Alone in the Dark 3

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 02 November 1997. Last updated on 07 August 2009.
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Alone in the Dark 3
A Western styled showdown takes place in the ghost town of Slaughter Gulch.
Alone in the Dark 3
Amazing backdrops combined with polygon based animations are the trademark of this series.
Alone in the Dark 3
The warm campfire will not protect Edward from dangers lurking around.

The third installment in the Alone in the Dark series continues with the adventures of private investigator Edward Carnby. All the games in the Alone in the Dark series are inspired by the work of H P Lovecraft. In response to the criticisms drawn of the two previous games, Infogrames attempts to place more balance between action and adventure in the gameplay. Yet, compared to the more sophisticated graphics of other similar game titles now on the market, the polygon based graphic engine in Alone in the Dark 3 definitely begins to show its age.

After Edward's success in his previous two investigations, journalists have nicknamed him the "Supernatural Private Eye". This time, he is called to investigate the disappearance of a film crew at a two-bit ghost town known by the name of Slaughter Gulch that is located in the Movhave desert in California. Among the disappeared crew is the heroine of the story, Emily Hartwood. Edward soon discovers that a curse has gripped the town, and an evil cowboy from the Badlands named Jed Stone is the villain who is responsible for the crew's disappearance. Furthermore, lurking around town are many trigger-happy sharpshooters, deranged prospectors, and bloodthirsty lost souls whom Edward must ward off with both his strength and his wit. Only with their defeats will Edward engage in a final showdown with Jed.

The Alone in the Dark series spots a pioneering graphic engine. Developed by Infogrames (Infogrames is a software developer based in France, whereas I-Motion is based in Santa Monica, California), it uses simplistic two-dimensional polygons to render, in real time, 3D characters and objects. To preserve the performance of the engine, each polygon is colored rather than texture mapped. While they do not appear very realistic when compared to pre-rendered static images, this design allows for incredibly fluid and fast rendering in real time of the characters and objects in response to the player's control. It also has the advantage that multiple camera angles can easily be taken without redrawing the animations fitting to each angle. This feature is effectively exploited in the game with camera angles switching suddenly from a vertigo inducing height to an ant's eye view. The real-time animations are then placed against beautifully pre-rendered background shots to complete the effect. The game engine allows for a refreshing perspective in use of animations for storytelling. It is clearly ahead of its time when it first debuts, for which it has won numerous awards for its technical achievement.

In Alone in the Dark 3, the engine used remains nearly identical to that used in its predecessors. While it is definitively showing its age, it still provides a striking cinematic effect with its ever-changing viewpoints and camera angles. More than 60 3D characters are rendered in front of over 270 2D backgrounds drawn in magnificent details. The graphics are supplemented with an authentic Western digital soundtrack and character voiceovers. The music for the game is stored separately on audio tracks and is streamed directly off the CD during gameplay.

Gameplay consists of both puzzle and arcade play. The puzzles are mostly inventory based or environmentally rooted. The arcade play involves armed and unarmed fighting. Objects, such as swords, knives, and firearms, are available for use as weapons during combat. Life points are used to keep track of the health in both the protagonist and the enemies. Cursor keys are used to control the movements of the characters. To carry out certain actions or use any objects, an Option screen is available to display the inventory, life points, and a list of actions available to be taken. Despite the origami feel of the graphics, the fluid responses to the player's control are outstanding. One can move forward or backward, turn left or right, run, punch and thrust with ease. The varying camera angles, a trademark of the series, provide a truly movie like oppressive atmosphere where every corner may yet hide another danger!

In response to the criticism that the combat in previous games has been too difficult, there is now an option to adjust the difficulty level to one of three predefined levels of difficulty—Easy, Normal, or Difficult. The player can also independently set Carnby's life points, Carnby's fighting power, and the monsters' fighting power. The unlimited number of backup and save slots fixes the annoyance of limited save option in previous titles. A map is available to display an overall view of the ghost town. When the player is lost in Slaughter Gulch, a small flashing sign indicates where the player is. While combat remains a significant component of the game, Alone in the Dark 3 improves its adventure element by the inclusion of more puzzles. These puzzles are mostly well integrated into the game and are moderate in difficulty. I-Motion boasts that the game has up to 70 hours of gameplay.

Considering this is the third installment of the series, it is surprising to see that no real improvement has been made to the polygonal characters to make them more lifelike. The real-time generated characters do not blend well with the static computer generated pre-rendered backdrops. There is no control of the camera angles. They are predetermined for each scene. As such, character movement appears awkward at times when viewing from an unfamiliar perspective, especially when fine aiming is necessary to manipulate objects in the environment, such as aiming a gun or throwing an object in a certain direction. This can be frustrating because certain objects can only be found or actions be taken if the protagonist is positioned in exactly the right place onscreen. An option to control the camera angles is preferable. A perspective may then be chosen more for cinematic effect rather than effective gameplay. More freedom to freely explore will also be an attractive detour. For an adventure gamer, there are just too many combat sequences. Frequent game save is necessary as the player can die easily and rather unexpectedly should the player encounters a deadly enemy suddenly around a hidden corner.

Despite the claim made by the publisher that "no prior knowledge of Alone in the Dark 1 or 2 is necessary" to play this game, certain puzzles and game artifacts in Alone in the Dark 3 directly relate back to elements from the previous titles (OEJ). Alone in the Dark 3 also requires installment of the entire game onto the hard disk (35MB) to play. This is because the CD-ROM drive is used continuously to stream off the audio soundtrack during gameplay. To keep the player's attention, the story has certain interesting plot twists. Overall, the infamous Alone in the Dark series is beginning to show its age. With the minor improvements in gameplay, this sequel may just extend the life of this Western series one more time.

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