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PS3 Fanboy hands-on: Alone in the Dark

David Craddock
During a recent Atari-sponsored hands-on event, Alone in the Dark designer Emile Morel licked his lips, opened his mouth, and closed it. He smiled and leaned back in his chair, spread his hands, then let them drop into his lap. "When the Alone in the Dark released in June, we were... we were kind of disappointed by some of the reviews," he finally said with a laugh.

"Disappointed" does appropriately articulate the feeling of many critics and consumers toward developer Eden Studios' action-horror title. Plagued by cumbersome controls, a camera that didn't believe in personal space, confusing inventory management, and treating the slaughter of enemies as a chore instead of a delight, Eden is approaching the PS3 release of Alone in the Dark as a second chance, an opportunity to show gamers that they care enough about their product to correct what was indisputably a painful release.

High on Eden's to-do list was a complete revision of both camera and controls. The camera, once locked almost obsessively behind protagonist Edward's shoulder, is now controllable using the right analog stick. Those who don't wish to constantly correct the camera's point-of-view can ignore the right stick completely - the camera will still follow behind Edward, but at a further distance so that more than the character's burly shoulder is viewable.

Formerly sluggish and nearly unresponsive at times, the control scheme has been heavily polished to produce lightning quick responses. Instead of a slow rotation when commanded to turn, Edward promptly sprints in the requested direction, as the need to press a run button has been omitted. Movement is also fully 3D, allowing Edward to move in any direction rather than trudge backward or to either side.

Because camera controls have usurped wielding items from the right stick, players must now hold L1 while moving the right stick to control items. As with normal movement, the dual role of the right stick feels snappy and well-honed. Grab an item, hold L1 and wiggle the stick to swing the makeshift weapon to and fro, then immediately release L1 and, upon completing a swing in-progress, the camera will immediately slip back into the driver's seat. The quick response time allows for surrounded gamers to whack one enemy with a weapon, spin both the camera and character around, and clobber the next monster, all with a minimal amount o button fumbling.

Damage done by wielded objects has been increased significantly, so a convenient two to three strikes rather than six or more should down most enemies.

Though switching to first-person view is no longer required to examine the environment, the point-of-view has been given its own revamp via a viewbob (having the character's arm and weapon bob slightly while moving), which eliminates the motion sickness experienced by some when watching a character skim motionlessly over terrain.

Perhaps the most decried aspect of Alone in the Dark was inventory management, which required players to follow anal instructions when navigating their collected items and combining one or more into hybridized weapons. Navigation is now accomplished by scrolling left and right. Creating custom items no longer requires players to combine everything in a specific order. Want to blend bullets with the bottle? Select one, select the other, and presto -- the combination is ready for use.

Speaking of blending bottles and bullets, that combination, among others, seems to be a frequent fallback for many players. Such dependencies caused Eden to implement a favorites menu, which allows players to one combination per d-pad button. After several times of creating certain combos, the game will ask players if they would like to map the mixture to a button. Simply select the direction of your choice and press it at anytime during gameplay to put the mixture into immediate action.

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