Tuesday, October 25, 2016

VGR Alone in the Dark 4 The New Nightmare

Face this new nightmare!

How will you fare, alone, in the dark...?

VGR: Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, also known under the title Alone in the Dark 4
From Darkworks/Spiral House/Infogrames Entertainment
Played on the Sega Dreamcast
Also available on PSX, PS2, PC and Game Boy Color (by Pocket Studios)

Survival Horror game
Year May 2001

The grandfather of the survival horror genre was finally brought back and modernized in 2001! 

After the success of the classic Alone in the Dark trilogy in the early 1990s, the series was sort of forgotten with the arrival of Capcom's Resident Evil series, which actually borrowed a lot from it but expanded upon those foundations and brought the genre to a mainstream audience.

The original games were pretty uneven already, with the second game being a big departure focusing on action with a story revolving around a zombie mob, and the 3rd episode set in an Old West town.

This fourth game was not only the occasion to modernize Alone in the Dark and finally leave the old game engine behind, but also the perfect occasion to return to the original premise - a creepy dark horror story inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

In fact the final act even seems to take some cues from the aesthetic of H.R. Giger!

After inspiring Resident Evil, this new installment was now taking a lot of elements from it to help the game reach a bigger audience. Using similar control scheme and gameplay. Gone is the old adventure game-style interactions.

This Alone in the Dark 4 in all but name was now developed by a small French studio Darkworks for the original PlayStation and Dreamcast, with Spiral Studios porting the game for the PC and PlayStation 2.

The story sees our main protagonist Edward Carnby completely reimagined. No longer a middle-aged red-haired detective living in the 1920s, now clearly a younger guy living in 2001.

After the death of a friend of his, Edward Carnby now working for the mysterious government agency Bureau 713 decided to go look for his missing friend on "Shadow Island", an island near the coast of Massachusetts. With the help of this young linguist professor Aline Cedrac. But arrived there they ran into some trouble and the two are forced to split to investigate the island...

What they find are some secret ancient experiments that have their root in the long history of Shadow Island and a sinister family that tried unlocking the powers hidden within the darkness! A whole "World of Darkness", if you will. People have been missing all the way through history.

Carnby finds himself lost in the nearby woods while Aline is able to land directly on the big family manor.

The game is a modern reboot of the series, although there are still some hints alluding to the original game. It's not a complete remake of the original game. Edward Carnby is reimagined as part of a long lineage of "shadow hunters", apparently every 40 years one of these is born and grows up taking the same name of "Edward Carnby" (which is explained to literally mean "El War Qarn'bi", one who is destined to face the evil in the shadows). This means the previous Edward Carnby was born in 1888 while this new one was born in 1968!

Despite updating the game to an experience closer to Capcom's Resident Evil series, gameplay is still pretty close to the original game's.

You even start by simply picking which character you want to play as, and therefore which campaign you choose. Both campaigns play parallel to each other and they are actually interconnected through the plot. Both characters can communicate with each other through a radio and they even met at various points in the story.

Carnby's campaign is a bit more action-oriented, he's recommended for your first playthrough and his game's closer to what you'd expect from the Resident Evil series. Carnby will find a lot more weapons and ammo in his journey, but he will also face meaner, bigger and more numerous creatures.

Aline is much more puzzle solving-oriented. She can barely find any weapons and will mostly have to rely on her flashlight alone! She does get to explore a bit more of the backstory of the island and its inhabitants. She even has a NEMESIS-like foe following her through the story!

It's a third person survival horror game with fixed camera-angles. The goal at first is just to have both characters meet, but while they're unlocking the secrets of Shadow Island they will move their focus into locating any survivors and find where the shadow creatures are coming from deep underground...

Outside the usual ammo and item management, The New Nightmare also implements an idea Infogrames classic toyed with in the original game now finally properly implemented - the use of light to defeat the darkness! Most enemies dislike light and you can use your flashlight to both repel or kill creatures!

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare was made by the small Parisian developer Darkwoods which would later make the survival horror games Cold Fear and I Am Alive

For its time the game had a huge budget and even received a lot of coverage in French newspapers and magazines. Some famous French comics/bande dessinée artists collaborated on the game, the story was written by storyteller Xavier Dorrison, and the monsters were even designed by artist Claire Wendling! And for its original French release two big name French actors also voiced our main characters: Edward Carnby is played by Guillaume Canet (the husband of Marion Cotillard!) and Aline Cedrac by Emma DeCaunes (who originally voiced Jade in Beyond Good & Evil).

This 4th game finally ditched the original game engine for Terminal Reality's amazing Nocturne engine.

It's a huge revamp for the series. Revamped, modernized and redesigned. The plot does mirror the original game's exploration of a weird manor, set in occult premise with a touch of Native American mythos and the usual Lovecraftian touch.

Choosing the character doesn't change the overall scenario, but at least both offer a different point of view of the same story and where you start.

There are more characters to interact with while exploring Shadow Island and both characters seem to be on an adventure at the same time, crossing over each other's story. It gives the game a great replay-value.

I was kinda sad to see Carnby ditch his blue suit and big red mustache for a trendy trenchcoat and long hair...

Unlike Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark was never that much focused on action. But rather more about exploration and uncovering the mysteries of its plot. Never letting you guess the entire bigger picture.

I wasn't a big fan of the series leaving the past behind to move the settings to our modern day era, it gave the game such a unique flavor. It made Alone in the Dark different, unique.

The game here is clearly a Resident Evil clone, which is kinda sad since the original Alone in the Dark was the one to inspire Capcom's series. Here they're simply borrowing the formula Capcom perfected. I always saw it like this: if Resident Evil was to video games what Night of the Living Dead was to the horror genre, then Silent Hill was Jacob's Ladder and Alone in the Dark should have gone the Evil Dead route since the original game was such a fun over-the-top loving tribute to H. P. Lovecraft which even feature basically Deadite foes instead of your regular zombies, talking, jumping over windows, wielding machine guns and whatnot!

At least you can't deny Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare can be  a gorgeous game at times. Thanks to its great lighting engine and despite relying on pre-rendered flat backgrounds the game can perfectly apply the flashlight's light to properly illuminate the scenery and cast real-time shadows. And it's simply beautiful and even impressive to look at!

It does feel like the Alone in the Dark updated to Resident Evil's level. Both used similar fixed-angle cameras, limited ammo and revolved around solving puzzles to progress through the story. But unlike the classic Alone in the Dark trilogy (or even the later Resident Evil: Zero), you can't leave items anywhere on the ground anymore, but at least they solved that by ditching the limited inventory.

The only real issue with the game is that it can be too much like Resident Evil, really ditching the open exploration and sense of loneliness (in the dark). But it's a good Resident Evil clone, really. Maybe strayed a bit too much away from its source material and much more linear.

The focus on action in Carnby's campaign can be a bit much sometimes. Some bosses can be realy bullet-sponges... And there's no trick to easily dispatch them (unlike the original games), aside from a snake creature emerging from a bed early on.

It's a well done, well-polished horror game. With some really nice touches and ideas. Like whenever lightning strikes you can see various monsters pop up around you for a second in the complete darkness before quickly disappearing after a scare.

Despite the game's sort of reboot appearance, it does have a lot of (hidden) nods and connection to the original Alone in the Dark (although, nothing really mentioning the 2nd and 3rd game), from the beautiful cover art mimicking the original's to the actual plot and setting of the game.

Finally a word on the beautiful music composed by Thierry Desseaux - it's really, really good! It does a great job creating a terrifying and oppressive mood! Although it can be quiet too. And there's a great catchy rockin' ending credits theme song by Stewart Copeland.

Overall, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is the rightful successor to the original game that started it all!

Where the game truly shines is in its great plot, pacing, design, nice graphics and really interesting idea revolving around two related adventures that overlap a few times. Giving it a sense of actually living through this adventure, inhabited by other protagonists you will encounter from time to time. The puzzles can be a bit tricky if you try to read too much into them, they're pretty linear and straightforward. The ports of the game, particularly the PC version, were also known to have some glitches, so like most surv horror playthroughs be sure to alternate between two saves at all times!

The game was actually developed for the Dreamcast in mind, it was then ported to (the strangely older) PSX, PC and about a year later on the PS2. On PC the game suffered from bad conversion issues specially on the sound. Surprisingly the PSX version is pretty close to the others, aside from the low resolution. The PS2 version was only made available in Europe. On the Dreamcast the controls are rather unique, due to Sega's controllers, making use of the control pad for the movements and the analog stick to move your weapon or light freely, a bit strange at first but this unique idea actually works quite well.

Funny enough, the game receive a sort of direct port exclusive to Nintendo's Game Boy Color! This version of the game was separately developed by Pocket Studios. Instead of using 3D models it features 2D sprites, and it's somewhat relatively faithful to the main version. The cartridge also meant losing the cutscenes and the score. But it's a surprising good port. It was closer to the original Dos games rather than the proper Alone in the Dark 4.

The New Nightmare proved to be a big success, bringing new life to this franchise. A French one-shot comic book was published by Semic Comics in France and Image Comics in the US. And finally in 2005 while Infogrames was working on a new game we got the infamous Uwe Boll live-action adaptation which was actually imagined as a sort of-sequel to this fourth game, believe it or not!

Alone in the Dark would return with a 5th game originally continued by Darkworks before going to Ubisoft to make their own original creation, Cold Fear. Alone in the Dark 5 would soon be taken over by Eden Games and Hydravision, but that will be for another time... 
I give it:
2.5 / 3 Necronomicons!

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