Alone in the Dark 2

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 05 November 1997. Last updated on 07 August 2009.
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Alone in the Dark 2
Inventive camera angles are used to add to the cinematic effect.
Alone in the Dark 2
Watch out for the baddies!
Alone in the Dark 2
Edward ventures into Hell's Kitchen to investigate the kidnapping of Grace.
Alone in the Dark 2
Edward will leave no place unturned in order to solve the mystery of the pirates.

With the success of Alone in the Dark last year, Infogrames attempts to duplicate both the dramatic storytelling and the suspenseful gameplay in this sequel. The original Alone in the Dark is a horror action adventure that is inspired by the work of H P Lovecraft. While Alone in the Dark 2 continues with the supernatural adventures of private investigator Edward Carnby, the sequel unfortunately takes on an unwanted direction by placing too much emphasis on combat arcade sequences over puzzle play. Not only this seriously detracts from the adventure gaming experience, such a change creates much frustration in gamers who yearn for the intelligent gameplay found in its predecessor.

It is Christmas 1924. You are "Supernatural Private Eye" Edward Carnby. Your friend, Ted Sticker, is investigating the kidnapping of young Grace Saunders. The trail of clues leads to an old mansion named "Hell's Kitchen"—the home of the pirate One-Eyed Jack and his ghoulish gang. Edward decides to pick up the trail when he learns of Ted's disappearance into the mansion. Unfortunately, Edward soon finds out that Ted has been murdered by the Zombie Witch Queen Elizabeth Jarret. Fighting his way into the house and onto the pirate ship, you must help Edward to find out why the pirates have taken an interest in Grace, foil their evil plan, and save her from her untimely sacrifice!

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.

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!

A refreshing aspect of Alone in the Dark 2 is the opportunity to play as young Grace. On the pirate ship, the player temporarily takes on the role of Grace, who must in turn free Edward. Grace has different abilities compared to Edward, and she cannot use any weapon to fend off an attack. Instead, she can sneak around and avoid the baddies. If Grace is caught by a pirate, the game comes to an end. When playing as Grace, the player sees a completely different perspective of the game world through the eyes of a child. The game space is artificially inflated, and objects (such as doors) that present no trouble to Edward now become major obstacles to Grace. Different strategies must be employed by the player to successfully complete this sequence. While multiple game saves are allowed, there are only a limited number of save slots.

Despite the many technological achievements of the game engine, the polygonal look of the characters cannot in any way compare to the lifelike quality offered by the traditional bitmap imagery. 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.

The biggest disappointment of this game remains with the emphasis of combat arcade sequences over puzzles. It is a new but unwanted direction on which the series has taken. Not only the repetitive combats detract from the adventure, they are extraordinary unfair in this game. The enemy artificial intelligence is too tough, and the player is almost always outnumbered and outgunned during an encounter. This is made worst by the fact that ammo for the weapons are scarce. Even with judicious use of the firearms, it is often down to bare fist fighting in close combat with disastrous result. Even when playing as Grace, the enemies are too unforgiving in tracking her down.

The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM versions. The enhanced CD-ROM version contains voiceovers and a digital soundtrack to complement gameplay. There are also some new screens in the enhanced version not available in the original. The music for the game is stored separately on audio tracks and is streamed directly off the CD. The CD-ROM version still requires installment of the entire game onto the hard disk (18MB) to play. This is because the CD-ROM drive is used continuously to stream off the audio soundtrack during gameplay. Overall, the emphasis of combat over puzzle has taken the Alone in the Dark series to a new but disappointing direction. Minimal improvement over its predecessor compounds on the dissatisfaction a gamer may already have with this sequel.

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