Alone in the Dark 4: the New Nightmare

Infogrames takes us on a journey to the land of Loftian terror with this fourth installment of the Alone In The Dark saga. By controlling either Edward Carnby or Aline Cedrac, two distinct adventures are offered to the player to captivate and terrify him throughout the 3 CDs of the game.

The younger ones probably don’t know it, but in its time Alone In The Dark was probably one of the most talked-about games. It must be said that it is at the origin of a genre that is now almost commonplace: the adventure/horror action game. At the moment mainly present on console (Resident Evil Dino Crisis…), this genre was born on PC in the early 90s. It’s in 1992, to be precise, that this first part of the saga of Tout seul dans le noir was released (for sure it sounds better in English ;)). Revolutionary in more than one way, this episode allowed for the first time to play an adventure game with different camera angles thanks to the use of a technique still little used: polygonal 3D. Immersion was thus guaranteed and finally a game could stress its audience. The success was obviously immediate and led Infogrames to produce two unoriginal sequels. Far from being bad, they were simply using the same mechanisms to tell a new story, in the manner of a simple extension rather than a game in its own right.

Alone In The Dark 1, 2 and… 3 !

For the fourth opus in the series, the DarkWorks developers tried to keep up with the times and had to start from scratch. It must be said that even the refreshed engine of the number 3 would have looked pale at the beginning of the 21st century. Their source of inspiration hasn’t changed, of course, and it’s once again the world of H.P. Lovecraft that serves as the canvas for this story of ugly monsters that come to haunt the lives of our characters. It must be said that the universe imagined by this tortured American writer is perfect for this kind of game. The works of the master are masterpieces of terror that have terrorized more than one reader!

A direct adaptation of Lovecraft’s writings wouldn’t have had the same impact, however, so we’re glad that the New Nightmare of Infogrames was inspired by it. The adventure that leads us to control the destinies of Edward Carnby and Aline Cedrac, takes its source in the quest for three mysterious Indian tablets. Charles Fiske, a friend of Carnby’s, is found dead on Shadow Island off the coast of Maine. The latter’s investigation quickly led him to a certain Frederick Johnson, who charged him with finding these three tablets. To do so, he sends him to Shadow Island with Aline Cedrac, a distinguished scientist who must be able to identify them.

One crash and our two lovebirds are torn from each other…

The game actually starts at the moment when, following some kind of storm, our two heroes are forced to parachute out of the sinking plane. Fortunately, they fall on the right island (a fall in the ocean and the adventure would have been very short ;)), but are, to make matters worse, separated from each other. Of course, this scheme allows the developer to propose two adventures by choosing the character to embody : Edward or Aline.

So far everything is for the best in the best of worlds, alas the perfect adventure game depicted so far, is quickly mishandled by flaws … How do I put this… Flaws… So no one’s following? We just told you, you have to make an effort anyway: inadmissible faults ! While during the beautiful introductory scene the characters have their lips in sync with their lyrics, the rest of the game will take place without any protagonists loosening their teeth. That kind of thing is hard to get through in a game as cinematic as this one.

But much worse, the voices are rather badly chosen and very little expressive. While Edward Carnby remains pretty convincing, the same cannot be said for Aline Cedrac. His monotonous voice is not very credible and quickly gets tired, but it is these moments that are the most ridiculous and which unfortunately have a hard time making us vibrate.

In addition to these technical defects, a second negative point is also affecting the work of Darkworks. This point stems directly from the market targeted by the developers, namely the console market. We can feel that the handling of the characters has been optimized for a joypad and the keyboard and mouse have a hard time replacing this device. As a result, control is often approximate, which can frustrate the player, especially during combat phases when accuracy becomes critical.

In the same way, the adventure will be reproached more generally for being too simplistic. The interactivity with the surrounding scenery is almost nil and the characters can only answer yes or no to the program’s invectives (Do you want to climb the ladder?…). In the same way the puzzles are quite basic and most of the time it will just be a matter of finding the right object to unlock. Even worse, to keep the player from searching too long, these important objects are marked on the ground with a slight flicker!

All these faults, as annoying as they may be for a confirmed player, are finally almost pleasant for the beginner. They save him from foolishly going around in circles and finally giving up on the adventure. But more importantly, these limitations are there to prevent the player from breaking the general atmosphere. Indeed, all the charm of Alone In The Dark 4, rests on the so particular atmosphere that the developers have managed to render. Rare are the titles that captivate the player’s attention so much and, to tell the truth, in the last few years, apart from Undying, no other game has managed to make me jump!

Special care has been taken with the graphics.

This atmosphere is remarkably rendered by nuanced graphics. Although the resolution is far too limited (put away the GeForce 3, 640×480 is the norm!) and the characters have an annoying tendency to pixelate, the whole thing is remarkably highlighted by very effective lighting effects. On top of that, the sets, although fixed, have been designed with a care that is not without reminding Myst or Riven… Great art!

In the end, we find ourselves with a title that is painful to evaluate. We’re not sure how to dance with this New Nightmare. Overall, the realisation is quite convincing, with a special mention for the beautiful light and shadow effects, it manages to create a very special atmosphere that will stress many people. However, it is impossible to fall completely under the spell as the defects are so unworthy of this beautiful graphic achievement: immobile lips, delicate control and almost no freedom of action. In the end, here we are facing a title that will disappoint the adventure game specialists (DeusEx fans please pass your way) but that will certainly delight casual gamers especially if they are not put off by a console-like handling and a rather short lifespan despite the two adventures.

+ Atmosphere well rendered

+ Successful graphics boards

+ Adventure no headache

– A little short and easy for regulars

– Adventure too linear

– Graphics resolution problem

PS : A small remark concerning the resolution of the game, there is an unofficial patch that allows to use something else than 640×480. It is of course to be used at your own risk but it significantly improves the graphic quality, for the most curious here it is.

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