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Critical Reception: Atari/Eden Studios' Alone in the Dark

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Eden Studios' Alone in the Dark, publisher Atari's classic adventure franchise rebirth that, according to online reviews, features "valiant efforts at innovation" - but a decided
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Alone in the Dark, a classic adventure franchise rebirth that features "valiant efforts at innovation," according to reviews. Widely regarded as a precursor and likely inspiration for Capcom's Resident Evil series, Infogrames' Alone in the Dark franchise debuted in 1992 to widespread critical acclaim. The series has weathered a number of disappointing sequels and spin-offs in the years since, however, and its latest multiplatform entry has received a similarly mixed reception. Alone in the Dark currently averages a score of 60 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell rates Alone in the Dark at 7 out of 10, explaining that the title falters in attempting to match the size and scope of its competitors. "At sea in an ocean of blockbusters, Alone in the Dark has no choice but to punch above its weight," he writes. "High production values, biblical clashes between good and evil, and precociously elaborate game mechanics unite, embraced by a rigid but versatile single location and tempted in every direction by a developer unafraid, perhaps even desperate, to sling every idea at the wall and hope the majority stick." Bramwell notes that Alone in the Dark takes an alternate approach to the genre. "Alone in the Dark offers a counterpoint to modern survival-horror," he says. "The genre's core values - inventory management, tension as a by-product of fumbling and panicking, and elaborate puzzles - are as they were, but Carnby is a practical hero: he heals himself by manually bandaging and patching cuts and gashes, and he solves puzzles with his hands and whatever else he can cobble together." "It's simple and versatile, and divorces the game from a genre obsessed with elaborate and contrived clockwork mechanisms, achieving greater subtlety and cohesion in the process," Bramwell praises. "Puzzles are individual, and often special." These puzzles mix well with other featured gameplay elements, according to Bramwell. "Despite a number of tactics emerging, the game avoids routine, juxtaposing lateral-thinking puzzles with dramatic platforming, violence with solitude, revelation with mystery," he writes. "Every tool and skill you accumulate - and there are as many discrete mechanics here as there are in Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Project Zero put together - has a function, although it may not present itself for some time." Bramwell admits that Alone in the Dark has its share of issues, and notes that players will find frustration in its inventory system and control scheme. "Yet in spite of all this, Alone in the Dark is ultimately likeable, even lovable," he assures. "You want to love it, but it just keeps letting you down, and in the end that's the impression that sticks to the wall and stays there." Andrew Reiner at Game Informer gives Alone in the Dark a rating of 6.5 out of 10. "Developer Eden Games, best known for its work on revolutionary racer Test Drive Unlimited, has channeled an amazing amount of creativity into this Alone in the Dark reboot," he asserts. "Much of the gameplay falls into 'wildly innovative' category." "Take an ordinary car for example," Reiner explains. "When you enter it, you can open up its glove box, turn down its visor, crawl into its back seat, hot-wire it if the key is missing, and should you choose, leap from it while roaring down the road. You can even use it as a rolling bomb by shooting its gas tank." "Item management is just as unique. Doing away with static screens, all item management is handled through your character’s jacket, which you view from a first-person perspective." Reiner finds that the series' characteristic reliance on puzzles remains effective in its latest entry. "Like the Alone in the Dark games of old, much of the gameplay is comprised of puzzles," he writes. "Most of them offer inventive solutions, whether it be using fire in newfangled ways or combining items for explosive results." "This game has the makings of a certifiable hit," Reiner remarks, "but the entire experience is corrupted by myriad problems." Issues with pacing and an overall lack of polish are cited as being particularly troublesome. "Alone in the Dark can be applauded for its innovation, but it cannot be saved from its dysfunction," Reiner concludes. "If you can tolerate the broken experience, you’ll be treated to some memorable and original moments." IGN's Ryan Geddes contributes an Alone in the Dark review scored at 3.5 out of 10. "Quality survival horror games are woefully hard to come by on consoles these days, and it's easy to understand why," he admits. "As hardware gets more powerful and gamers' expectations grow, building a big, beautiful world full of mind-bending puzzles, creepy creatures and compelling storylines is an increasingly Herculean task." Geddes feels that Alone in the Dark does not live up these expected standards. "I love a good yarn, and I was hoping to find one in Alone in the Dark," he laments. "There are many genuinely inventive ideas at play in Central Park, but few of them work as well as they should and most are failures." Alone in the Dark's integral fire mechanic is problematic and ultimately boring, according to Geddes. "Fire is the only way to kill enemies (inexplicably named "Humanz"), which is interesting at first but quickly becomes tedious," he notes. "Most of the time, you'll find the access to explosive items severely limited, which means the most effective and consistent way to kill monsters in Alone in the Dark is to touch them with burning chairs. Yawn." "Combining items to make new ones, a central part of the game, is also frustrating," Geddes continues. "Want to combine a wick with a bottle? You can't select the bottle first – it has to be the wick. Good luck sorting out inconsistencies like these when 'Ratz' and 'Batz' are nipping at your heels." Geddes praises Alone in the Dark's innovations, but finds that most fall flat in the end. "Alone in the Dark has some good ideas, but it fails at most because it tries them all," he notes in conclusion. "Nice visuals, great fire effects and valiant efforts at innovation don’t make up for boring combat, frustrating controls, poorly designed levels and a hackneyed story." Even Alone in the Dark's highest-scored reviews warn that the title features a number of problems that often overshadow its interesting mechanics and praiseworthy innovations. Many describe Alone in the Dark as a title with great promise but poor execution. Players with patience may be able to look past Alone in the Dark's issues and find a rewarding experience, though others will likely find frustration and disappointment.

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