Those gaming during the early 90’s were witness to the entrance of the survival horror genre, marked by the release of Alone in the Dark for DOS systems. This original spawned three successful sequels and opened the door for the likes of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and more modern franchises such as Condemned and Dead Space. 2008 will see the release of the veteran franchise’s fourth sequel, complete with a mix a familiar characters and themes and a brand new bag of tricks.
"Our goals for this game were not just to make a better installment of previous Alone in the Dark games, but to create a new gaming experience altogether. Compared to the previous Alone in the Dark games this one will be more centered on entertaining action-oriented gameplay. All the gameplay types have been developed in the spirit of pure survival," producer Nour Polloni told us in a recent interview.
Eden Games and publisher Atari have been keen since the beginning to push these new forms of gameplay. An enticing series of tech demos were circulated earlier this year, highlighting the game’s systems for inventory and setting interaction. "We decided that we wanted the player to stay in the game with the highest level of immersion possible," says Polloni. "Everything in the environment is usable – you’ll find things in cars, buildings, etc, basically anywhere you might logically find them in real life. You really have to use your environment creatively." Players are given an inventory of items that can be used individually or in combination during play: a knife by itself is a deadly weapon, but use it to puncture a bottle of fuel and hold it up to a lighter and you’ve created a wholly new kind. Objects found within the environment, such as tables, chairs and doors, can be manipulated by players as weapons or protection as well; players are given tools to empower their survival, but given the freedom to decide how they are used. "Every situation will have different solutions and players can find their own preferred playing style using the weapons and tools they’ve created. It’s all about utilizing your environment and being creative with what you can find."
It’s obvious that, when dealing with a fourth sequel, the development team is almost required to throw a changeup, and Eden Games has stepped up in more ways that just gameplay. "On the universal theme death and after-life, we draw references from all religions/cultures and beliefs," Polloni explains, "references which may have been presented differently in each theory but which all have build on the same basis. Choices between good or evil deeds will determine your path throughout the game and potentially its final outcome." The game also makes references to the first Alone in the Dark, most notably primary protagonist Edward Carnby.
Though set in modern-day New York City, Edward Carnby is alive and well enough to investigate the strangeness found in Central Park. Polloni was naturally quiet when probed about the game’s plot, but she did reveal that "Part of the story will have the player finding out how he got 80 years into the future without ageing a day." The game’s official site recites several oddities regarding Central Park, from its unusually high property value (higher than the national defense budget in 2007) to the growth of deformed trees. "The plot will also reveal the secret behind the existence of this huge park in the crowded city of New York."
The game is being developed on four platforms, including all three current-gen systems, PS2, and PC. "The lead platform is the Xbox 360, with the PC being developed in parallel here at Eden," Polloni told us. "The Wii and PS2 versions are developed by Hydravision Entertainment based on our original game design, so as a result they’ve followed their own development path and there are some differences between the games." The Wii add some powerful new options to the development team, as well as challenges. "There are some playable sections on Wii that are not playable on the Xbox 360 and vice versa, depending on design decisions that were taken during the course of development. The Wii control system lends itself very much to the dynamic real time manipulation of objects, while at the same time the processing power meant that the same level of interaction and the dynamic fire for example were just not possible." Polloni was quiet regarding the game’s development on the PS3, but announced delays point to problems. As for the rest, look to late June.
As an intense fan of horror titles, I’m tickled pink to see the genre’s founding member brought back with a fresh coat of paint and new ways to play. Check back with TheGameReviews for our review of Alone in the Dark!