Written by Kevin Kennedy, @thekevmiester
Coming out just a year after the genre defining original, Alone in the Dark 2 throws us into a game that will be very familiar to those who played the first, but with enough changes to the tone and story to provide a fresh experience. How does this follow up of a classic fair after 20 years?
Set just three months after Alone in the Dark, the sequel sees private detective Edward Carnby (no Emily this time) investigating the disappearance of both a young girl named Grace Saunders and his partner, Ted Stryker. His investigation brings him to an old mansion named Hell’s Kitchen which houses a crew of Pirates who shoot on sight. Edward must rescue the young girl and discover why she was kidnapped in the first place.
It feels as if the designers have intentionally left the horror part of their game behind with this sequel. There are monsters to fight and witches to defeat but this feels more like a fun action adventure romp, set with a cheesy intro right out of a Lethal Weapon movie. Edward Carnby is less a tragic character caught in the wrong place in the wrong time and more a roughish hero who charges into danger equipped with his wits, feeling an awful lot like a Broken Sword game, just without the charm or character.
Having said that, the story actually is an improvement on the last game, which I can barely even remember. The bad guys have some charm and personality to them, from the peg-legged pirate to the blowgun wielding chef. There are even flashbacks that delve deeper into character’s motivations and backstories and fully flesh out the story for those who’d rather not receive all their information through books.
The game feels totally separate from Alone in the Dark, both in terms of tone and continuity, as the events of the first game are never even referenced let alone mentioned. The silliness that occasionally bubbled to the surface in the previous game has been cranked to 11 this time around and quite frankly the game is better off for it. Just don’t expect to get scared at all as that isn’t the order of the day.
Little has changed in the gameplay department, though there have been a few improvements. The inventory limit has been removed, which means a lot less headaches and allows players to pick up books to their hearts content without handicapping themselves. Running, while still unpredictable, is much simpler this time, sometimes pressing the up arrow will have you sprinting away with ease.
Apart from that, you’re the same battle-tank that you were before, which would be fine if it weren’t for the entirely game changing. Much like the story, the gameplay is more akin to an action game now, with countless enemies to defeat with various assortments of weapons. Whereas before, combat was to be avoided as much as possible, this time it’s not uncommon to have to fight up to 4 zombies at a time. The game simply isn’t designed for this scenario and quite frankly it isn’t any fun, at all.
You’ll hammer the attack button countless times before the enemies finally fall and there’s no real option to dodge or counter. A common tactic will simply be to get their attention then hide behind a corner as they all charge at you, taking them out as they arrive. It’s hardly thrilling stuff to begin with and after a while it gets plain frustrating, also it feels like cheating, but it’s something you have to do as many enemies have items or keys you need.
Resident Evil became more like an action game as time went by, but at least the whole game changed to accommodate this change. Alone in the Dark 2 is still played the exact same way, it just chucks a whole heap of bad guys at you and expects you to deal with them. A baffling decision. If the game really wanted to focus more on action, then the overall design would need to be drastically changed.
Many will give up quickly, as you are thrown head first into puzzles and bad guys before you can get a grasp of what’s going on. Things do get slightly better upon entering the mansion as we return to the tried and tested formula of the original, but even then we face problems as the puzzles are ridiculous.
I mentioned in my Alone in the Dark review that a walkthrough may be necessary for completion. This time however, it is downright vital. The number of times I threw up my arms screaming “How was I supposed to know that?” is obscene. Also, take the wrong turn or even explore rooms in the wrong order and you may suddenly be ambushed by half a dozen enemies. Save often and in different slots or you may have to restart the game from the beginning.
Change is good, but you must accommodate for the changes you make, otherwise you’re just creating a mess. Many franchises have made a transition from horror to action, but at least they design the game around the changes. This has it’s moments but is never particularly fun to play.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t like this game. Though there is one aspect that is surprisingly excellent; the music. While not all perfect, there are a few tunes here that are actually quite fun, like Pirate shanty songs right out of the Monkey Island series. Like I said, it’s not perfect and comes with a heavy helping of cheese, but given the little thought put into the rest of the game, it was a nice little surprise. As for the rest of the presentation, things look identical to the previous game, which is fine, but it’s no surprise to hear that those looks have aged.
The original Alone in the Dark may not be perfect but it did have it’s charm, though it’s sequel tries to take the exact same toolset and build a completely different game with it. Where it not for this review, I would have given up five minutes and promptly forget about it. The fun and goofy story and cool music isn’t enough when all of the gameplay amounts to boring combat and crappy puzzles.
The Final Word: A better story, but gameplay is completely fumbled. You may want to skip this one.