blurry. After that, all hell breaks loose and the story takes a nosedive from interesting to something that would be an embarrassment in a B-horror movie.
Let’s start with the worst offender – the dialogue. It’s ridiculous and poorly translated so that characters deliver lines such as, “I owe you apology” and, “I was going to mirror you white boy.” I still have no idea what the hell that is supposed to mean, but it was said as a threat so I’m guessing it’s a bad thing. Many of the lines lack any semblance of context. For example after having a near death experience and freaking out, a female character suddenly gets calm and starts talking about how she loves the smell of old books. Then she starts freaking out again. Not only is this disjarring, but that little bit of personal history is pretty much the only character development she gets.
Picture quality is my fault, my camera is dying. The poor game script? Not my fault.
Speaking of said female lead, as a love interest/important plot point/sidekick, she’s also annoying. Other than complaining, she disappears only to reappear magically through areas that took my character several puzzles and keycards to get through with no explanation on how she made it there while also weaponless. I’ve never wanted to kill an NPC character in a game this badly, and trust me, considering the plot of the game that’s really not something that they were going for.
Back to the dialogue. Besides the weird comments and bad translation, it’s pretty much a lot of swearing. I’m hardly a person to complain about too much swearing, and granted, it does make sense that when everything is going to hell that the people involved would be swearing a lot, but this is so overdone it’s unintentionally funny. If you were to have a drinking game while playing Alone in the Dark and took a shot every time someone swore, you’d need a new liver before the end of the second chapter of the game.
Next is presentation. Like the story, this is also a bit of a mess. The game relies heavily on the age old video game standard that if you can’t make your main character interesting, give him amnesia. This wouldn’t be so bad if they gave Edward Carnby any sort of personality throughout the game, but since he never has any sort of character development beyond the initial sequence of events there’s no real reason to root for his survival. Not only does Carnby not know who he is, he doesn’t even seem to care. The characters around him seem more interested in finding out who he is than he does.
Another problem with the presentation is that there seems to be chunks of the story missing. There’s never a clear explanation for the events, and the different endings are also extremely unclear as to what exactly happens. The whole game delays the revelation, and then the revelation is rushed and just when you think everything will be made clear the credits roll. Uh, what? There are also other parts of the game where things appear to be missing. Once I went into a building, then it went to a cutscene of Sarah entering the building, then it switched back to Edward in first person mode with a Humanz on top and instructions for using his knife. There was no enemy in the building when I entered. Likewise, there was no transition between Sarah entering the building and the enemy gyrating on top of Edward. It was just there. The game is broken up into chapters that can be accessed at any time. If you look back, it will show a “ËœPreviously On’ segment much like the kind you’d see on a TV series. However, occasionally it’ll show Edward doing cool things that I never ran across in the level. Were things cut out of the final version that still made it into these “ËœPreviously On’ segments?
For some reason, the enemies are called Humanz. I fully expect to see Ubisoft announce a Humanz life simulator later this year, and in fact I’m amazed to see they had not yet trademarked the name.
So yeah, don’t go into the game expecting a good story. Because it sucks.
As a side dish to the sloppy story comes the sloppy graphics. I understand that the Wii version and PS2 versions are graphically identical, however these graphics are bad by even PS2 standards. Flat textures, very little detail even on the characters, an excessive use of the color gray, clipping issues, and random graphic bugs are all over the place. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Dreamcast version of Alone in the Dark: A New Nightmare looks better than this game. The graphics for fire in the 360 version of this game are supposed to be among the best in any video game, in the Wii/PS2 versions fire is limited to a shifting orange texture. If you squint hard enough it might look like fire. The game has a unique damage system that requires you to bandage wounds when you receive them. In the Wii version of the game this also apparently sews your pants back together and repairs your shirt. If they were going to go for a realistic approach to healing then this makes no sense unless Carnby’s clothes are actually his living tissue.
On top of all this, there are times where the graphics get worse. For example when you are hurt or during certain chase sequences, the screen gets blurry or loses color. While this has been done in other games to convey the sense that the character is dying instead of using a heads up display, in this game it’s just annoying since it is already hard enough to tell what is going on without the graphics becoming even worse.
To fully round out the garbage that is the presentation in this game are the poor sound effects, bad voice acting, and off kilter music cues. Everyone knows that strange chanting + orchestra music = creepy and there’s a lot of that in this game. It’s actually not a bad score choice and fits with the game, but in the Wii version it will occasionally start playing when absolutely nothing is going on. It certainly adds drama to ordinary things like walking, but then it will be silent during some combat portions of the game. If the script for the game wasn’t bad enough, the voice acting also sucks. There are moments where Sarah will react to situations and the voice actress speaking her lines will either sound bored or annoyed when the situation calls for fear or anger. The must have used up most of the sound effects budget on the chant music and hookers since what sound effects are there are flat or occasionally missing. The cracks that run under the ground after your character sound like wrapping paper being crumpled up.
Now let’s get down to the controls and gameplay of this disaster.
The Wii version is controlled using the wiimote and nunchuck. The joystick on the nunchuck is used to move Carnby and the Z button centers the camera behind him. The C button on the nunchuck is used to switch between first person and third person modes. In first person, the camera is controlled using the remote much like in other Wii FPS games. There’s an onscreen reticule and when that reticule gets to the edges of the screen, the view shifts in that direction. The A button is used to interact with the environment and the B button is used as a trigger for the pistol or to activate certain other items. The minus sign is used for jumping, or you can flick the nunchuck up for the same effect. The plus sign is used for the healing screen. The 1 button pauses and the down direction on the D-Pad is used for closing Edward’s eyes.
Then there are the motion controls. As mentioned earlier, flicking the nunchuck up will cause Edward to jump. To access the inventory, you twist both controllers inward then open them outward. This makes sense because like the other versions of the game, the inventory screen are the inner pockets of Edward’s jacket and the motion is the same action as opening your jacket. To bring out an item equiped with the left hand you jerk the nunchuck to the left, amd the same motion returns the item to the jacket. Same goes for the remote with the right hand. When you’re holding an item, swinging the Wii remote causes the same action within the game.
Think about those motions for a moment ,and you can see where this goes horribly wrong. Trying to access the inventory is a comedy of errors. Even if you make the right motion you’re more than likely to jump or equip/unequip an item in one of Edward’s hands than actually access the inventory. Run out of bullets and want to switch to the spray/lighter? Fat fucking chance. Trying to do this will result in you looking like a jackass, hopping around while pulling out and putting away stuff into your jacket. This is extremely annoying, especially since there are unused buttons on the remote that could’ve served the same function. The 2 button is just sitting there lonely, wanting to be used, so why instead did they map accessing the inventory to a motion that is far too similar to several other things?
Luckily for Wii owners there’s hardly a reason to ever access the inventory. All those neat combinations you can do with items in the 360 version of the game, like stuffing cloth into a bottle for a molotov cocktail, or playing around with tape and glowsticks? Not in the Wii version. The only part of the game that is getting positive press from the 360 version of the game is completely missing from the Wii version. Enemies in those versions of the game need to be killed by fire. In the Wii version a couple of hits with a chair usually does it.
Not that you ever have to worry about enemies. Not only are they easy to kill, but for the most part they don’t even bother trying to come after you. I’ve had times where I’ve run right into an enemy and stood there waiting for it to attack, and it never did. If they do attack, they’re really slow about it and if you run a couple of feet, they’ll probably just leave you alone. I’d make a complaint about enemy AI, except there’s is no enemy AI present to complain about. I almost felt bad killing them in the game. It was like attacking comatose patients, and even then I think Terry Schaivo would put up a better fight then these Humanz.
Example of the enemy AI
The biggest enemies and cause of deaths in the game are the environment and the lack of clear instruction. Add to that bad checkpoint placement and you have a serious issue. Here are some examples:
-In the game I had to use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire in a hallway. Part of the hallway fell away and the game said to jump over it. What the game didn’t mention was the fact that you can’t jump while holding the fire extinguisher. Bam, instant death and having to go back through moments of an agonizingly bad and unskippable cut scene.
-Before you get health packs, there’s a time when you get injured and have to find a public restroom or bleed out. When you get there, there are no health packs in the room. The game recommends using the never explained moron-o-vision, where you use the button to close your eyes and everything in the room starts to look like a negative picture except for your objective that glows gold. There’s no way to destroy the wall with one arm hurt. So I bled out and died. Another trip through the park and I get there and it happens again. And again. Finally I just try shooting everything, and even though there aren’t any locks you can shoot out prior to this, the flat looking door in the corner can have it’s lock shot out and the health pack is behind the door. So why doesn’t the door glow gold in moron-o-vision? I have no idea. What pissed me off even more came but a moment later when two guys break into the bathroom and even though I’m holding a health pack I can’t skip their discussion and I bleed out and die.
There are several moments in the game like this where there is no explanation for what’s going on or what you have to next are given to you. But if you make the wrong step due to a poor camera angle, you die and have to start back at the last check point. There are platforming sections where this is frustrating beyond belief as the game does not inform you of things like hitting the B button to let go of a rope. The, because of the camera timing, when you can let go of the rope is also difficult to figure out. Sadly it’s the platform puzzles that are the most disappointing aspect of the game in my opinion, if only because they tend to be the most cinematic. Had the game been either more informative or intuitive these sections might’ve felt rewarding.
I’ve heard there are great puzzles in the 360 version of the game. Not in the Wii version. Almost all the puzzle are basic to the extreme, and the only times you will be stumped is when the puzzle doesn’t make much sense. Most of the puzzles in the game, outside of the platforming ones, are of the kind where you’re holding an ax, and there’s a hallway you need to go down, but the hallway is filled with water and there’s an electric wire in the water. The wire also comes out of the water and close to your feet. What do you do?
Not much of a mind bender.
Then there are the driving sections. The damned driving sections. Thankfully they’re brief, but the controls for driving are awful and there are two sequences which involve driving while the shit hits the fan. Of course it’s hard to avoid cracks in the ground when you occasionally can’t see their edges. Or other cars that drive at you. Or buildings and trees that fall around you. Hit anything and it’s time to start the whole section over again. And again. And again.
If there’s something original that this game does, it must be found in the other versions because there’s simply nothing to get excited about for Alone in the Dark for the Wii. The platforming is like Prince of Persia, but worse. The jacket inventory is just a different way of presenting the same menu found in all these types of games, and bandaging sections of the body was done before in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. It’s an ugly version of a bad game that’s available on the 360, except stripped of the few enjoyable elements of those versions.
FINAL SCORE: Awful Game
Short Attention Span Summary:
Just when I thought I couldn’t play a worse game than a broken fishing game comes Alone in the Dark for the Wii. This is probably the worst game I’ve ever played. I’ve played a lot of bad games, a lot of bad survival horror games, and Alone in the Dark for the Wii is the worst of the bunch. The only redeeming feature it has is the fact that it’s short. If you decide to suffer through it, I beat it in about 6 hours and that was with retrying several sections and playing the last chapter twice to see both endings. This game is like a textbook of bad development: There are horrible motion controls, bad camera angles, too easy puzzles, non-existent enemy AI, graphics that looked dated 8 years ago, poorly translated dialogue, and a story that doesn’t make sense which all add up to a game that is better off in a landfill then in your game library. Avoid at all costs, even if you see it on clearance for $5 (which I’m betting will be in about 2 months) stay away.