It has been stated before: Alone in the Dark is the overlooked grandfather franchise of the survival horror genre, and it led the way for the more popular Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises while producing its own library of sequels (the most recent one, subtitled The New Nightmare, was relatively well received back in 2001). So, why should anyone really care that this 15-year-old series has been resurrected once again? Well, if you watched the Uwë Boll's craptacular movie that sported the same title, but little else from the game, you might not be. However, the developers at Atari seem to be cooking up a unique and possibly ground-breaking sequel with this latest scare-fest for the next-generation systems.
Every game in the series features the protagonist, Edward Carnby, a paranormal detective of sorts like those boys from the CW's Supernatural. Not much has been revealed about the plot of the game, though interesting questions have been raised from what little can be gleaned. The original title took place in 1926, but this Carnby, the same Carnby, is taking on the dark forces of evil in the year 2006 without even the barest hint that he's a card-carrying AARP member. Atari promises that his remarkable ability to stave off the aging process will be part of the game's plot.
What is truly interesting to me is the game's setting, revealed previously in video footage released at E3 and X06. The next-gen Alone in the Dark is set in New York, and more specifically, the landmark known as Central Park accurately recreated except for the ghostly goings-on. Apparently, the park will harbor dark secrets and underground tunnels that will give the hero a fun place to play. If the disclaimers about being actual gameplay footage can be believed, the graphics should look appropriately next-gen, with all kinds of moody lighting and effects to add to that persistent dread of the dark. Carnby looks grim, the monsters look pretty, freakin' monstrous, and the gameplay looks fast-paced, smooth and dangerous.
Speaking of play, the game itself most likely will be fairly action-oriented, with driving sequences and gunplay. Here's to hoping that the emphasis on action will be reminiscent of the recent hit, Resident Evil 4, which broke an entire factory of molds with its approach to horror. Unlike RE4, however, inventory management will not feature briefcases or like containers. Rather, a simple use of Edward Carnby's pockets will allow for a streamlined approach to accessing needed tools. One pocket will feature your sidearm, and the other pocket will keep vital items…possibly chewing gum or an iPod with appropriately creepy music files.
The makers of Alone in the Dark will also be taking a unique approach to the storytelling department, as the plot will unfold in episodic events closely resembling TV shows. Think along the lines of Heroes or Lost, where after a few hours of zipping through the story, a cliffhanger ending will close off the chapter. This serial format will allow for short bouts of gameplay with the supposedly big payoff for each chapter ending, and (for the cynically minded) should help Atari create a clamor for purchasable content downloads down the road. It could be a brilliant new model for creating action games that might fit the medium better than trying to squeeze a two-hour blockbuster film into 10 to 15 hours of playable fun. Or, it could be a horrible, commercially driven attempt to part addicted fans from their hard-earned dollars with the dangling carrot of Xbox Live downloads.
Late next year the general public should find out if Alone in the Dark will redefine how we play out story-driven games, and possibly how we pay for them. If Edward Carnby can turn out to be a darker, more scare-oriented version of Jack Bauer, all might go well. In any case, it will be interesting to see this venerable series rise up after a six-year hiatus to challenge the more recent kings of survival-horror in an attempt to make hardened, veteran gamers keep the lights on at night.