This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Alone in the Dark: Illumination.
Well, violate my sense of intestinal security if it isn’t another Alone in the Dark game. This venerable series stretches all the way back to 1992 when it virtually codified the fixed camera-survival horror genre - someone even awarded it the ECTS 1993 Best Graphics Award and managed to keep a straight face. From those lofty heights the series went downhill quickly, spawning two sequels and two attempted reboots that wobbled up and down between “big poo sandwich” and “big poo sandwich with ketchup”. But still, I’m surprised that a new installment of this decades-long legacy managed to slip under my radar and I’d like to know where they were hiding it, 'cause it should be put back there with extreme force!
Yes, experience has taught me to watch out for a couple of obvious warning signs when it comes to games - the mysterious absence of hype, the attempt to sneak out onto the Steam listings on the week of a summer sale as if the publisher was forced to fulfill an obligation but was praying to God that no one would notice it, and the mysterious urge to club myself in the head with a frozen walrus cock as I attempt to play the fucking thing. More alarm bells start to ring when you boot up a game called “Alone in the Dark” and the first three options on the title menu are “host game”, “join server”, followed grudgingly by “single player” thrown out like a chicken bone from the feasting table. I guess we’re co-op multiplayer now – they fucked up the "dark" thing in the last Alone in the Dark by setting the whole game on fire so now they’re fucking up the "alone" part instead!
“Yeah, guess I’m pretty lame, well I’ll just toddle off to the bottom of Metacritic for the rest of time then…”
Not so fast, Alone in the Dark: Illumination, you’re getting a full review, for no better reason than because you tried to sneak out quietly like a fart in a job interview and I ain’t letting that fly on my watch!
Alone in the Dark is indeed a Left 4 Dead-style four player co-op shooter, so like a deep space exploration probe it’s about six or seven years behind the rest of planet Earth. Each player takes the role of one of four characters: the hunter, Edward Carnby, whose main role in combat is to wear a t-shirt with “series continuity” written on it; the witch, whose role is to look good in a miniskirt and fling lightning with a gesture like she’s trying to shake snot off her hand; and then there’s a priest and a female engineer, and isn’t it nice to know cast members of Firefly are still finding work! These four unique talents work extremely well together – or extremely poorly. I don’t know, because I found no functional public servers and I didn’t want to lose what few Steam friends I have by asking them to download this garbage!
I played alone in the single player and learned to live with the sense of rejection from three-quarters of the random pickups being for someone else. Why even spawn the fucking things?! It’s like online dating all over again!
But I don’t remember any moment in the game when having another player around would have helped, frankly. The central game mechanic around which the game names itself is the fact that monsters only become vulnerable in light. This is explained by a piece of story dialogue saying “the monster became vulnerable in light”. Nice world building there, Alone in the Dark.
“As the light hit the creature, mutated plants in the graveyard soil still clinging to its rotten form grew with supernatural speed, pushing the hardened scales of its outer flesh apart.” See how easy this is, I just made that up!
Monsters only being vulnerable in light is the kind of mechanic that probably sounded like a good idea at the planning stage, but in practice it means turning on a light and then waiting for the enemy to queue up in single file for an ass whoopin’. But the enemies constantly respawn and you’re not going to be completing the current arbitrary fetch quest standing under a streetlight like a mournful hooker in a gritty musical. So you keep moving and swiftly find that it’s a lot more expedient to just maintain enough of a brisk walking pace to stay ahead of the shambling horrors and go about your daily life unmolested. That’s if it weren’t for the fucking poison-spitting ones that make no sound and have laser accuracy, so the first time you know of its presence is the moment when you get a shamrock shake to the eyeballs. The scenery’s in cahoots because it maliciously becomes non-corporeal just when you think it will block the shot. And then the poison will make your health tick down for a bit – it might as well just knock it off in one go! There are no healing abilities or items you can carry, so if you’re low on health and not three feet from a resupply shelf, all you can do is try to adopt a hilarious suggestive pose before you die!
You’d think a game with a priest class but no self-heal ability would be like a Cub Scout camping weekend without a bed-wetting incident, but in truth, the classes all have the exact same role – shoot the baddies when they’re in light, use special ability to kill baddies that aren’t in light. In which case, you might as well just stick with the hunter, who gets as many guns as he can fit in his Y-fronts and a fucking flamethrower - I know of very few instances in which the word "flamethrower" could not be preceded by the word "fucking"!
“Hey, I could infuse my bullets with the power of Christ in order to turn a single monster into a light source so that all the monsters around it-”
“Or I could just napalm the room with my flamethrower!”
“Or I suppose you could just napalm the room with your fucking flamethrower…” Must have been a blow to spend your whole life currying favor with Jesus to the point that he’ll let you weaponize him, and only then find out that gasoline exists!
You know, I could go on picking apart how all the little cracks and subtle odors go together to make this monster turd, but let’s get down to broad analysis - not that kind of broad analysis!
Is it fun? No, it’s as fun as playing two-hundred consecutive games of patty cake during a prolonged blackout!
Is it scary? No, it’s as scary as see above.
Fuck it then, I stopped playing after four missions and I can tell the developers gave up on it long before I did, with its text dumps in place of narrative and the way it was released like an unwanted dog on the side of a highway. So why should I put in any more effort? I’m going to review the remainder of the missions from their names alone.
Dark Crypt - as opposed to all those lovely well-illuminated crypts where all the dance parties take place! Seriously guys, you couldn’t think of a single other word that means "foreboding?" What about “Creepy Crypt”? Or does that sound too much like a Banjo-Kazooie level?
Reflective Pond – could’ve done with one of these before you embarked on this venture, couldn’t you Atari? Assuming the sight of your own visage doesn’t turn you to stone!
Sonorous Sewer?... what’s that, the new album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds?
Silent Quarry – oh, I see what you did there!
Train Graveyard – well, that’s what happens when you try to get home from Toowong Station at one in the morning!
Final Facility – and how very welcome it is, but I really think the series has only been going downhill since Final Facility Seven!
Alone in most lighting conditions: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
What the hell kind of name is Edward Carnby anyway. Hey, is that Edward over there? No, it carnby
Sure was a nice IP while it lasted