Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

Okay, so first off, what’s the point in making your own rules if not to break ’em, eh? I said I’d start at the beginning of the alphabet and work along, but my first stop was Alien Trilogy, and since that’s one of the games from my very early gaming days, it seemed like cheating to play something I already knew well. So I skipped right on past it to this little number. (Of course, now my nagging sense of completionism wants me to go back and do Alien Trilogy anyway, and to make sure it gets posted before this one in the thread — we’ll see if honesty or completionism wins out.)

01 Cover shot

I think I picked this one up from my local retro games store (which is where a lot of my purchasing accidents happen these days) for about £3. I’ve never played any of this franchise before but the name rang a bell and I both love and loathe me some horror/survival stuff. (My first encounter with this genre in games that I actually really liked was Silent Hill when I was 13. I had to play it with the lights on and a blanket wrapped very firmly over my head, looking for all the world like a very scowly, twitchy Palpatine.)

The first thing I do is pick which of two characters (and thus which of two stories/playthroughs) I want. I like how his defining feature is a gun and hers is, well… see for yourself.

02 No brainer

So anyway, fuck it, I like an underdog — I go with the girl, Aline, and her totally-appropriate-for-a-dark-and-stormy-night attire. I do like a redhead, though. First thing I’ll say for this is that the voice acting is actually pretty good. It’s a shame the script is a bit shit. Not very shit, you understand — this game has kept me engaged for an evening despite a couple of moments of jumping onto the inventory screen to give me time to uncurl my toes and reopen my eyes before returning to be eaten by some snarly, pointy thing that had me cornered at a painful camera angle. But still — pretty hammy. Quote of the game goes to that rare moment of meta self-awareness:

Carnby: “So, our mission is nearly over.”

Alina: “Do you really believe that?”

Carnby: “Nah. I only said that to bolster our courage.”

The gameplay reminds me a lot of old Resident Evil, which absolutely is something I was exposed to in my youth, probably around the age of 11ish. Certainly I remember that a lot of the horror was derived from the sluggishness of the controls and the deliberately-frustrating camera angles that you’d flip through whilst exploring poky little rooms rather than the monsters themselves which, if you weren’t so busy button mashing and swearing at the screen, you might actually just find kinda humorous. I didn’t really enjoy that kind of gameplay then, but I’m learning to appreciate it now that I’m an adult and not actually afraid of the dark.

03 Dark in here

Of course, since his characteristic was a shotgun and hers was a sob story, I have to wait a fair while before I have any weapons at all. I learn that shining a flashlight at some enemies makes them hop back a few steps, but I basically spend half an hour running around the entire top floor map of this darned mansion, flashing and dashing past enemy after enemy to thoroughly loot the whole place before I discover a beautiful thing, right back in the very first corridor I stumbled out on to.

04 Lightswitches

FRICKIN’ LIGHTSWITCHES! (I realise those grainy little pixelly graphics on my huge flat-screen tv may have not made that revelation obvious.)

They’re not available everywhere, but emboldened by this new discovery I start running about the place turning lights on willy nilly and just as soon as I find myself some guns, it comes back to bite me in the ass. Literally. Games where different monsters have to be defeated by different means?! This takes me back. You can’t just shoot your way through this baby. Also, true to form for survival horrors there is just nowhere near enough ammo. Course, ‘charms of saving’ are also scarce, and so I manage to waste a good twelve rounds trying to shoot one of the things that I used to just wave my torch at (turns out the shotgun I picked up eats through shells at three per pop) before discovering that those ones just don’t die. Trouble is, it takes a good two to four shots to kill just about anything in this game, it turns out. Seems that strategic running-the-fuck-away is preferable!

Tell you what, though, even now this game is still quite pretty to look at. It’s atmospheric; the constant patter of rain outside and rattling windows is not overdone, and the only time in the past four hours of gameplay that they decided to make use of that shiny vibrate function, they did it completely out of the blue and for no particular reason as I was strolling down a corridor.

Frightened the life out of me.

05 Atmosphere

Alas, it is not very long into Aline’s story when we both take the opportunity to strip off that pesky jacket that was keeping out the cold and squeeze in another dose of damselling. Seriously, after the third or fourth time this guy tells me to hide somewhere while he goes and sorts shit out, I’m almost inclined to waste a few more of those precious shells on him, despite knowing full well that he’ll either magically be impervious to friendly fire, or as in our beloved Fallout 3, pop back up like a daisy.

06 Sexism

Also, is it just me, or is did this guy fall straight out of VtM: Redemption? Looking a little grey around the gills, there… Christof!

Anyhow — it’s not all about running-the-fuck-away from things. There’s also poking-stuff-to-see-what-happens and puzzle-solving-ftw! So, naturally, when told I’ve been locked into a room, I go to the first door sized object and give it a nudge.

07 Mirror mirror

Alright — not the most vexing of puzzles, but I have all the faith in the world that they’re just warming me up for the good stuff later on.

I manage to explore a good two thirds of the three floors of the mansion and defeat my first Great Evil (TM) before I realise I’ve more or less run myself into the ground with no saves left, no bullets, no health, and a hellhound gnawing on my ankle. Sad times, folks… sad times.

08 Game over folks

I’m surprised how compelled I am to go back and start the game afresh now that I’ve learned some key concepts, such as turning-on-the-goddamn-lights, flashing and dashing and rotating objects in my inventory to find useful tidbits scrawled on the back. I might even be tempted to play through Carnby’s arc when I’m done too. (Note how she’s addressed by her first name, throughout, and he by his surname. Makes him sound like a tough guy, don’t it?) Now, though, it’s like… 3am and I’m falling asleep on my keyboard. So yeah. Either I’ll take another crack at this straight away — in which case you might see more rambles in the near future, or I’ll slink guiltily back to Alien Trilogy and play catch-up with myself.

First, though, Odinsleep!

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