Monday, November 30, 2020

Game 42: Alone in the Dark 2

Name:Alone in the Dark 2
Number:42
Year:1993
Publisher:Infogrames
Developer:Infogrames
Genre:Survival Horror
Difficulty:4/5
Time:11.5 hours

For a Wolfenstein 3D-inspired actionized sequel, Alone in the Dark 2 sure didn't deliver. In fact, its like someone heard Wolf was popular, and then only saw an early developmental build where stealth was still a thing. This is a level of missing the point so hard it might as well have been inspired by Dune 2. The combat isn't even that bad...for the most part. Its the adventure game aspects that ruin it. Even with a relatively limited item pool all the puzzles felt forced and difficult to understand. If you wanted an example of how NOT to do an adventure game, this is the one you'd chose.

Which makes this game so disappointing. I overcame the hurdle of both the combat issue and the goofy issue early on. Which I understand were the primary flaws with this game. If it actually was this overly goofy action B-game, I would have had a big smile throughout the whole game and it'd probably beat Doom of all things. You look at this game with a lot of flaws and instead of going for the obvious part that the game has several puzzles that are practically impossible without looking things up and you say its just a bad action game. Even if every fight was like the one in the attic against a ranged guy and a melee guy jumping around it would still be an improvement so long as it didn't pretend to be an adventure game. EVERYONE was whining about the combat, and the horrible adventure game aspects get a sideline, if that.
That doesn't even begin to talk about all the little errors. Sometimes its a crap shoot as to whether or not you or the enemy can hit each other. Even then it turns into a crap shoot as to whether or not you can keep hitting them. I'm no fighting game expert, but usually when I play those I die because I'm an incompetent idiot. Here there's no reason why or why not you hit something. There's no real challenge to fighting, just guesswork. That's not getting into that sometimes collision was wrong on the game area. Carnby poking out where he shouldn't, because someone set the wrong flag in the editor. This came out two years after the original, why wasn't it tested?
And the section with Grace...c'mon. Especially the CD section where the only thing I get out of it nice looking backgrounds. Cryptic hints that don't make any sense without a look function, stealth that feels non-existent. Why exactly did we need that? Couldn't we have had Carnby slashing his way into the pirate ship? That would have been fun. Instead a zombie pirate can't see a little girl 3 feet away from him, but another one can see her behind crates 3 yards away. None of this game makes any sense. Oh, and I can't forget, some of the paths forward are practically invisible if you don't know they're there. Some of the perspective is incredibly good at hiding paths.
But despite all the doom and gloom, I liked the combat. Sure, starting out it was awkward, and it never really got unawkward. Eventually I learned to work around that to an extent. But once I got into a groove it put a smile on my face, even if some difficult enemy from earlier was now a joke. By the time I finally fought One-Eyed Jack I was actually in full-on fun mode. Which is interesting, because the end-game of the original did not. I was disappointed by Elisabeth being defeated not even in a puzzle fashion, but them's the brakes.

Weapons:
Most of the weapons felt fun to use. Actually hitting something with the fist was amazing, same with the sword cane. The guns, when working as intended, were just so satisying to use. All the sword-fighting, despite sometimes feeling broken in the game's favor, was just so sweet after the Grace section. When they weren't working I never felt like the failure was my fault, which isn't ideal. 5/10
Enemies:
I must admit that despite my general distaste here, I think this was well handled. Despite coming off as a stupid trap, the fights in the attic were interesting. In fact, every big fight the game built up to was satisfying, even if the actual fighting wasn't the best. I also like the design of most of the enemies, its a nice selection. 5/10

Non-Enemies:
There weren't any. 0/10
Levels:
I liked the beginning and I liked the end. The puzzle sections were a bad and the stealth sections can shove right off. 2/10

Player Agency:
There's the usual from the last game, tank controls, awkward running. But we've got some changes, a lack of jumping, combat feeling incredibly awkward. Movement during melee combat is something I think is always necessary. It was always a question of whether or not I could actually hit something there, despite no indication why I was missing. 3/10
Interactivity:
Just so many of the puzzles forced me to dwell on things I had no recourse other than to spam items everywhere or look up a walkthrough. Even some of those were difficult to do after looking it up. Who's going to waste their time pushing everything in the area? Huh? Huh? At no point during the adventure game aspect did I feel I could solve a problem without the game or a walkthrough telling me. 1/10

Atmosphere:
Despite the Christmas theme the game has going on, the whole package is more of a non-threatening children's halloween adventure. At that, I think it succeeds, even if that wasn't the intention. 7/10

Graphics:
I can't say this is too different than the art from the original. Its more of it. Its high quality pixel art with charmingly bad 3d models. A few awkward animations, but hey, its 1993, its not like its that bad. 7/10

Story:
The story drip-feeds the important bits all over the first 3/4s of the game just enough to make it interesting. Its not like the original when its not obvious its going to be cheesy pirate movie until over halfway through, so it has that going for it. 4/10

Sound/Music:
The sound effects, while low-quality, all serve their purpose. With exception to the voice clips the zombies say, which are charmingly bad. The music's the real treasure. It goes all over the game's horror, Christmas, noir and pirate themes and creates something quite cohesive and pleasant to hear. 8/10

That is...42. 11 below the original and exactly the same place as Shadowcaster. I'll keep it as is, I guess. I enjoyed the combat and didn't enjoy the aspects unrelated to shooting, so that makes sense since this is supposed to be about shooting games, not adventure games.

I'll come back later to talk about the console reviews, probably when I do the console versions. They're...interesting looking. Well, if I bothered to do so beforehand I would have put the previews and ads at the start, so I am forced to stick them here...And there's a whopper.

50 hours of gameplay. I don't know if that's true or not, since I didn't do this entirely legitimately, but 50 hours? I thought I was screwing around at times, but imagine trying to pad this out to 50 hours. 70 characters? If you count some of them twice maybe. 15 levels? What exactly is a level in-game context? Hundreds of objects? Hundreds? Frightfully eerie soundtrack? Don't kid yourself. Its no mystery either, virtual mystery my ass.

From Electronic Entertainment, we have someone who appears to be an old hand at adventure games. In addition to the usual gameplay gripping, he whines that the puzzles are...too easy. Okay, whatever. He whines about the plot as cliche, but he clearly wasn't paying attention to it, failing to notice why they kidnapped Grace. 4 out of 5, but only appealing to fans of the original. The rest of the English reviewers aren't very interesting, making the usual points, gunplay, little atmosphere, easy puzzles. Honestly, even the modern English reviews aren't of much interest either, making little new points. A few criticisms about the Grace section...which hardly seem related to the stupidity of the stealth, just that it exists.
I don't feel like going through the non-English reviews, so that will remain a mystery. I doubt they bring up any points that haven't been brought up in English. Maybe I'm just small-brained or something.

Fortunately, my next game isn't going to require me understanding a language other than English, since there aren't any reviews of it. It was in fact, never released. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Blake Stone: Genetic Development and Storage

E2M7:
It took me a long time to pick up the game again after starting this level. Its at this point, that two elements that are sort of Blake Stone's party piece are also the reason why it remains mostly forgotten. There are three things unique to Blake Stone, monster generators, the rocket launcher, and the scientists. Now I realize the rocket launcher is technically not unique, but among Wolf clones, there are very few good games with them, excluding all the Wolfenstein mods, of course. Aliens is unique by being a functioning game despite that. But the other two...well, they're what drag this game down.

The problem with any game with respawning enemies is that you need ammo and health to match them. Doom...well, in Doom its optional. Here, its not. And the time limit is just too short. I have around 5 seconds before I have to put down another plasma spheroid. On this level, I have go through one, especially if I want to get all the secrets. Every time I see one of these I just want to look everything up so I don't have to deal with this crap. My wants win over my desires. To be honest, its not like I HAVE to get the best possible score, and I'm seeing the wisdom in caring less here.

Then we have the friendly scientists. I don't necessarily mind them. I mind having to wait for them to get out of my way. So much of their placement in this game is just straight-up awful. The game has gradually become less about saving scientists and more about how the scientists just end up dying because they don't move from a firefight with a rocket launcher.

The actual level design is getting on my nerves since it feels like nearly every level is the same. Elevator, hallways, cafeteria, storage rooms, hidden storage rooms, alien experimentation rooms. Its a lot like Wolfenstein, except instead of an endless dungeon, its an endless office building. Maybe this level just came at a bad time, maybe its just bad or maybe I just really, really dislike the way this game sets up respawning enemies.

E2M8:
Oh, yeah, having ten music tracks screws with me too. This level reminds me that I forgot the prison and computer room sections. In my defense, I haven't played this in a month. This level has a one-way door in and a one-way door out into the elevator room. Less linear than that implies.

There's a lot of scientists on this level, too many. I'm pretty sure I missed a few hostile ones because I went across the entire level twice and still couldn't kill every enemy. When I was going through a secret they were following me in, it was a pretty big secret too. That's some dedicated amount of crap there. There aren't too many stuck next to guards, but it does get extremely annoying to work through.

E2M9:
New song? What witchcraft is this? There's quite a bit of ammo here, but in terms of health, I'm still up a creek. Right next to the starting room is a secret room with more ammo, but a few STAR troopers. Going into it the first time nearly killed me, and on this floor that's not good.

The Goldfire boss arena is a wide open space with a couple of secrets, a dozen guards and a half dozen pillars. Takes up more than a quarter of the map, and boy does it not feel all that great. The locked room after this doesn't hold the real boss, but does hold about a dozen explosive drones. It just never ends.

The boss is in a slightly more cramped series of rooms, which has the potential to turn into a complete nightmare. Goldfire appears in two places on this level, once in dedicated arena, the other in the drone room. This means that Goldfire can walk in on you fighting the Acid Dragon...which is one ugly looking fellow. He seems rather easy on his own or even with the mutants in the room with him, but I could just be lucky. After that its basically a clear swing, just a few rooms full of treasure. Apparently I missed something the first time around, but its just a little something. It made me think I had a shot at getting 100%, but no dice.

E2M10:
What the hell is this music? It sounds like the kind of song that would play before you have to fight off a space oil sheik. After playing through this level it makes me feel deeply unwell for some reason.

The crux of this level's design is that there are two big secrets, one consuming the western side, and one small outgrowth on the eastern side. In order to get everything, one needs to go to the western one first, for a key, then the other one for another key. There's a third key, this one out in the open, but the vault it opens feels lackluster.


There's a lot of aliens here, and those aliens move around a bit, so while I was walking around, with 92% kills and everything mostly explored, I assumed there were some I missed. Nah, just a trap secret. Ah...joy.

To advance the plot, this apparently kills off Goldfire's intelligence gathering abilities. Yay.

This Session: 3 hours

Total Time: 21 hours

Monday, November 9, 2020

Alone in the Dark 2 - Davy Jones's Locker

 Oh, let this be the end. Let this be the end.

Enemies now turn into skeletons, something supposed to show they're actually dying. Meh

Things start off good enough. In each room is another guard, in each room I defeat him. I'm getting items, health items, weapons, armor. Things are looking good. Then in one room there's a "puzzle" where you have to figure out how move a barrel away from some items. I end up pushing it into the items and reload.

Didn't catch a lot of good action shots here, I'm afraid
This turns out to be not very good for me. After reloading a few of the guards start causing me trouble. Not the melee ones, but the ranged ones. Its not a very good sign that combat basically has no chance of shifting once the fighting actually starts. There's a little chance of shifting if your follow-up blows don't land, but eh...

Stupid push puzzles really annoy me
After some unnecessary amount of time, I get the item I missed...a message in a bottle. I have to throw it, because that's what happened last time. It has a note about "immortals", specifically the damned ones. All it says is I have to kill them twice. As I go outside I note there's another guard walking around. I wonder what that's related to.

Note guard 2, politely waiting for me to kill the other
Next room contains two guards, unlike the others, they drop nothing, but otherwise the room is filled with them. Including "A guite useful key", a poker, and pliers.

You're not supposed to shoot in here, but I wasn't exactly doing that anyway
The key opens up the final door here, containing a tough guard. He blocks...some of the attacks. He dies eventually, dropping a powder keg and a book explaining how to use the powder keg. What follows is another obtuse puzzle.

If you have mail on, the enemies don't hurt you until that's gone. Unfortunately, you can't hurt them period

See, I have to put the powder keg in the room of some sleeping guards. What you might think you have to do is put it somewhere, put the fuse in, light it, run away. That would be too easy. No. This requires some placement, although the game is kind enough to put it where it needs to be. Also, this section seems to glitch out even more, which is great.

So much effort for what should be a simple puzzle
What you have to do is go to the room across the hall, which isn't very easy to see. There you kill the guard and cut the chain on the cannon in this room. Then, you have to find the precise spot to push the cannon into position, this is a pre-decided push once again, once you're done, its over. Just put in the fuse and pop goes the barrel. Inside is a pouch of gold coins...which will unlock a door.
Why do they have short chefs anyway?
This is less insane than it sounds, it just makes the two waiters alert. They're not too much trouble. Then there's a larder I didn't see before, inside the return of the chef with the blowgun. He drops a metallic jack of diamonds which is really more like a deck in shape and size. That unlocks the final door.
No, anything but Grace again!
This reveals Elisabeth, who naturally controls Carnby again. Fortunately Grace has been hiding the whole time and comes in just in time. Its not much of a puzzle to do what needs to be done, the staff on the statue and then the chicken foot on Elisabeth. That kills her straight off.
Elisabeth, three seconds before dying
Then it returns to Carnby, who is chased by a big pirate. The pirate is seemingly invincible, so I run off to the top of the ship. This makes that pirate disappear...for some reason.
Its now or never
Here, I have to finally defeat the main pirate group that's been mocking me on the death screen. They're surprisingly easy to kill, but still fairly involved to do so. The musician, the dancer from earlier, two big spear-throwers, and another guy that didn't make much of an impact. I get the musician through gunfire and the spear-thrower through swordfighting. Then it gets interesting. The other guy is the only one left on the ground, because of how I was looking, I didn't see the other two disappear.
This fight looks nastier than it really is
The first is on the mast, one of the big spear-throwing fellows. He's not that hard. What follows is the last puzzle of the game, use a hook on the rope to reach the other mast.
Turning from the most deadly enemy to the weakest, and he did it himself
Which leads to the least dangerous fight in the game, despite how it seems otherwise. The dancing fellow. He doesn't have any room to move, so I just cut him through. He falls over, and lacking another escape route, I follow.
I've had better final bosses
Then, its the fight against the big cheese himself. This is tricky. Its not obvious how to proceed at first. The game tells you to save Grace, but it doesn't tell you that One-Eyed Jack isn't going to bother you when you do it. So it took me a few tries, during which I never actually died at Jack's hands, but rather at the ends of a cannon firing and destroying the ship by a chain-reaction. See, you have to free Grace, who tells you about the cannon, and then you can disarm that and kill Jack without problems.
Look at Carnby not waving, the big jerk
Jack goes down twice and the game is over. Jack's still alive, but he attempts to shoot a cannon at Carnby and Grace, escaping in a boat, but that backfires, destroying the cave and ship. All is well. For now anyway.

Total Time: 11.5 hours

Friday, November 6, 2020

Alone in the Dark 2 - Amazing Grace

After that totally necessary sequence last time, I'm ready to enjoy more stealth sections in my survival horror game.

I'd make fun of this, but considering how things go later...
Carnby wants me to get the key to the shackles, so Grace is going to have to get them. I've got a teddy bear, which will come in handy at one point...probably. Its not that difficult to get out, just selecting push against a block of wood against the wall. We're running on cheap animation rules at the moment.

I don't think that'll give me away
The next room has a lot of stuff, but no key. There's a parrot and a bag of seeds. The parrot speaks after eating and tells me where to find a staff latter and not to sneeze. There's also a pepper shaker and a sandwich, the latter just seems to be a healing item. Big help for Grace...oh, there's going to be fighting with Grace, isn't there?
Curiously, there's a map on the wall that causes a vocal chorus to swell for some reason.
The sword shows why they're avoiding texturing the characters in detail
This connects to a hallway. Where there's a pirate. Yay. He goes along on a set pattern, more or less, and if you're within a certain range, he catches you. But if you reach a hidey-hole, you can't be seen. If this sounds boring and utterly pointless, it is. You want to know what Wolfenstein 3D would have looked like if they went with their original idea, here's your example. There are several doors and ladders here, most of which seem to be locked. At least, I have no idea how Grace is going to open them.
Why does this pirate ship have so many pirates?

After making it up a ladder, disaster strikes. Another pirate, only this time I have no where to go next. I don't want to do this. It looks like up is really the only way forward. Oh, this game.

I'm going to be so glad to kill these guys next time

It gets better. The top of the ship is absolutely the worst stealth section in any game possible. You advance like someone would expect to, going behind the boxes and barrels. Only, then two of the guys notice and chase after me. Okay, I'll wait behind a barrel for them...how the hell did they spot me? They keep doing it. Its like some bizarre timer, you walk into a particular hotspot, they activate, you wait, they activate.

Because they can spot me behind a barrel but not this barrel...for some reason

Wanna know how you get past them? You turn around from the start. This isn't obvious, because from most of the camera angles, you can't see anything there. Even so, there's a guard there. You wouldn't think that. That's not the end of it, because one of the moving guards dropped something near the hole you're heading towards. You have to avoid the hotspots that awaken them. There's a reason why beta testers are a thing. The item is a tinder-box.

Why would you keep that?

The hole leads to the captain's room...for some reason. Inside are in some order, a small cannon, a crystal vase, and the captain's staff. There's no way out, so I fiddle around with the items. Throwing the crystal vase causes a pirate to open the door. Aha, I think, I must drop the cannon, light it and blow him away. So I try that again. Nothing happens. I look around the room again. Nothing. Okay, I'm missing something. Turns out I should have put the pepper shaker into the cannon. Gee, why didn't I think of that, after all I surely examined that.
I would like to point out again, I have no examination function. After defeating him, I get a bell.

From this shot, it feels like he's creeping on Grace
Outside there's that damn short chef again, but the door across is open. There's a kitchen there. The only items of note are a dumbwaiter and a chicken foot. I stumble upon the correct solution completely by accident. Ring the bell, and the dumbwaiter opens. Taking Grace...
This feels like a monkey paw thing

Back to the house. Okay, fair enough. There's a key which opens the nearby cabinet. Giving me a tin of molasses and a container of ice. Further examination reveals that there's nothing else, but the second I enter the main lobby, a guard notices me and I can't run away. I can see the bunkhouse and see nothing new. Okay, clearly I have to use one or the other on the floor, and at this point I don't really care. The magic walkthrough tells me that I have to use the ice on the kitchen floor and then drag him over there.

Also, it keeps talking about a tip sheet that came with the game, and I can't find any evidence of its existence.

And we never see him again
Upstairs its a similar event, except with the molasses. This one causes the zombie to get stuck. I'm not supposed to do anything else, he's just supposed to die...eventually. I leave him, since this is apparently done. In the corridor the door to the bedroom is closed but everything else is open.
This is supposed to be a hint
The only change is in One-Eyed Jack's bedroom, a vision occurs as I enter. I fail to understand it, and discover that I'm supposed to use the captain's staff on the desk. This gives me a key and a book. The book, written from the perspective of someone aboard ol' Pregzt's ship, describes how to cure someone of voodoo possession. I need a chicken foot, a piece of chalk, (to make a symbol) a strange staff and a mirror.
There are two of them? Huh?
After this the witch's door is open and in there I use the staff on the depression in the floor to turn the staff into a Loa staff. Which is probably the staff needed. Two more items. Apparently I can do something with the organ again, but there's an evil aura that's impossible to dispel and its only useful if I didn't use the ice on this floor. There's another guard, but he falls for the same trick as the other one and I'm back on the ship. Captured instantly too.
The circle of life has no beginning...or end...
Now I'm back as Carnby in yet another annoying mini-game...Press the arrow keys until you can reach the key, then use it. I get the idea, but after a couple hours of Grace, I just want it over. And over it is. It doesn't seem like there's a time limit either. After escaping, I deliver a sound thrashing to the guard. Grace has run off, so I enter the next room and thrash another one. Grace is still nowhere to be seen. I think this is a good place to stop.

Total Time: 9.5 hours

This Session: 1.5 hours

Monday, November 2, 2020

Alone in the Dark 2 - CD Woes

Zombie Carnby is not as terrifying as one might think

How am I going to get out of this cell? From a friend, this had kind of been built up as some really difficult to do task. Okay, there are three possible use locations...and I don't have that many items...why not the hook? Well, that was that.

Can't even grab the swords

Once outside, the room was empty. The upstairs was empty. Everything was empty. It was almost like I did nothing at all. Even the door outside was still locked. As I walk toward the kitchen, disaster strikes.

Its the lifting effect again, so spooky

Its Elisabeth Jarret, doing something to Carnby. I swear her laughing sound effect was reused in the Looney Tunes games.

Zombie Carnby is not a joke and won't stand for this
Uh, and then Carnby was a zombie? Grace is hidden off in the distance, so that means its time once again to control her. This is a stealth section, but it doesn't seem that bad right off. Behind the starting area is a guard, and I have to get really close before he notices.

Carnby looks pretty dead here, which seems counterproductive to the zombie thing
I don't know what this ending screen is about, but I'm sure it isn't good. The thing about Grace is, she's annoying to control. The rhythm to get her running is different and her actions are...weird, to say the least. The game tells you her first option is open/search but it seems to just perform random actions, including a kick that isn't going to do anything. She can also push...supposedly.

Just give it a good kick
New to this area is a car...once again more assets that would be reused in Looney Tunes. There's a guard beyond the gate that only notices me within a certain distance. I appreciate not having to jack up my brightness to see things, but this feels silly. So I go around bobbing the damn thing with random actions until randomly I kick the trunk and a zombie gangster comes out.

Although it might be a reskin of the car from the original
The gangster drives like 50 yards and then gets out. Is that a joke? I'm asking. I'm asking that. Technical limitations or joke, it could go either way. There are some gangsters dancing. They approach whenever they're aware of me. That's not a problem, I have a wide berth from them. This area's so wide that they instituted invisible walls of a kind. The game will say you're lost and the death sequence happens.

It could just be a weird pole, I dunno

There are two places of interest, well, places of interest that aren't infested with guards. A flag and a tree that looks like I can enter. I found a ball inside the car earlier...somehow, and using that on the flag causes a statue to rise out of the ground. At this point, the game's gone off the rails. At this point I don't know what's going on or what to do, so I check a walkthrough. Only the walkthrough I checked last time didn't mention this. Nor do most of them. I'm guessing this was some section added to the CD version. Real glad they added this part. Very useful.

Not pictured, lost, off to the right

So, the thing I have to do is get the item near the gangsters. Since whenever I approach from the mansion side, the gangsters spot me, and I can't run. I obviously have no safe area to approach opposite the house, since whenever I walk slightly past one section that obviously has a gangster within spitting range, the game tells me I'm lost. I'm not lost, what the hell are you on about? This is a stupid puzzle in a game with dozens of stupid puzzles.

Is this a joke?

Wanna know how you get the item near the gangsters? Just walk up to it from the car. No trying to be stealthy, no cleverness. Just walk up to that hook and walk back away. Then use the hook on the statue and another zombie captures Grace. There's no point to any of this sequence, it might as well have not happened.

Elisabeth, you're looking awfully old here, or at least unwell

Then we get another villain backstory, Elisabeth tells of how she went to Haiti, learned hate from the plantation master, voodoo from a slave, then killed the master.

Just lie Elisabeth Jarret was, now Carnby is in gaal
Then it lines up with One-Eye Jack's backstory, she manipulates him into attacking the Flying Dutchman, which is actually a legitimate ship for some reason. Now they're immortal so long as they sacrifice a young girl every 100 years. Weird plan, but I'm not a voodoo sorcerer. Then she disappears and I can control Grace again. Jesus, that was the longest hour of this game, and I'm only halfway through it. Please let this game improve soon.

Total Time: 8 hours

This Session: 1 hour