Review: Even in a pitch black room, Alone in the Dark would be atrociously ugly

When I started my review for Alone in the Dark earlier this week, I did something I’ve never done before: I consulted other reviews to gain some perspective. I wasn’t experiencing writer’s block or anything, but because my initial impressions of this title were so woefully bad, I had to give in to the urge to take a peek elsewhere to confirm whether or not I was crazy.

It turns out I’m perfectly fine, at least when it comes to reviewing Alone in the Dark. It was awful. It was forced. It was obvious, and it was boring. It all but confirmed to me that video games as a medium should stay the hell away from trying to be immersive movies, go back to school, and learn to be fun again.

If you’re still reading along, much as a motorist would glance at a fresh wreck on the side of the road, I’ll do my best to describe in detail why this title is destined for the bin they place in the back room for the titles that get physically tossed out of the bargain bin by more deserving titles. Some people call it the wood pile, where gawd awful games go to do something worthwhile, like start fires, because they are so bad at being video games.

Alone in the Dark begins with you waking up in a room with three terribly voice-acted characters, one of who is bleeding and seemingly half dead already. Oh, and you are forced to “blink” continuously as the characters kick the storyline off, because you have a headache. Be prepared to click the directional pad for a good 5 minutes. You, like me, will have a real headache when you’re done.

Don’t worry though, that headache will fade fast. Thanks to the coma-inducing cutscenes, you’ll feel refreshed when you awaken, ready to tackle the next challenge, like getting your character to do anything meaningful. I say that because the only thing he and other characters are good at is uselessly swearing and being forced, unbelievable tough guys. F-this, F-that, sh*t, etc etc. We get it, you’re appealing to the part of the population that loves to swears for no reason other than to mask insecurity and appear tough. Awesome. Here’s your Hummer and a gun.

And if you do choose to play Alone in the Dark for any length of time, be prepared to die. A lot. In mind-numbingly obnoxious ways. Where Mega Man was challenging because of its game play, for example, Alone in the Dark is challenging because hit detection, item placement and the interactive zones that light up when you get near them all work at their leisure. In the first level there’s a fire hose you drop into an elevator shaft. Why? I haven’t the foggiest, but I know some annoying woman was yelling at me for help. So I went down the shaft, fell, and died. When I tried to exit out of the game to go do something fun, like pay bills, it wouldn’t let me access the home menu. I had to navigate back to the main menu and “quit.” That’s an epic fail right there and it’s only the menu screen.

The chapter skipping option that former Sony man Phil Harrison touted a few months ago as a pathetic appeal to the mass market does little to help this game in any way. If one level proves to be too hard (not because of any challenge it presents, but because of poor controls), you can skip it. You can even skip all the way to the end, if you choose, although sadly there was no “skip to the credits and get me the hell out of here” option.

I read an Xbox 360 review of this game the other day too, and it noted the developers were super proud of the fire effects in this game, at least in the Xbox version. From the looks of the other reviews, my own time with the game, and their efforts beyond fire effects, I find that statement humorous. Why? Because I can honestly see this disc making a great fire starting log come the holiday. I could go off on another rant here about how developers today are telling what a good game should be, instead of showing us and letting we the gamers decide for ourselves, but I won’t. The stench of Alone in the Dark is so terrible I can imagine it seeping out of your monitor now, as I type words about it on your screen. The fire is cool! Look at the fire! Ignore everything else because we rushed it because we spent so much time on the fire! OK, I lied, there’s a little rant right there. /rant

Anyway, ignore this one like the plague (for all systems), and hope Phil and company can stop trying to imitate other games with a jack-of-all-trades approaches that do many things, but none of them particularly well at all. 1/4, but only because we don’t have a policy on 0/4. Oh, the music is spooky. Back to 1/4.