The 1992 PC title Alone In The Dark created the survival horror genre by fusing early 3D graphics with puzzles and Lovecraftian influence. Sixteen years later, a fourth sequel under the original name attempts to redefine the genre by tweaking how players interact with their character and his dark world, but it discards basic game concepts. What remains is an ungainly mess.
Amnesiac Edward Carnby wakes up in a posh apartment off Central Park just as the joint is besieged by evil cracks in the walls. (These count as horror to Manhattanites who pay millions for a one-bedroom.) The action soon moves to the dark of Central Park, though even when human and animal threats converge, the atmosphere never gels into real terror.
Fire is the game's visual signature, providing light and consuming objects in a way few games have previously managed. It also destroys evil, so Edward quickly becomes an accomplished pyromaniac. His inventory is limited to roughly a dozen items, many of which can be combined into improvised firebombs. Homemade objects also help solve many of the simple puzzles, a small step forward from survival horror's old "find the keycard" scheme. (In the unlikely event any section proves indomitable, a mechanism lets you skip forward to see the whole story.)
Every clever use of objects or fire is counterbalanced by sloppy basic design. Edward's movement is sluggish, and his object control imprecise. Setting him on fire is often easier than burning enemies. Combat is a distraction rather than a pressing concern. And the only car that doesn't handle like a skittering landscaping cart is (perhaps appropriately) the landscaping cart.
Beyond the game: As if Uwe Boll's Alone In The Dark pseudo-sequel movie wasn't bad enough, a new film incorporating some of this chapter's story points is in the works. The first film's writers are directing.
Worth playing for: The moments when a bomb made out of several household products actually takes out a room full of enemies in exactly the way you hoped it might.
Frustration sets in when: You need access to the new inventory system, which has Edward opening his jacket and slowly poking around within, as if he's selling watches in Union Square. The health system, which has him looking down to spray wounds with disinfectant, fares slightly better.
Final judgment: Valiantly tries out new ideas, but misses the forest for the trees.