Reviewed: October 8, 2001
Released: September 26, 2001
Long before anyone ever heard of Resident Evil or any of its sequels a little game called Alone in the Dark paved the way for the "survival horror" genre. While it may not be much to look at today, you can be sure that when the original Alone in the Dark debuted in the early 90's it took the gaming world by storm. It featured some amazing VGA graphics and some of the first fully animated polygon characters. Even though their low-poly count and jerky animation made them look more like marionettes than real people, the game still offering amazing thrills and spine-tingling chills.
Over the next several years the franchise spawned a couple of sequels that also introduced Edward Carnby, "Supernatural Private Eye". While the sequels offered slight technological improvements they were basically more of the same with a new story. Now, almost 10 years after the release of the original game, Infogrames and Darkworks bring us the latest installment in the Alone in the Dark series.
Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is the forth game in the sequel but instead of tacking a 4 onto the title the designers have chosen to give it a name. The New Nightmare not only breaks the mindset that this is a sequel, but the very name suggests an all-new style of game. Darkworks, a French video game design studio, is responsible for this latest installment and they have done a great job in taking an established series and giving it a 21st century facelift.
The New Nightmare is a multi-format release for the PC, PSX and Dreamcast systems. Naturally this ensures the widest audience possible, but it also guarantees a certain level of mediocrity when you have to program for the lowest common denominator. The Dreamcast version has a significant advantage over the PSX and PC versions due to an extra three months of additional development time. Apparently this was time well spent as the Dreamcast version looks and plays better than any of the other versions.
If you have ever played any other survival horror game then you have played New Nightmare. You control a 3D character as you walk around gorgeous 2D backgrounds picking up items, solving puzzles, and killing an assortment of monsters. New Nightmare doesn't stray far from this formula; in fact, it builds on it by introducing a new concept, the Flashlight. Sure it may sound strange, but the Flashlight will quickly become your new "best friend" in this game.
The entire game takes place on Shadow Island and the large haunted estate. When I say estate I mean, mansion, cemetery, grounds, old fort, chapel, and a large underground complex that ultimately leads to a sinister underworld known as the World of Darkness.
New Nightmare allows you to pick from two characters and play the same story from two unique perspectives and game styles. Ed Carnby is back as monster-butt-kicking private eye armed with a large assortment of deadly firepower. You can also play as Aline Cedrac, a university researcher who specializes in Indian cultures. Her scenario features more puzzles and less action.
What is interesting is that the characters will meet and interact via radios and you get to experience many encounters from both viewpoints as you play each scenario. All of the interaction between the characters is totally scripted and out of your control. The lack of true interaction is probably due to the fact that both character's stories are in fact completely separate games. You could conceivably finish as either character and end the game with complete resolution. However, playing from the other character's perspective is a lot of fun and offers challenges that the other character didn't.
Combat is annoying at best. Most of the monsters (and I mean about 80-90%) can simply be dodged. Ammo is limited in the beginning, so you get in the habit of running rather than fighting. It's a hard habit to break since most of the monsters are slow, stupid, or both. By the end of the game I had enough ammo stockpiled to take over a small country.
Monsters spawn in with a bright flash of light so they seldom surprise you unless they are already in the room and then they are so noisy you know they are there. They also seem to have some path-finding bugs, as on several occasions I saw monsters simply spinning in place like they were chasing their own tail.
When you do decide to fight, the weapons are pretty interesting but confusing too. You have a double-barrel revolver and a triple-barrel shotgun. While these are fancy modifications they do nothing to inflict more damage than a conventional weapon. Zombies and dogs still take multiple shots from the multi-barrel weapons so the end result is that you just spend more ammo. A triple-barrel shotgun that holds 9 shells is only good for 3 shots.
The combat definitely takes a backseat to the puzzles, which are truly inspired and sometimes even intuitive. Visual clues such as a scuffmark on the floor indicates a moveable object that may trigger another clue. As with most games in the adventure genre, much of the story is told through "reading material". There is literally a library of books, papers, diaries, and magazines you will need to read to get clues to solve many of the puzzles. The designers were nice enough to highlight the clues in red text, which is very helpful since books range from 8-50 pages each.
The levels are quite creepy and the house and surrounding estate is designed with great detail and believability. Every room has a purpose and nothing seem out of place. Locked doors inspire you to search for a key and "sealed" doors indicate a door that is reserved for your counterpart's adventure.
Unlike other survival horror games where you can only save at certain locations or rooms, New Nightmare allows you to collect Save Charms. You can save anywhere and as often as you like provided you have a Save Charm in your inventory. What is strange is there are over 100 charms available per game and you will most likely have 50-60 left over after you have finished. My question is why bother to limit saves at all if you don't "really" limit them. What is limiting is that you only have four save slots available. While this limitation didn't bother me I am sure many gamers will complain about not having unlimited (or at least more) available slots.
The visuals are simply stunning and far exceed the quality of the PSX and even the PC version. You can tell that the designers took some extra care in tweaking the graphics for the Dreamcast version to use all the power of SEGA's box. The backgrounds are realistic and the 3D models of the characters are done very well. The pastel colors and faded pallet all combine to give the game a sinister, gothic feel. The levels are purposely dark to facilitate the use of the new lighting engine and your flashlight.
Your flashlight quickly becomes one of your best tools, and since the battery is unlimited you have no reason to ever turn it off. Shining your flashlight in any area will quickly reveal any important items with a blue lens flare. This is a great concept for those who are tired of items blending into the background artwork. The flashlight also deters certain light-sensitive monsters and when equipped with a variety of lens covers can reveal hidden secrets. Many rooms feature light switches that can be used to toggle the light. It's important to check these rooms in both light and dark conditions as the designers have cleverly hidden secrets that may only be visible in the dark (or light).
The cutscenes vary from game engine animations to pre-rendered videos and are of excellent quality. They carry the story along nicely and are spaced out enough so they don't interrupt the action, but rather serve as a reward for achieving certain goals.
There are a few graphical annoyances like the lack of facial animation of the characters. I guess this negates the need for the programmers to worry about lip-synching the dialog. The backgrounds, while hauntingly beautiful are rather static. You may hear the wind but you won't see any trees blowing. Torches and candles burn but you won't see any flickering shadows.
There are over 1200 screens to explore and they are presented from a variety of creepy camera angles to heighten the tension. One angle early on really creeped me out as I was walking through the courtyard and the view switched to one from an upstairs window, as if someone (or something) was watching me. Then I remembered the same ploy being used in the original Alone in the Dark. It still works!
Perhaps my biggest observation is the fact that Aline loses her leather jacket quite early in the adventure then mysteriously has it back on in the closing movie. This is obviously an attempt to entice the 12-15 year old male audience by presenting Aline in all her busty glory complete with low-cut see-through top (yes you can actually see her nipples) and her exaggerated swiveling hips and protruding Jennifer Lopez butt. But the game is rated "M" so anyone old enough to "legally" play the game wouldn't (or rather shouldn't) be impressed with such nuances. Just more proof that the rating system either doesn't work or is knowingly not enforced.
The dialog is excellent and delivered by semi-professional voice actors. There are a few lines that will probably go down in the "Lame Hall of Fame" like when Aline deciphers glyphs predicting the end of the world and Ed blurts out, "That doesn't sound good!" But for the most part, everything fits the game nicely and there are even some humorous interactions you can initiate by using your radio.
Sound effects are excellent and really immersed me in the game. Playing in a pitch-black room with surround sound audio system had me on the edge of my seat. The monsters make terrifying noises and the thunder and wind added to the overall tension of the environment. There was even one puzzle that relied on you listening for a thunderclap to time a lightning strike.
The music is intense and quite scary. The opening theme with the thumping music and montage of clips from the game was very effective in setting the mood, and the in-game music was great for adding lots of tension and sometimes even alerting you to impending danger.
New Nightmare is rather linear and you are usually led around or at least corralled into going where you need to go through a series of locked doors and strategically placed keys. Edward's adventure can take anywhere from 3-5 hours for an experienced survival horror veteran. Aline's adventure is a bit shorter and can be finished in 2-4 hours.
You can play as either character first although I personally recommend playing as Edward your first trip through the estate. His firepower makes exploring a bit safer and you will gain knowledge that will help Aline when it's her turn to play.
Plan on a total of 10-20 hours for this game based on how good you are at solving puzzles and generally just playing adventure games. Once you are done there is little reason to play it again. Nothing is randomized and what scared you the first time probably won't the second.
At $20, the Dreamcast version is not only cheaper than its PC and PSX cousins (both coming in at over $30), but it is clearly the best of all three versions. The graphics have really been improved, and the control system which was always designed for a game controller is now quite functional. The ability to play the same story from two unique perspectives is nothing new, but this game pulls off the concept quite nicely. The wide variety of environments offers great atmosphere and terrifying gameplay. It's not the scariest game on the block, but if you love a good thrill you will definitely want to check out this fourth installment in the Alone in the Dark saga.