Saturday, October 30, 2021

Alone in the Dark 3

Name:Alone in the Dark 3
Genre:Survival Horror
Time:6 hours 50 minutes

I wanted to love Alone in the Dark 3. There were a lot of interesting factors going in. The western theme of the game are unusual for a survival horror title. The return to a more puzzle heavy style of the original sounded good and I understood the game to be righting the wrongs of Alone in the Dark 2. Sadly, that did not happen. Instead, it keeps most of the old issues and adds more of its own. That's not to say the game doesn't have its moments, but the cracks are starting to show.

Taken out of context, most screenshots of the game look absolutely insane
The game starts off promising enough, slowly walking into a ghost town, only to see a cowboy who doesn't look right walk up behind you. He's invulnerable to bullets, and our hero, Carnby, dies if he tries fisticuffs. The opening sequence in which we see these mysterious undead stare at Carnby enter the town is a cool sequence, including the usual reference to someone seeing the action from a distance. Carnby gets blown into the town...and then the undead just walk away. In retrospect, there's nothing to this sequence other than it being cool. That's fine...its just lays an issue out on this game. This game's story is not well explained.
Some of these things are told in rhyme, which doesn't help matters

Jed Stone, our antagonist, is a prospector/mine owner(?) who found more than gold in the mines of Slaughter Gulch, its implied to be something radioactive. Stone, the abandoned child of Pregzt from the first game and Elizabeth Jarret from the second, wants to set off the San Andreas faultline with I presume a nuke to put parts of California into the sea. Obvious jokes aside, Stone is doing this as a generic take over the world story. Carnby has to go through a wide variety of undead, including his doppelganger, deal with teleporting enemies, and probably something I'm forgetting. It is never explained how this happens. Pregzt was a newborn God and Jarret was a witch of the highest caliber, Stone has no explanation for his incredible talents, beyond his bloodline. Or why everyone turns into giant black cats and unleash an annoying sound.

The map
Everything feels more linear than previous entries. Alone in the Dark 2 was probably just as linear than this, but you always had a clear goal you were working towards in the short-term, be it taking out a specific group of enemies or trying to free Carnby. Its clear in retrospect that Stone was forcing the player along a certain path so he'd retrieve the money from a bank vault, but its not clear why this was necessary in the slightest. Or why Stone couldn't figure it out himself. Until this becomes clear, you're just sort of wandering from puzzle to puzzle. Someone put effort into and cared about the story. Perhaps its just a bad translation. There's also a map in-game for some reason, despite being useless on both a technical and practical level.

Carnby is pretty casual with a heavy weapon
Then there are Indians...who are...alive? Dead? I don't know. I don't know if anyone knows. I assumed there would be pay-off for their presence, but they just sort of exist as Carnby's allies and that's it. Their presence feels supernatural and yet they could very well be alive. Is their appearance related to the mine, Stone or are they just magic? Of all the story elements, this is the one I could see being left unexplained. The world of Alone in the Dark has some magical things going on it in, and we don't need them explained. But with them being another element of unexplained story mechanics in a game that tries to explain itself, its hard to think that way.
Thinking about it, I've played a lot of Infogrames titles with minecarts...
What about the gameplay? Well, it plays about the same as the last two games, but there was an ever-present feeling that it controlled slightly worse. Melee does not move Carnby at all, which is an issue in a game where enemies have longer reach than you. I vaguely remember complaining about it in 1, but here it seems like all enemies take advantage of Carnby's weakness. Then there's that persistent ranged weapon issue. Guns don't quite point where you shoot, which is a consistent issue in the series, but again, it felt worse. This made itself clear in the second half of the game. There's a section where enemies constantly respawn until you push something, and during the best of times I hit them half the time. Another bad situation happened a few screens towards the end, where Carnby is firing a Winchester at some dude who will kill him in melee. Not only is it not simple shooting him, the weapon's poor rate of fire means he could kill you even if you're just nailing him dead on.
If you look carefully at this picture, you should see a problem
Of course, another problem with the game are the adventure aspects and enemies, and how these interact. Having an enemy that has to be killed by solving a puzzle isn't a problem, but some of these are questionable. Whether or not you can kill an enemy or have to use an item is told to you about half the time. This is perhaps a flaw in the combination of action and adventure elements, the action gamer in me wants to keep trying until I beat him. Its not unusual for games to have an enemy with really high health after all. I wish Carnby would chime in more about these situations. While that might seem like making it too easy, Elvira did this when an enemy required you to use your brains to defeat it, and one can hardly accuse that game of being too easy.

The events that led to this picture are a story in of itself
A curious aspect of the game is the amount of game over screens. While they each have the same song playing over them, a haunting piano and flute melody, the location varies. Its always some in-game location you're just about to reach or have just seen. There are even unique screens for when Carnby falls down a pit. They're not very elaborate, some I suspect are just swapping around a few animations, but the best is an early one where two enemies are just drinking in the bar, as the somber game over music plays. For some reason this is one of the strongest images I have of the game, outside of Carnby fusing with his doppelganger.
This town isn't big enough for the two of us, as the saying goes

Puzzles are as obtuse as ever. At least this time Carnby will sometimes tell you if you have the right idea but not the right location. That's still more precise than I would have liked, but I can't think of any better way to tackle things. What tripped me up at first is that the game forces one to interact with things in the background that one wouldn't think were possible in this engine. A contribution to this are the angles of the backgrounds, I'm hardly one to complain, but sometimes the solution was somewhere I never thought Carnby would fit. One puzzle require Carnby to practically put himself into a pit in order to drop something, and later dropping puzzles are similarly cursed.

I think I know why this is. While Alone in the Dark 2 only shares two key people from the original, one was the new director. In addition some parts of AitD2 were made by the AitD team, judging by trivia I've been able to read. If not actual gameplay than at least concepts. Alone in the Dark 3 only shares one key person, and he's just one programmer of many. He might not even have worked on the game, just credit for originally making the engine. The only people who remain from the original are artists and the producer, who should have known better, but cannot be entirely blamed for these issues.

At no point does it ever look like the cougar is actually on the statue
My favorite section is near the end. Stone doesn't follow through on his promise to free Emily and kills Carnby, but with the Indian amulet, Carnby has a chance to live again. Put in the form of a cougar, the town is finally open, and Carnby can explore all of it. While the exploration is still hollow, you need to explore very little in-town, its nice to finally have the freedom to look around an area you've barely spent any time outside. There are less issues with puzzles, though the game opens and closes doors on you without telling you.
I wish more games had enemies that reacted like this
That said, while the game has its issues, its still fun. Whenever the puzzles weren't marred by the control and visual issues, there were some clever ideas. I never would have thought that a clothes horse could be a useful item, even if it was in a puzzle I had to look up. This leads into the usual adventure game problem where you can be the cleverest puzzle designer ever, but if you can't properly put them into your game its all pointless. Too many clever sections here needed a few more dots to connect.

Its rare for enemies to just wail on each other without player intervention
Its just as a sequel to Alone in the Dark it leaves something to be desired. Its lacking just enough from past titles to feel hollow and doesn't really replace it with anything. Its all relative, if this wasn't Alone in the Dark, I'd hail it as a lesser but still entertaining title. It doesn't quite know what to do with itself and its obvious that while the staff did their best, nobody had much of an idea on how to design puzzles. If you liked the last two games, you're going to like this one. If not, you should sit this title out.
Can you guess the puzzle in this room?
Its just as a sequel to Alone in the Dark it leaves something to be desired. Its lacking just enough from past titles to feel hollow and doesn't really replace it with anything. Its all relative, if this wasn't Alone in the Dark, I'd hail it as a lesser but still entertaining title. It doesn't quite know what to do with itself and its obvious that while the staff did their best, nobody had much of an idea on how to design puzzles. If you liked the last two games, you're going to like this one. If not, you should sit this title out.

In the first half of the game I had some nice weapons, a Winchester and a Gatling gun. Then the Gatling gun jammed and using the Winchester in every fight was impractical at best. None of the rest of the weapons were any good and especially the melee weapons were impractical. 2/10

I have mixed feelings here. There was not a good deal of seperation between the puzzle enemies and the regular enemies, something the previous games did a good job on. There are some interestingly designed enemies, but the majority actually fight quite genericly. 3/10

A few, but they don't do anything outside of scripted events. 0/10

The sections are too linear in most cases. You have a series of linear events you have to do. I realize a good chunk of games do that, but this one had a very weak illusion of that. However, the cougar section was awesome and I wish more games did something like that. 3/10

Player Agency:
This felt far worse than the previous two games. There's the usual survival horror tank controls, of which I am used to. The usual AitD run cycle, where you press the forward arrow twice. Jumping makes an inconsistent return, some situations call for it, some automatically go through. But what was worse is that every fight felt so much worse than the last games. I kept having to reload my save because I used up all my ammo or got nearly killed in some random melee fight. Even when I knew what I was doing it felt like things were breaking. However, a point for the Cougar section. 3/10

Alone in the Dark 3 continues the issues the previous games had, namely, being an adventure game where the adventure aspect feels like an afterthought. There are still these great issues with it, but there is the odd relief. Some areas mention that there's nothing here, others mention if you're not quite where you should be. 3/10

There's an excellent night mood throughout the game, but the rest isn't so easily put. For the first half there's this sense of mystery, like in the original, but with undead cowboys. As the game continued that mood went away and the whole thing felt random. Then Carnby died and the mood changed from horror game, to Carnby the badass. There's just such a cool feeling in the last few sections, when enemies are running from you, you take out these hulking behemoths, and Carnby meets with his doppelganger. I was feeling down about the game at that point, and it put just a huge smile on my face. 8/10

While the animation is great as always, I feel like the backgrounds have degraded slightly. These feel like low-res drawings. They're not bad, but not what I loved about the past two games. They also conceal far too much that's of vital importance to the game. On the plus side, most of the new enemies have inspired designs. 5/10

This game had a strange story. At first it was just ghost outlaws...and then it turned into a plot about dropping a nuke on the San Andreas fault line so that a good chunk of California would fall off. And that the lead antagonist was the child of the previous two games antagonists. None of this is explained very all feels very flat. 3/10

The sound isn't very interesting, various low quality digital sound effects, and some mediocre voice-acting. A big part of the appeal of the last two games was the music, which was appropriately dark in the original, and very interesting in the second. The music has a nice western tinge to it, and its an interesting listen. A bit too much reliance on some sections of the music, however. 7/10

That's 37. 5 points below AitD2's 42, and some below AitD's 53. I must admit, I find that interesting, since this game was shorter than the last game, and did seem to be more fun on my part.

That's it, for the original series. After this the series gets weird, but I understand that Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is a good, if heavily inspired by Resident Evil. There are many different versions of the original games, including console ports of the first two, Japanese releases and Macintosh releases with their own unique flavor on the games.

I have started rewriting some of my old reviews because I'm finding I don't quite care as much for the LP format and that was biting into actual review writing. I'm going to try to limit LPs to games that haven't been covered as much as they should. Galactic Empire and Dungeon Master will continue as usual.

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