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Alone in the Dark to brighten gaming

This is the Edward Carnby we’ve always known? Yep.

This is the Edward Carnby we’ve always known? Yep. Atari/Eden

While everyone finishes their copies of Metal Gear Solid 4 (did you buy a PS3 just for that? Sony thanks you), Atari and developer Eden are dropping a new version of stalwart survival-horror franchise Alone in the Dark on us, and it's looking to set the world on fire. Literally.

The further exploits of Edward Carnby — who this time is somehow transported from 1920s Louisiana to modern-day New York, sans moustache and waistcoat — is the return of a franchise that is the grandfather of survival horror (save 1989's Japan-only Sweet Home, which was an RPG about a house haunted by the spirit of a child-murdering woman).

"This game is more a rebirth of the series," Nour Polloni, producer at Eden Games, told tbt*. "We think of it as a spiritual successor to the very first game which inspired us in that it shares the same spirit of innovation."

That innovation includes a proprietary engine that promises to use fire effects and lighting in ways never before seen in video games. Entire environments are supposed to react to user input, from waving a light around the room and casting dynamic shadows to making a Molotov cocktail out of a can of lighter fluid.

"There have been other games with beautiful-looking fire, and other games with realistic propagation," Polloni said. "What we managed to do over the course of a year of intense work was bring these together and also have the fire generating real-time lights. ... The result is pretty spectacular."

But the implications go much further than beautiful graphics. What this means is that gamers will no longer be held at the mercy of needing to find items to do simple tasks. Need a torch? Set a chair on fire. Need to get through a door? Ditch the tedious fetch quest for a key and light the door on fire, weakening it so you can break it down.

It's a system that other franchises may do well to emulate, because the genre so heavily cannibalizes itself. This fifth iteration of Alone in the Dark uses Resident Evil 4's over-the-shoulder perspective instead of the traditional fixed camera, and is full of Silent Hill-style atmospherics. But the new real-time inventory screen (shown as Carnby peering into his jacket pockets) and episodic format (leaving each level as a cliffhanger to stop game play, featuring a teaser of the upcoming mission and recapping events when you return) are things we'll likely see again.

And yet, the series seems to be staying true to its 1992 roots. The story involves exploring the caverns under Central Park, similar to those under Derceto, the mansion from the original. The plot should still hearken back to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythology. And that fire, which burned the tree holding the spirit of Ezejial Pregzt in the first game, is still blazing.

So, hopefully, Polloni is right when she calls the result "pretty spectacular." We'll see when the game is released for the 360, Wii, PS2 and PC on Tuesday (PS3 owners have to wait until the fall — but you've still got MGS4).

Alone in the Dark to brighten gaming 06/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 12:27pm]
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