And if it is, fix the hell out of it. That’s exactly what developer Eden Games did following the overwhelming bitch storm that followed the PC and 360 release of the much-anticipated Alone in the Dark. We all know the story: fiddly controls, broken gameplay mechanics and a truly agonizing root-hunting sequence that gets sprung on you towards the end of the game all added up to a mediocre action/horror experience most gamers were content to skip. “It’s not like we pretended we made the perfect game,” said game designer Emile Morel as I sat down for some hands-on with the PS3 version of Alone in the Dark. “We read reviews… We wanted to make it better.”They haven’t changed the plot, mind you – so any beef you had with the implausibility of the story or the lameness of the setting will still be valid. But, I can say after only twenty minutes of playtime, that Alone in the Dark on PS3 really is better. A lot better. Which is damned impressive considering Eden only had four months of turnaround time between the 360 and PS3 release (so for once, we should be grateful that the PS3 dev cycle takes longer). The biggest improvement is the camera. It’s pulled farther back so you can see more and you control it with the right analog stick, as God intended. Even better, it automatically repositions itself behind you as you move, so you don’t have to babysit the camera while rounding corners or targeting enemies. Oh yeah, about targeting… With the right stick being given over to the camera, you have to hold down L1 in order to manipulate the objects or weapons Edward Carnby picks up with the right analog stick. This is a bonus, actually, because L1 also targets enemies, so it’s like having a Grand Theft Auto style of combat instead of that senseless flailing from the 360 version. (Also, Morel says the targeting system automatically chooses the most dangerous foe – a real plus, if he’s telling the truth.) In addition to combat changes, Carnby’s overall movements have been redone so that gameplay is much, much smoother. His turns are tighter, he never walks backwards, and his default speed is running so you don't have to hold down a button to haul ass. This carries over into the first person view as well, so expect less eyestrain as you pan around looking for enemies. The enemies themselves have also been fiddled with such that the weapon you use on them actually matters. The bigger the stick you hit the monster with, the less times you have to hit it. And baddies fall down more easily now, so you can torch them that much easier.
Speaking of torching – the inventory system got all the attention it needed. No more stupid menu scrolling (“Do you really want to drop this item… are you sure?”), and they’ve gotten rid of the battery pack so you’ve got more space to work with. (Really, unless Carnby’s packing dollar store flashlights, he should be able to get through one night of terror in New York City on a single set of batteries.) Combining items is way easier since now you don’t have to select the correct items in order (bottle before lighter or lighter before bottle?), and the game now pauses when you enter the inventory screen so you actually have time to be creative with the combos. The pausing also allowed Eden to change the way you maneuver through the inventory – now you can go from left to right or right to left, one item at a time with a simple tap of the D-pad. Also, and Morel got a little testy when he told me this, the hot key combo option is still available so you don’t even have to go into the inventory to get out your favorite weapon set. Still – as in, you could do this on the 360 version, but apparently people didn’t know that and complained bitterly about how hard it was to get out the Molotov cocktails and handgun over and over again. They didn’t fix that loading screen that says “cloth in a bottle is the best way to make a Molotov cocktail” – as far as I know, that’s the only way to make a Molotov cocktail, and I’d have so bugged that if I’d been testing this game. Thank God I wasn’t though, because I would have died of agony if I had to do the driving levels over and over again. Even now that they’ve fixed some of the issues with driving in Alone in the Dark, I still suck at it. But I am glad they slowed down the monster chasing you in the getting to Central Park sequence. Insta-death is never a good thing. Also, they’ve tweaked the handling and collision issues so you’re not fishtailing every time you get too close to the curb – and added a checkpoint halfway through the level. The last – and perhaps most glaring – issue Eden got around to fixing was that root-burning sequence. Instead of dumping it on you towards the end of the game, the quest is introduced in Chapter 3 and you have the whole rest of the game to get around to it instead of having to go back and burn them all before you can finish the game. And the percentage of roots you need to burn to complete the quest has been lowered from 75% to 50%, so really, this is going to be a lot less aggravating. Ultimately, Eden wanted to make Alone in the Dark on PS3 a game you could enjoy without getting hung up on technical issues. There’re still going to be problems, of course – four months isn’t enough time to fix everything, and some things aren’t bugs at all. For example, there was some griping about the survival-horror aspect of the game being muddled. Morel tells me that Alone in the Dark isn’t even supposed to be survival-horror – it’s intended as action-adventure. As if to drive that point home, a new section has been added to Chapter 6 exclusively for the PS3 version. I don’t want to give too much away – but imagine that scene from Jurassic Park where the T-Rex is chasing the Jeep had sex with the ending scene in Speed on the subway train. It’s the baby of that (and that’s why you always use protection, kids). So I say to you jaded gamers and to any other journalists who might be perusing this piece (get back to work, you bums): give Alone in the Dark on PS3 a chance to stand on its own. Pretend you never set eyes on the 360 version. And journos – do not copy-paste your old review and add a mere paragraph describing all of the effort Eden put in to making the PS3 version a better game. That’s cheating. Alone in the Dark on PS3 ships in November. P.S. – Sadly, there won’t be any Trophies at launch. Eden was anxious to get this game out the door on-time; but they’re totally open to doing a patch sometime in the very near future.