Monday, June 30, 2008

Boned in the Dark - game review

Alone in the Dark 5 teaser-trailers have been all over YouTube of late, and most of them looked extremely promising. Sadly, the PS2 (and Wii) version of this title was handled by a different company - Hydravision, and the reworked result is, if you'll pardon the pun, a shadow of its former self. While fans have hardly reached any kind of consensus regarding the quality of the X-Box version, citing sluggish controls, baffling plotline and a pair of abrupt, disappointing endings; the old-gen port is, without question, just plain awful.

In a Playstatic interview, Lead Designer Lionel Fumery (Hydravision is a French company, responsible for the recent and pointless Obscure sequel) is quoted as saying
“while there’ll be slightly less of the park to explore, your enemies possess a slightly less razor-sharp intelligence and the physics effects will have slightly less 'oomph.'

I don't know offhand the French word for understatement, so I'm gonna go ahead and call merde on this one. Visually, the differences can be summed up thusly:

360 screencap on left, my screen on the right..

The game has no boss-battles to speak of, no truly challenging puzzles, and is linear to the point of hand-holding. The "zombies" are a complete joke; rendered as neither frightening nor threatening, they serve merely as background furniture you can mow down with your car or shoot with your pistol. The inventory is woefully incomplete; not only are the new features such as customization absent, the items you collect don't even have ID screens. One item - a cellphone - seems designed to establish contact with other characters in the game during key events, but every bloody time I dialed a number I got the same "circuits are busy, try again later" message. So what was the point? Not that any of these characters were really worth talking to, as there was an awful lot of strong profanity being spouted for no discernable reason.

What I loved about the previous installment, "AitD 4, A New Nightmare", was the utterly charming locale - Shadow Island. It's one of my top three gaming environments of all time. It had a mansion complete with an astonishing multi-tiered library, an observatory, a zombie-infested swamp, rain-swept ruins, ancient Indian burial sites, and a huge trippy underground netherworld to explore.

The premise of hell-beings invading our plane of existence during blackouts - only to be fought back with light-based weapons worked very well. From a powerful photon-gun to a lowly flashlight, the number of clever ways to dispatch your photo-phobic enemies was limitless. In this new adventure, in which Shadow Island is replaced by Central Park, your flashlight does exactly dick.

Though I knew the PS2 port had to cut back on some scenes and levels, resulting in a shorter playtime, I had no idea the end would come as quickly as it did. One minute I was bashing down a wall to collect some gemstone that was apparently going to help me face off against my enemies, and the next thing I knew, I was watching the last cut-scene of the game. No big fight, no plot resolution, nowhere to try out all those molotov cocktails I'd saved up...just a short FMV basically telling me all my efforts were in vain. End of world, end of game.

As for replay value? None. Zip. The game didn't even give me a final save option after the interminable credit sequence. Since I didn't skip any levels, why in hell would I start a new game all over again without so much as a change of costume?

Colour me disappointed. Not bitterly so, as I will eventually fork over the bucks for a console that can play the top-notch Eden Games version, as well as the upcoming Resident Evil 5. But just because my trusty old PS2 doesn't have the power to handle the much-hyped unscripted flame effects, doesn't mean it deserves to be put out to pasture quite yet. Especially not after playing such a sour final note.

X-Box game cover v.s. Playstation game cover.


At 9:40 PM, November 23, 2008, Anonymous cherb said...

I am enjoying miskatonic mansion very much. Are you the writer? I am looking forward to your updates. Do you have a blog?


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