When game publishers switched from floppies to CD-ROMs a few years back, many of them starting plopping their old titles on CD, adding some music and spoken dialogue, and re-releasing them. They called them "multimedia versions" or "enhanced CD-ROM versions"; we called them "shovelware."
Alone in the Dark Trilogy is indubitably shovelware, but fortunately the quality of what's being shoveled is so good that it's not only forgivable, it's actually welcome. Naturally, this collection of the three classic action-adventures from I-Motion holds no appeal for gamers who already own them. But if you're unfamiliar with the series or only have one of the games, this collection's a bargain.
The Alone in the Dark games cast you as private eye Edward Carnby (in the first game you can also play as a woman named Emily Hartwood), investigating a series of deaths and disappearances, all of which are linked to the occult or the supernatural. In the first game of the series, the stories of H.P. Lovecraft - and the demons and monsters he describes - served as a touchstone for the plot and puzzles. Monsters, demons, ghosts, and other evil creatures all are found in the two sequels, but without the heavy Lovecraftian references.
You play the game from a third-person perspective that's switched constantly, and the multiple "camera angles" give the game a distinct cinematic look and feel. Gameplay is a clever blend of gunplay and puzzle-solving: both action hounds and graphic-adventure fans will find plenty of satisfying challenges here, and the music and audio effects will help all but the most hardened gamers suspend their sense of disbelief and become wrapped up in the mysteries and dangers that await.
Not all three games are equal: The original game is the most compelling of the lot, with the third installment taking second place and the second something of a disappointment compared to its predecessor. Then again, it's hard to live up to the standards of an unquestioned classic like the original Alone in the Dark.
The games are a little dated, and the problems that originally caused some gamers frustration are still there. The various viewing perspectives, for instance, do a great job of making you feel as though you're watching a movie - until you're given a view that makes it impossible to gauge an enemy's distance or location. And while the keyboard-only interface is more than adequate when manipulating inventory items, it becomes a nightmare when you're trying to coax Carnby into running to avoid danger: He usually ends up doing a spastic skip as you press the up arrow, release it, then press and hold it in a futile effort to flee.
In addition, many of the actions you must perform to advance the plot seem senseless; why would you break a bottle or vase you've found, for instance, when the lack of a "look" or "examine" command means you have no clue there's something valuable like a key inside? And the polygon-based characters (who look like the guys in the "Money for Nothing" video from Dire Straits) and relatively flat graphics pale in comparison to more recent games such as Realms of the Haunting and even Normality.
Pretty is as pretty does, and the Alone in the Dark Trilogy does pretty damn well. This is a great deal for those who've never played the games, and it qualifies as a good deal even if you already own two of the games: You still get one new game to play, and the minimalist system requirements mean you can loan the other two to friends who may not have upgraded their computers to run the latest texture-mapped, Gouraud-shaded, 3-D simulation.