Atari released its Beta version of Alone in the Dark Illumination for those who pre-order via Steam the full game costing £22.99 on PC. We’ve sunk around four hours making sense of the H.P. Lovecraftian inspired events and found an interesting prospect that is perhaps not worth its price tag unless some major issues are fixed. Now before readers utter the words, “well it’s only a Beta” we have to state from our own experiences that Betas are usually quite close to the finished product and if you look at it a certain way it’s understandable why. Unlike an Early Access game which is continually updated until release, a Beta is there to present the game to the masses in its most consumer ready state. It makes little sense to showcase a product that falls well under par running the risk of alienating potential buyers. So with this sentiment in mind, we assume Illumination is pretty much as it will be for the final game when it launches in March.
Firstly looking at the good aspects of the game and it’s clear there’s some fun to be had utilizing the basic tactical elements on offer which include being able to switch on lights to illuminate foes – a requirement that allows them to be killed – and grabbing ammo and health packs to aid survival. Enemies that are not fully lit up are invulnerable to conventional weapons fire and require being toasted with a flame-thrower, except, ammo for this is scarce and sometimes not available at all. The lighting of fires or switching on floodlights becomes integral to success enabling our hero to hit back, although the lights have a limited duration which adds to the fear as players become bathed in darkness at crucial moments where guns suddenly become useless. There’s an interesting cat and mouse style gameplay mechanic going on as players shuffle about in the dark against ever re-spawning enemies who either lunge at you with sharpened claws or sit back and shoot green goo in your face. Luckily the player character can sprint for a limited time to escape or reach one of the mini fetch quest type objectives (grab battery from point A and insert it at point B…repeat). The sprinting is hampered by a stamina bar which takes a while to replenish and often leaves the character fumbling in the dark and moving with the agility of a snail causing much frustration. Players can level up their character which improves the stats each time making things a little easier, but it’s certainly a bit of a slog to make any headway after so many deaths. The open levels also mix things up on repeated plays, locking doors for example leaving players searching for alternate routes and paths to objectives which is neat, although not being able to climb inanimate objects is a shame.
In terms of atmosphere, there’s some neat visual elements on offer providing spooky back drops to the action which are pleasant, although most often covered in an abundance of darkness to show off much detail. In many ways, the levels work well in providing an impending sense of dread and a real appreciation for those light switches, although the dreary nature of the locations sit on the side of moody rather than awe inspiring – it’s not called Alone in the Dark for nothing.
Looking at the negatives and it’s clear the game still needs a lot of work if it’s to stand up against similar third person action games. The first annoyance is the close camera view of the character which makes it hard to see anything that’s not directly in front. There’s additional problems here when the player is caught out by an exploding enemy which knocks you to the ground leaving you unable to actually see the character until he regains his feet.
The gun play is also quite basic where weapons feel mostly like pea shooters offering no real kick against the hordes of generic looking enemies and ultimately less satisfaction taking them down. The hit and death animations are also of a low quality making the game feel more nostalgic than anything which is a shame.
Alone In the Dark Illumination promises much more than what the Beta affords such as online co-op play, customizable characters and the choice of selecting several archetype heroes who come with their own unique skills. A further beta is planned nearer to the game’s release and should hopefully allow players to sample some of these elements. That said, in its basic form as presented now the game can only be recommended to those who have too much money to burn or are die-hard Alone in the Dark fans. Anyone else is probably going to find the uninspiring gameplay not worth the price of entry and likely to fall foul of a negative feeling towards the finished product before it releases.
With some tweaking it’s entirely possible for the game to move up to par, and if this is accomplished then there’s an interesting prospect here that probably won’t win any awards but might be fun to play. We’ll reserve judgement until we get our hands on the finished product. As with any game, pre-order at your own risk is what we’re going to leave you with here.