Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare Hands-On
Not satisfied with its has-been status, Darkworks is hoping that its latest Alone in the Dark game will wrest the survival-horror crown from Capcom. We've played the latest build, and here's what you can expect.
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Ever since the announcement of Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, there's been quite an uproar about the series being the progenitor of the survival-horror genre. While the original Alone in the Dark indeed established many of the genre's conventions, subsequent installments in the series steadily flagged in quality, allowing Capcom's Resident Evil to steal the ball. Nowadays, Resident Evil, rather than Alone in the Dark, is what's synonymous with "survival horror:" It wasn't until after Resident Evil and its many clones began making a splash that the term itself was coined. At any rate, Darkworks--the developer of the Alone in the Dark series--has decided to give it another go with The New Nightmare, and the results seem to be working out very well.
Though it seems very hard to go wrong with a survival-horror game, given the genre's well-established conventions, a great many games serve as evidence that much can go amiss. Games like Vampire Hunter D, Countdown Vampires, and The Ring come to mind, as immediate evidence. Given the scarcity of successful executions, you'd think that developing a successful survival-horror game is something of a science. Whatever the particulars of the formula, Darkworks has apparently gotten it right.
Stories--and the ways in which they're told--are very important to such games. The New Nightmare's narrative is suitably creepy. At the outset, you're introduced to Edward Carnby and Celine Cedrac, the game's protagonists. The former is a hardened crusader against evil; the latter is an archeologist of the Indiana Jones variety. Both find themselves en route to the mysterious Shadow Island--the site of Edward's friend Fiske's demise, and the hiding place of three ancient tablets whose inscriptions Celine is charged to decipher. Once over the island, however, the duo's journey prematurely ends; their plane makes a crash landing, and they're separated. This is where the actual game begins, and you're made to choose one of the two characters, with each one's quest being slightly different. While there is a good deal of overlap between both characters' scenarios, approximately 60 percent of each one's path will be unique. Both scenarios will also differ in focus, in order to reflect each character's profile: Edward's will be markedly more rough-and-tumble and combat-oriented, while Celine's will focus on puzzle-solving and detective work.
Aside from cutscenes and FMV interludes, The New Nightmare uses a unique narrative device to sprinkle in tension during dull moments: the walkie-talkie. Both characters are equipped with one, which lets them effectively communicate with each other at any time. Hitting a shoulder button will cause the active character to access the radio and call for the other. Most of the time, however, the calls seem to go unanswered. We have seen quite a few scripted cutscenes, though, which involved some pretty lengthy dialogue between Edward and Celine. They seemed to occur at random moments, apparently activated by a timer, letting the story unfold naturally and organically. Needless to say, it can really spice up some of the harsher seek-and-fetch type moments of the game.
Anyone who's played a survival-horror game will know what to expect from The New Nightmare's control scheme: Your character moves like one of the tanks from Combat, and a variety of actions are mapped to both the face and shoulder buttons. This game in particular maps your gun and your flashlight to the face buttons, along with the run and inventory commands. The shoulder buttons are reserved for aiming and radio controls. The left analog stick controls the character's flashlight, giving you liberal access to wherever you want to point it. As you'd expect, the scheme is textbook survival-horror. Some of the actions are anything but scary, however.
The game's most interesting element is definitely its use of the flashlight. While the effect it has on the environments is pretty impressive, it's actually much cooler to know that its use has an actual effect on the gameplay. As some of the demons in The New Nightmare are sensitive to light, flashing the light in their faces can be hazardous to them, and even fatal, at times. While you'll have a gun a lot of the time, there's no use in squandering ammo when you can just as easily douse a beast in light for the same effect. The flashlight is also used, to much effect, for illuminating some of the game's darker environments. Hidden items are often exposed as are obscured passageways and puzzle locations.
The flashlight's aesthetic effect is pretty impressive as well. As the game's environments are prerendered 2D paintings, their being lit in real-time seems rather confounding. Darkworks used a technique called "meshing" to render the environments. Meshing entails rendering two versions of each environment--one lit and one unlit. When a character shines the flashlight on any particular part of the environment, the lit version of that fraction is displayed. It's very neat to behold, and the effect is quite impressive--you'd swear it was all done in real-time.
The game is quite graphically impressive, given the platform it's being released on. The prerendered backgrounds are wonderfully detailed, and they're intriguingly lit and detailed. The human characters look passable, though some of their textures are a bit on the bare side. The various demons you'll encounter, however, are pretty brutal in design--it's clear that Darkworks had some pretty twisted influences during the game's conceptual phases. Aurally, Stewart Copeland's music fits the bill quite adequately; though, to be honest, it's quite surprising to see The Police's ex-drummer scoring the soundtrack for a survival-horror game. Think Danzig V meets some kind of White Zombie-type thing, and you'll have a good idea as to what the music sounds like.
Like it or not, Capcom is going to have a genuine challenger on its hands, come Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare's release. The game seems to be as good an execution as is possible within the confines of the genre, and fans of Capcom's dynasty will definitely want to check it out. The game is set for release this June.