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The 'Supernatural Private Eye' is back, as the blurb on the box eagerly proclaims, and indeed he is, in this first sequel to the surprise hit, Alone in the Dark. For those of you who may have missed the original game, the player took control of Edward Carnby, or Emily Hartwood, and were dropped into Derceto, a haunted mansion filled with mystery and horror. The game followed in the footsteps of the writings of H.P Lovecraft, a noted and disturbingly good horror writer, famed for his nightmarish legends. The game made references to such creatures as 'Cthulu' and several other unpronouncable beasts.
It is Christmas 1924. Young Grace Saunders has been kidnapped, and held without a ransom demand. At their wits end, the girl's parents hire a private detective to find the child, a man named Stryker, a close friend of Carnby. He follows the trail to an old mansion, the depressingly named Hell's Kitchen (then again, the Beast of 23 Rose Cottages, Chelmsford, wouldn't have quite the same ring). He discovers that Grace is being held by a pirate named One-Eyed-Jack, who intends to sacrifice her to prolong his own crew's immortality. Stryker calls Carnby, and informs him of this, who steps in to assist. However, all does not go well, for Stryker, and he meets his death at the hands of Elizabeth Jarret, Jack's voodoo cohort, and Carnby is left very much alone. Looks like the forecast is for puzzle solving and gratitous violence.
Well, then, onto the game itself. Alone 2 is a much bigger game than Alone 1, taking place in and around Hell's Kitchen. The game covers not only the house itself, from cellar to attic, but a pirate ship, the gardens, a large hedge maze, as well as the catacombs and caves that the designers of Alone 1 seemed so fond of. The plot, however, is on a different tack. While Alone 1 was very Lovecraftian, Alone 2 deals with Voodoo, and the like, so voodoo dolls and chicken bits ahoy. There has been an attempt to make the characters stronger, with books and ships logs detailing Jack's pirate crew. Although it has to be said, I did find it a little strange to find all these helpful books just 'lying around'.
The pirates have settled into their home, and are initially dressed as gangsters, and are armed with tommy guns and hand guns. And Carnby.. well, he has a revolver. Although he does, somewhat miraculously seem to be able to take dozens of rounds in the chest before popping his polygoned clogs. The graphics are in the same style as Alone 1, albeit a little more detailed. All the characters are composed of a number of polygons, and although this means they all look a little angled, they all move rather well. The action is viewed from a number of viewpoints, from a number of cameras in each room. The view switch as you move around, usually providing you with the best view of the action, although sometimes things do end up obscured by other characters. The backgrounds are all well drawn, in full detail, while the characters are moved around and on the rooms. This works very well, and while the viewpoint can't be rotated freely, this isn't usually necessary. Granted, the graphics do look pretty dated today, but that shouldn't be a huge barrier to enjoying the game.
Carnby is not empty handed for long, however, as defeating the first pirate gives him a tommy gun, and a loading clip. Even so, ammo is in short supply, and any thoughts you may have had of spraying the pirates with bullets, doom style, will be sorely dashed. Waste your ammo, and it's down to bare fist fighting, and while effective in close quarters, it is slow, and not particularly helpful when a pirate is picking you off with a pistol. Ammo is placed at strategic places, so aim carefully, and you might just make it. Make no mistake, this is no walkover, and those used to a diet of adventure games may find the combat a little off-putting. It is, however, essential that you get the hang of it, but running around, firing aimlessly will get you nowhere.
Alone 2, in the mould of many a game, is the tried but tested one fighter against the world scenario, but with a little subtlety added. You will need guile and wits as well as brute strength to succeed. One particular puzzle that may cut short Carnby's life span, is the problem of getting around the house safely. The pirates are initally occupied inside various rooms, but there is a little cook wandering around the hallway, and as soon as he recognizes you, he will yell for help from the pirates. And they come running, armed to the teeth. So you run away. And they follow, guns blazing, till Carnby is no more. Time to Reload or Restart. Now... if you could just stop that Cook noticing you. Let's just say that a little Christmas Spirit won't hurt.
While arcade skills will certainly help, running around taking pot shots at everything won't guarantee victory. You need to have your wits about you as well, to handle the various puzzles and problems that present themselves, or Grace Saunders may never live to see another Christmas. The solution to a puzzle is usually close to hand, and the problems are not generally as difficult as some graphic adventures, but they will serve to keep you occupied for some time. Alone in the Dark 1 had two characters, Carnby, and Emily Hartwood, who, although having different motives, handled exactly the same. They could both take the same number of hits, were both as fast as each other, and generally made little difference to how you played the game. Alone 2 takes a different tack. While you are in control of Carnby for about three quarters of the game, at certain points, control switches to Grace Saunders, the little girl Carnby sets out to rescue. Suddenly, the player is no-longer a gung-ho karate kicking detective, but a small, and scared little girl. And this certainly effects the way the game is played. Closed doors become a major obstacle, stairs become great hills, and the world becomes a much bigger place. Grace understandably lacks the force to take out a pirate, and is forced to hide where she can, and laying traps for the bad guys, adopting commando tactics, to reach her goal. Speed and stealth become the order of the day.
While putting Grace under the player's control may be a sound idea, there are a number of irritating points that crop up. Since violence against children would have the public up in arms, the traditional hit point scheme does not apply. Instead, the game ends if Grace is caught by a pirate, Carnby's hopes of release dashed.This ends up being very frustrating. The pirates seem to be endowed with E.S.P. Grace can be walking along happily, a pirate stands with his back turned, at a distance. Suddenly, her foot just tags this invisible boundary. Game over. "What?", I feel like yelling "Come on! Move!". But does she? No. She stands there, sobbing, while the pirate ambles over at a snails pace. Fortunately, if you can put up with this, the game does force you to think differently, and it is not long before Carnby is free once more. A spark of originality, from a frequently copied game. Yes, I'm looking at you, Resident Evil.
The sound effects are pretty good, with the clash of steel, and thwack of fist against pirate skull adding to the atmosphere. Walking is accompanied by the appropriate gravelly or woody sounds, and being spotted by a pirate usually elicits a 'Hey you!' or, more bizarrely 'Morning, Sir' . Always a nice word, before they lay into you. The music is stored as Audio Tracks on the CD, and the tunes range from jolly sea shanties (though thankfully without the accompanying lyrics.. anyone remember Richie Rich's Bottom shanty?), to more foreboding organ type music, and usually changes randomly throughout the game. But somehow, it always manages to be appropriate.
One thing that deserves a mention of its own, is the speech. The actors who read the speech (not out of work, merely between jobs), have so far managed to put Alone 1 and 2 in a different class in the speech stakes. It is not at all well done, and ranges from the dull and lifeless, to the outrageous and overdone. A big slice of ham has to go to the bloke who reads the crew musters. He does so in a ridiculously put on pirate voice, that would put Long John Silver to shame. You can almost imagine a parrot on his shoulder. I'd accept it if it was meant to be funny, but the rest of the speech is generally deadly dull. And worst of all, there's no option to turn it off. Every other game manages to have at least average voices, or no voices at all, so maybe Infogrames should have picked up on this.
The atmosphere isn't on the whole as good as Alone 1, where there was the whole Cthulu mythos to fall back on. Alone 2 attempts to create it's own background, with varying degrees of success. The game has its moments, such as the sight of Carnby writhing in agony, as Elizabeth Jarret toys with a voodoo doll of him, and certainly isn't short on special effects. It just doesn't seem to be quite as terror inducing, or frighting as the first game. The subject matter was used quite successfully by Sierra in Gabriel Knight. I think what it boils down to is that no ghost pirate is quite as terrifying as the tentacles and ghostly forms of Alone 1.
That said, the finale, with Carnby being chased by a.. well, I won't say what, comes close. Throwing in enemies thick and fast doesn't quite compensate. Despite what I've said, Alone 2 is well worth getting, especially if you liked Alone 1. It's a far above average game, big enough to keep you busy for a while, and with enough pull to make you replay it occasionally. It's not going to strain your brain as much as some graphic adventures, but if you want a decent arcade adventure game, you could do far worse than Alone in the Dark 2. It's certainly a lot better than either of the more modern remakes.
(review written by me and originally posted on GamesDomain)