[Ghosts Of Gaming Past] A Review Of ‘Alone In The Dark 3′

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Written by Kevin Kennedy, @thekevmiester

Infogrames sure weren’t resting on their laurels after releasing Alone in the Dark back in 1992, as they went on to release two sequels for each following year. Alone in the Dark 3 sees the company continue to change up the formula and give the player a vastly different setting and story whilst still maintaining the same core gameplay we’ve all come to expect from this series. This game also marks the end of the original trilogy as another game wouldn’t be released for another 7 years and has little to nothing to do with the originals. Does this end things with a bang?

Edward Carnby, who has now earned a reputation as a P.I that specialises in the paranormal, is called up to investigate a ghost town in the middle of the desert, where a film was being shot until the crew mysteriously disappeared. To make matters more interesting, Emily Hartwood, a protagonist from the first game, is also caught up in the mystery and is in need of saving. Edward sets off to find ghostly cowboys and ancient plots awaiting him.

If Alone in the Dark can be applauded for one thing, it’s that they don’t feel the need to rehash the same tone and story over and over. From simple ghosts, to pirates and now cowboys, Infogrames seemed to relish the opportunity to take their spooky stories and set them wherever the hell they please. While the overall story may be similar to the second game, it is pleasant to see a slightly new spin on it.

Having said that, it is a shame to see Emily return to the series only to be used as a damsel in distress, due to the fact that she kind of kicked ass in the first game. She’d walk around the haunted mansion booting the shit out of zombies with her high heels and taking names. While I don’t mind Edward taking over as protagonist, I just wish Emily had more to do and wasn’t in constant need of saving, especially when there are a couple of characters who show up to help Edward at times, why couldn’t she?

While I enjoyed the overall atmosphere and tone more than the previous games, there are some baffling moments in the second half; a native American is shoved in near the end and while it does result in an interesting change in gameplay, the whole thing sort of comes out of nowhere and is promptly forgotten about. Also, with the exception of a couple music changes, it appears that the games have given up the prospect of scaring players a long time ago.

While the story and settings may change, the gameplay has stayed very much the same this time. Though there is one change which may sound small, but actually massively affects the game. You are now expected to pick up items manually, items on the ground are still picked up automatically but items on the shelves aren’t.

It may not sound too serious but frankly I enjoyed the fact that I could simply run over something and have it put in my inventory, but now you have to hold the space bar for a good two to three seconds while Edward decides wether something is important or not. Even if there is something there, standing a touch too far or at sightly the wrong angle will mean you can’t grab it. Again, this may sound petty, but it can be very frustrating, especially when you’re still trying to figure puzzles out (which is always).

The game is a bit more linear this time, which is actually to the game’s advantage given the bizarreness of the puzzles. You don’t have a whole area in which anything can go anywhere and you desperately run around trying to figure it out, the puzzles are kept a bit more confined, allowing you to tackle them in more bite-size portions. Though don’t for a second think this makes the game easier….

The puzzles seem to be getting worse and worse as this series goes on. in the first game some form of conventional logic was used, but as time has gone by it’s as if Infogrames simply threw up their hands and said ‘screw it’ and did whatever the hell they wanted. I’m not just talking about idiotic logic that is necessary to unlock a door or kill an enemy; at times you are actually required to take damage from enemies or even waste bullets by shooting at random doors to proceed, which simply breaks with the overall gameplay which is all about being resourceful with weapons and keeping a keen eye on your health.

I said this with Alone in the Dark 2 and I especially mean it now, this game is pretty much impossible without a walkthrough. To go in without one would be a frustrating experience that only the most masochistic need apply for.

The game does find a nice balance when it comes to combat however. In the first game it wasn’t too important but was frustratingly made vital in the second. Here, fighting is necessary but not made overly difficult by too many enemies. It’s much more manageable and while it is rarely tense or even fun, it’s a definite improvement on the second game.

Adventure games like this will always give you that feeling of satisfaction upon solving a puzzle, though Alone in the Dark 3 doesn’t really earn it. With bad puzzles and simple, boring combat, the game has it’s moments, just not too many of them.

Once again, Infogrames have created a unique and bizarre soundtrack, this one sounding like it came straight out of a western (sort of). You won’t be putting it on your iPod anytime soon but it definitely beats the rather forgettable score of the first game. As for the graphics, they’re basically the same as the previous two games. While I actually enjoy the look of the game and feel it’s the best looking game of the series, it has aged, much as the other two. One aspect that could be improved however, is when dealing with items that are used for puzzles.

Giving a simple highlight to necessary items could have helped a little as it’s hard to know what you can or can’t interact with. Some may enjoy being thrown into a world and left to figure it all out for themselves with no assistance, but I feel that some logic is needed or else where is the satisfaction in solving the puzzles?

It’s quite hard to recommend the Alone in the Dark series too much if I’m being perfectly honest. While I admire they’re desire to change with each title and applaud the effect they’ve had on gaming, they simply aren’t much fun to play. Poor puzzles, basic combat and lack of any horror makes them rather forgettable, ironic given how prolific they are.

The Final Word: Much like the rest of the series, age has had it’s way with this game. Can be fun and inventive in parts, though is mostly frustrating and difficult (and not in a good way).