Alone in the Dark Illumination Review
- Developer/Publisher: Pure FPS/Atari Interactive
- Platform: PC
- Review code purchased by reviewer.
Let’s be perfectly clear from the outset, this isn’t what you’re going to expect from an Alone in the Dark game, not by a long shot. Alone in the Dark Illumination certainly doesn’t follow the usual dictates of the genre that it helped to spawn, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. No, in fact it makes strides in areas that you wouldn’t expect, and innovates in some great ways. And while it lacks a few finishing touches, once you give it a real college try you might actually enjoy it.
Light is your best resource in Alone in the Dark Illumination, casting shadows on a troubled past.
Enter Lorwich, a fictional Virginian town with a very dark past. It used to be quite the prominent mining town, but a horrible natural disaster flooded the mining facility destroying everything and forcing the evacuation of all of the towns people. The natural disaster, though, likely has less than natural origins. No one dares investigate for fear of upsetting The Darkness, which envelops everything in the town. Except, of course, for the descendant of Edward Carnby, and of course his band of merry individuals.
Immediately you’re thrust upon the outskirts of Lorwich, looking for a way in so that you may investigate the paranormal debauchery the left it abandoned. The HP Lovecraft inspiration isn’t immediately clear, though the ambiance is reminiscent of many horror movies, set during a particularly stormy night with lightning striking often. Unreal Engine 3 is well suited here, though perhaps a bit dated. The lighting and shadows are especially convincing and they play well into the story.
There are four different characters you can play; the hunter, the witch, the engineer and the priest. Each of them all have different special abilities that are useful in different ways. The hunter has a flamethrower attached to his AK47, the witch can shoot lighting (which is incredibly effective in a pinch), the engineer has the ability to repair lights and the priest can shoot a holy light at the minions of evil making them shine that great yellow/gold of vulnerability. They all have their place and work with different play styles. I personally enjoyed the priest and hunter for the more readily available offensive capabilities.
You start with a tutorial that tells you of the main mechanism for dispatching your enemies, that of light. Light plays a central role here, making enemies actually vulnerable to human intervention. Otherwise, it’s almost comically difficult to kill anything, except for yourself. I died a lot before figuring out the best strategy.
Throughout the maps you’ll find different light sources to turn on or to ignite. They’re all logically placed too, with lights being part of buildings or what you might think a normal spot in the mine. You’ll also find barrels for lighting fires in. Once they are in the light they turn a yellow/gold color to indicate that they’re vulnerable.
Why won’t they just die already?
And if you choose not to use those precious photons to your advantage, you’re looking at a significantly more difficult game to play. I mean really, really difficult game, even on easy. It took me a while to adjust to the mechanic, and ended up very frustrated by the end of it, wondering if it was even worth it continuing on. I mean, really? My weapons do absolutely nothing to these creatures unless they’re lit up? And my flashlight can’t even help with that? It’s so incredibly frustrating that you’ll end up wasting ammo and wanting to slam the keyboard against a brick wall. It’s literally that bad.
But wait, just wait, and be a little patient and it’ll click. Once you finally realize what this game is about without preconceived notions, you might see the joy in it too. It actually becomes a fun little dance to each light emitting treasure. The best tactic is to move swiftly from light sources, running as fast as you can, not even bothering to attack until you actually have a chance to hurt them.
The gameplay itself is mostly composed of a lot of fetch and retrieve type of missions. You’ll be looking for copper cabling to eventually activate a power generator, or have to go get batteries to get the elevator running again. What game isn’t, at its core, about fetch and retrieve anyway? Generally they make logical sense and they work well enough. No complaints there.
Moving through the levels is very time consuming due to a slow pace that’s deliberately there. The lack of stamina or ability to run for long periods is designed so to place the emphasis on the tension due to the randomly spawning enemies. That’s something that Pure FPS and Atari wanted to include here to add replay value, the randomly spawning enemies and items so that you can’t just plan ahead each time you spawn. It’ll be a new experience every time, necessitating some actual thinking and strategy. Those items are randomly spawned and also few and far between at times.
What about that coop play? Yeah, I actually haven’t been able to find any servers at all within the past four days. It’s sad, but I really wanted to give it a try in the real world. At E3 I had the chance to meet with the folks from Atari and played a co-op mission with one of the developers. It worked well and I can see the draw in being able to team up and dispatch those underlings in style. Everyone can be hunters if they wish, even. Flame throwers gone wild anyone?
Not all is happy in paradise.
The learning curve is almost prohibitively high. Adapting to the singularly important strategy for success takes a long time. The experience can be so unbelievably difficult so as to drive some players with shorter attention spans away. That and it doesn’t really seem true to the spirit of the original Alone in the Dark game franchise.
So no, it’s not really “scary” either. The emphasis is on intense experiences with a lot of action rather than the usual jump-scare horror. It’s survival in that you need to keep on top of ammo and health, which doesn’t regenerate. And intense it can be.
There are also some other small issues, like not having an indicator of any kind when you level up and some sound effect issues where they wouldn’t play when enemies spawn too close to you. But those are nitpicking and things that are being continually worked on by Pure FPS. They’re very dedicated to perfecting the experience and are listening to the community for feedback to make improvements.
Cooperative play is the main focus in Alone in the Dark Illumination, letting you share the burden of trying to destroy the minions of Cthulhu with your friends. Originally this even had a working title of Alone in the Dark Online to emphasize the redesigned focus on a more social experience.
It has a lot of potential, a tremendous amount and you know what? I liked it. I actually thought it was fun to play. At the end of the day it was an enjoyable experience. When you take it on its own. Compared to previous Alone in the Dark games, yeah, it’s not quite like those ones. Perhaps it borrows from the mythos and is in actuality a spinoff that’s great on its own.
It’s a very bold move to do something new for a franchise that has traditionally followed very strict lines. Maybe it shouldn’t have the Alone in the Dark name attached to it because of that. It has the potential of shining on its own, and might even have been received better by the masses if it didn’t claim to be in the same series. The inclusion of co-op alone is a daring maneuver for such an iconic series.
It may have garnered mostly negative reviews from users on Steam, but if you take the time to enjoy it on its own than it really does stand out as a great game with a cool co-op experience.