By CornBREDX 6 Comments
(Just as an editors note: Youtube is not loading my videos thumbnails- I don't know why that is so the videos may not have a thumbnail before you click play. Sorry, I don't know why it's doing that.)
I was originally going to write about Run Like Hell. For those that don't know Run Like Hell is a (critically speaking) mediocre Sci Fi/Horror/Third Person shooter from 2002 that I, personally, really enjoyed at the time. It has an amazing cast (Including Lance Henriksen, Clancy Brown, Kevin Michael Richardson, Brad Dourif, Thomas F. Wilson and many many more famous screen and voice actors), what I thought was an interesting story with a real sense of loss for characters you make connections to (which was still rare in 2002), an interesting weapon upgrade system, and... BAWLS?
Yes, BAWLS (a soft drink) was a major advertiser within that game. There are soft drink machines with the branding prominently displayed all throughout the game. It's so prominent that some critics (such as Jeff Gerstmann, for example) could not see past it and often when they remember that game that's all they really remember. The game uses these soft drink machines to refill something or other that I forget. There are also Pip boy machines next to the BAWLS machine which are (you guessed it) a reference to Fallout (the Fallout mascot is all over these candy bars).
Yes, that's right, that game was Published by Interplay, and developed by Digital Mayhem (who had previously created MDK 2). I am on a tangent, though, sorry.
Anyway, I decided against putting any spotlight on it (as small as me spotlighting something is) as I have issues with the game now, that I had not really taken into consideration at the time. I won't go too much into it (as that isn't what my intention of this blog is), but suffice to say that it doesn't bode well- character design-wise- from the beginning. The game wasn't worth talking about anymore, despite the fantastic performances by the cast (and it really is a great story); I could not get over this one thing.
I'm sorry, reader. I didn't mean to lose you in that kerfuffle. We'll move on.
Anyway, I was stuck. I didn't have a game to write about, and I haven't done one of these in 3 years. I have the time for writing right now, and what I want more than anything is to spend my time writing just about anything, so I had to think of something. I didn't have anything, though, so I gave up this years Halloween blog as another one lost. Time was running out and I wouldn't get anything up before October was over.
While perusing the site (like I always do), I came upon a thread asking about Games for Windows live and if certain games work (because it's shut down now) and I began writing a lengthy theorem (as I often do) explaining why it probably wasn't something to worry about. I pulled out all my games that use GFWL, and began installing them in order to prove that it wasn't something to worry about.
Well, the first game I pulled was the remake of Alone in the Dark (which I'll probably get to in a later blog).
For anyone in suspense, by the way, I did discover that GFWL being down now will cause problems for some games and you may have to find ways to get around this.
I had an epiphany, however, and I erased everything I was writing for that thread- leaving it to be as it may. I do this often, but this time was different. I had an idea for what I would write.
I went to my old games folders, as I still have all the Alone in the Dark games, but then I thought about it and decided to get them from Gog- just in case. I wanted to be sure they'd work and Gog would make sure of that before selling them. It wasn't a very expensive investment anyway.
I must confess, I don't have a huge amount of nostalgia for the original Alone in the Dark games. They were severely loved at the time for creating the genre we now know as "Survival Horror."
Oh yeah, did I mention Alone in the dark was the first survival horror game franchise, having had two sequels before Resident Evil even existed? It's true. It's much like how World of Warcraft made MMOs popular, Resident Evil did the same for survival horror.
Having no nostalgia for these games, though (I didn't actually ever play very far in the first game, despite owning it), I felt like this would be an interesting thing to play through to see what holds up and try to figure out what the appeal was in these games at the time. I also thought it would be an interesting topic given that The Evil Within would be releasing [today, actually].
So, what is Alone in the Dark? Beyond being a survival horror (before the term was actually used) as I played it I discovered it was more of an adventure game than anything else. It definitely has horror elements; although I don't think those hold up to well.
Just coming at this 22 years later I wanted to understand this game and what it's impact was. I wouldn't be able to ask anyone, though, so I wanted to just discover it on my own and use my own nostalgia to fill in the blanks.
So, I watched a postmortem the creator of the game gave (not too long ago, actually, it was in 2012 and you can see it here- I recommend checking it out), and a lot of the design decisions were based either on horror films he loved, or to be easier to utilize yet ominous for the player, or because they outright had to. It was '92 so a lot that they did in the game was still very new and hadn't really been touched on yet in a visual game.
So, I understand the game and where it was coming from. It was a time when things were new and new things were being tried. Playing it today, though, the game does not hold up so much as horror, but I would posit that it still holds a fascination if only because it's the first of it's kind. I suspect the designer saw in it what you would see in it going into it today. Frederick Raynal says in the post mortem that at first, when they had finished it and released it, he hated the game because he could see it's faults. More importantly, though, he believed other people would see them too. Of course, at the time, this game was something completely new. From the polygonal design (which it wasn't the first to do, but it was in the first years of being done), the sound was of a higher quality than you were used to at the time (as he explains that sound blaster had just come out), the background elements were impressive for the time, and to top it off everything in the game was trying to kill you. So, at the time, this game was like what using an Occulous Rift is like now- to help put that into perspective a little bit.
The game opens with a character select screen. Interestingly you do something similar in one of the original Resident Evil games (or maybe it was both 1 and 2- I forget now). Honestly, the comparison between the two games is stark, and I would not be surprised if I was told how much of an influence this game was on Resident Evil despite Resident Evil being the most remembered game.
Something I found amusing is the opening dialogue read by a voice "actor". I am placing a video of it below. Watch and enjoy that- it really is something special. I actually wonder if the actor is drunk. I understand limitations (see House of the Dead's voice acting), but this is gold at it's best none the less. I did try to find out who the actor was to give him his dues, but sadly I cannot find any record of it anywhere. Even the manual makes no mention of it and I suspect the voices may have been added later. Again, though, I cannot find record of this either. I suspect it because Raynal makes mention to the fact that he did not want voiced dialogue (mainly because of limitations, but also for atmosphere), but I am only speculating.
To continue on, the first thing you discover when playing now is the controls are a little strange. I read the manual first to get used to it, and it actually reminds me of Time Commando in a lot of ways. The stranger part, though, is you need to go into your inventory to switch between action modes (for example if you want to "push" you have to go into your inventory and change it to "push", or "open/search" or whichever context you want the character to see your space-bar input to be). I do understand the context here, though, as again this engine and the things they were doing with it were still fairly new concepts.
So after restarting the game (because you will probably mess up the beginning the first time as you become familiar with how the game works) I was able to hit the ground running.
Shortly after that I discovered the next thing to know was that everything, including the house itself, wants you dead. This was in an era when things like Flashback or Out of this World were uniquely defined adventures- especially so because of their death sequences. The french really seemed to like to mess with their players. It's actually a fascinating dichotomy in the difference in game design at the time. Alone in the Dark is no different to these, and will try to kill you whenever it can. You most certainly will spring a trap in no time, or get jumped by demon... things. Or be eaten by a zombie. In actuality you take a lot of unavoidable damage, and your only reprieve is if you survive long enough the game does give you decent amounts of health replenishment in measured points in the game.
The camera work in Resident Evil was (and still is) lauded as being what helps to create the amazing atmospheres in those original games. Similar can be said of Silent Hill which came a little later. This game is no different, but being the first to try this the camera is often a nuisance or outright puzzling. While there are some impressive shots, others are not so much useful as irritating. Some times you just have to believe if you press on forward the game won't be out to kill you at that moment. To be fair, the game never did take advantage of this problem- which was not that often anyway. Raynal does give some interesting perspective on why these shots were used in the postmortem.
Raynal said he designed the game to be playable without much combat. There is only a few cases where you even have to fight at all (I think, maybe, 5 in the whole game- maybe less) and that is why ammo in the game is so scarce. Truth be told you don't really ever need ammo as there are other ways to fight and there is maybe one instance where a ranged weapon is even useful. The problem with the guns, though, is there is no way to tell where you're shooting or what it's going to hit. I made a video to show this perplexing problem.
You'll notice at first I am continuously shooting, but not hitting anything. There is no indication on the first angle that the flying creature is higher up than me so I did not think to move forward yet for a few tries at this. When it did occur to me to try from a different angle I then figured out what the problem was. It's a bit of a pain that the shotgun/rifle has a kickback to it, but I can't fault designers for being ambitious on a ground breaking game.
I really enjoyed (read as sarcasm: I did not enjoy it) that they put platforming puzzles. No, really they are quite painful to dissect, but thanks to my years of experience I know how to manage a few pit falls. They are made less aggravating, though, by the smooth save system.
Even crazier is when the game requires that you run (because something is chasing you that you can't kill). This is mostly fine, as the game is actually pretty forgiving, but it is annoying when it sneaks another problem up on you before you realize the last problem is no longer a threat.
This is another in a long line of games where you want to see the different death animations. Something that still kind of exists today (Deadspace being a recent example I can think of). I put a few together in this video below.
Also, there are a lot of books in the game- they help to create atmosphere and more importantly they were intended to be clues as to how to progress certain areas. The same as with the character selection they are fully voiced and fun to listen to in that way old games have interesting choices for actors. Beware, though, as some books can and will kill you as you see in that montage above.
I must confess I didn't read all of the books as I used a walkthrough to make the game play smoother, but I am going to try and remedy that if needed on the next game and at least read every book after a save. The ones I did see in this game were pretty good.
Finally, the ending. It's a byproduct of a fan of 70s horror films so now-a-days it looks cliche, but for a game at the time it would have actually been clever. I think it's kind of funny- it makes me think of stuff like Tales From the Crypt.
So, anyway, Alone in the Dark is an amazing game in it's own right. It's a shame it became what it did later on, but for a very long time it actually held it's own as well as legitimately creating a genre- even though the first game (at least) didn't even intend to do that. Resident Evil was clearly inspired by this game, and it has it's own impressive history. I can't say I appreciated Alone in the Dark at the time, but I can appreciate it's mark on gaming and the legacy it has spawned. Developers and players these days may not all know it, but we owe a lot to this game. Without it Silent Hill wouldn't exist as we love it now, so we can be thankful it dared to try something different.
If anyone has memories or reminiscence of playing this game back in the day I would love to hear stories about it and people's thoughts about what it was like to enjoy this game when it was new. Feel free to share your stories.
Stay tuned- next week I'll cover Alone in the Dark 2 and 3. Thanks for reading! As always I'll have my photo dump below.