Friday, October 30, 2009

The Dark Shadows That Plague Kaiser Crowbar's Crypt of Doom (A Games You Should Know About... Halloween Special)

The survival horror genre has been a staple of mainstream video games for over a decade.  Most of us remember playing Resident Evil for the first time and actually being creeped out by a video game.  I remember playing it with tense apprehension, waiting for something to jump out at me so I could put a few shotgun shells in it before I wigged out too much.  The fear factor wore off after the first time playing, but the game did give you a good experience.  After the success of the Resident Evil series (which is still going strong), Capcom and other companies capitalized on the rise of the genre.  From the disturbing pshchological terror of Silent Hill, to the eerie horror of Fatal Frame, to the seat-of-your-pants zombie survival bonanza Dead Rising.  It was all thanks to Resident Evil for being the first survival horror game that started it all... or did it?

Actually, Resident Evil was not the first survival horror video game.  That honor would probably belong to another Capcom game, Sweet Home, which was released in 1989 in tandem with the movie of the same name.  Though Resident Evil did borrow a lot from this game, Sweet Home was never released outside of Japan and was an 8-bit RPG for the Famicom.  Resident Evil is a 3D game, so would that make Resident Evil the first 3D survival horror game to reach the States?

No.  Another game beat RE to the punch by four years.  That game was Alone in the Dark.  It was primarily made for PCs and Macintosh computers, but a version did crop up on the lackluster 3DO console.  It took place in 1925, as a paranormal investigator, Edward Carnby, discovers terrible horrors in a Louisiana mansion where the owner committed suicide.  The game has a heavy Lovecraftian influence and is considered a classic by many old school afficionados (I wouldn't know, though.  I spent most of my life without a computer, so I never played this game).

So, if I never played this game, why am I writing about it?  Well, the game did have sequels.  Both AITD 2 and 3 followed as direct sequels to the game, but didn't have as much Lovecraftian influence.  It wasn't until the fourth game came out that I took notice.  Titled Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, it seemed like a reboot of the franchise.  It retained a lot of Lovecraft's influence, but the monsters in the game are not quite like the Cthulhu mythos.

The hero, again, is Edward Carnby.  Some people have theorized that he, inexplicably, was in a coma for several decades and that this is the exact same guy from the first game.  Regardless, he decides to go to this island off the coast of Maine after his partner dies while investigating there.  Along for the ride is the beautiful Aline Cedrac, a young professor at Boston University who is looking for Obed Morton, who, supposedly, inherited this island, as well as some "research," from his father.  Of course, there's much more to this story than is let on in the beginning.  It seems that the island is filled with these monsters who come from a shadow dimension and are eager to kill anything in their sight.  The player will also come across lots of zombie-like creatures: corpses that were injected with some of the inorganic material that the shadow monsters are made of.  They were brought back to some abomination of life, much like Lovecraft's story, Herbert West: Reanimaror.

The player can play either Carnby or Cedrac.  Each character has their own different game experience, as both of them are exploring the old mansion nestled on the island.  The game plays a lot like Resident Evil, you run around (just like in RE, it's like steering a tank), picking up items, solving puzzles, and shooting monsters.  But this game does some things differently.  First off, this game has a lot of investigation, in the way of reading letters, documents, diary entries, photos, and audio recordings, in order to get a lot of the backstory, which is pretty involved.  I certainly recommend reading every document you find.  It may take some time, but the backstory is rewarding. 

Another innovation with this game has to do with the lighting.  Light plays an important part in this game, from the way that lights will go out just when the monsters appear, to actually having weapons that use light, such as the phosphorescent bullets that Carnby uses, to kill monsters.  This may sound insignificant, but the flashlight in this game is quite impressive.  Considering the character and monsters are 3D representations on a pre-rendered 2D backdrop, the flashlight actually interacts perfectly with the 2D background, making a realistic spot of light appear wherever you aim the flashlight (and you can aim the flashlight to search through the dark surroundings).  It's actually a good effect.

The voice acting is a step up from the original RE.  It doesn't sound as forced or corny (no "Jill sandwiches" here).  Some of the voice actors do ham it up a bit, but it sounds much better than Barry from RE repeatedly saying, "What is it?" in such an unconvincing voice.

Like I said before, gameplay is similar to RE because this came out after and uses some of the influences from the game.  I do like that the left analog stick is used to aim your flashlight while you're searching.  You can also aim both your gun and flashlight at the same time, so you can see what you're shooting.  The dual shock controllers are a must for this game, because the game uses the vibration function to kinda give you chills at appropriate times.

Despite a lot of reviewers saying this is just another RE knockoff, it really is much more than that.  It provides atmosphere, depth, and real scares to your gaming experience.  I recommend you pick up a copy.

Now, I know that the picture above is for a PS2 version of the game, but unless you live in England, you're shit outta luck.  The PS2 version is only available for PAL systems.  I own the PS1 version of the game, which has the least impressive graphics out of all the versions.  There is a Dreamcast and PC version of the game available, but I don't know how well the controlls would work, since the control scheme seems to be made for Sony's systems.

With that being said, this video is definitely not from the PS1 version.  Most likely, it's from either the PC or Dreamcast version.  So enjoy, and always be wary of things in the dark.

Kaiser out

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