Playing through Alone in the Dark, you begin to feel a creeping sensation that something is not quite right. This unease is not born of the dark, sinister plot or engendered by your unholy, malevolent foes; rather, it is spawned from the sizable rift between the game's celestial aspirations and terrestrial execution. There are a number of great elements here that are regrettably hampered by pervasive technical shortcomings. This disconnect keeps Alone in the Dark from reaching its full potential, but doesn't keep it from presenting a unique and often rewarding action adventure experience for those with the patience to stick with it.
As the gruff, amnesiac protagonist, you make your way through a disaster-struck New York City into Central Park, where you begin to unravel the many mysteries before you. One of the most intriguing and well-executed elements of this adventure is the inventory and item system. The game allows you only as many items as you can fit in your belt and jacket pockets; and, in a move that visually subverts the convention of the vast yet unseen inventory, you literally open up your jacket and look down to see what you've got. While it's never quite groundbreaking, this subversion does appear in myriad ways throughout the game, and creates the feeling that there is something novel about Alone in the Dark. You experience this feeling of novelty the first time you look down at your limbs to heal your gaping bloody wounds with medical spray, but some of the thrill will dissipate when you watch your blue jeans regenerate along with your flesh.
Sticking a hideous demon with a Molotov cocktail is ever so fun.
The limited array of items you can pick up as you move through the world belies the complexity with which they can be combined to serve your purposes. The explosive power of a plastic bottle filled with flammable liquid is obvious, but what if you wrap it in double-sided tape, stuff a bandage in it, light it, and stick it to an enemy? Then you've got a slow-burning Molotov cocktail perfect for blowing up the hive that your spidery foe is returning to. Tape a box of bullets to the bottle, chuck it at a cluster of enemies, and shoot it midair to unleash a decidedly nasty explosion. Poured out all your liquid while immolating downed demons? Grab your knife and puncture the gas tank on a car for a quick refill. There are multifarious possible item combinations, and while you'll generally stick to a select few for killing enemies (flaming bullets, midair explodables, spray-can flamethrower), the game makes you flesh out your repertoire by demanding specific actions to solve certain puzzles.
Most of the puzzles in the game involve vanquishing the evil beings that are now the main inhabitants of Central Park. Since all enemies can only be permanently offed with fire, you'll have to find a way to make them burn, baby, burn. The most straightforward method is to grab a flammable object, like a chair or a broom. Then walk over to any open flame and set fire to the object by inclining the analog stick toward the flame. Wielding the blazing object, you target your foe, set up your attack by tilting the stick in one direction, then strike by flicking the stick in the opposite direction. It's a lot of fun to smack monsters with chairs, shovels, baseball bats, tree limbs and so forth, and the analog stick actions you must perform to do so are a fun approximation of your in-game actions. Alas, this fun is hindered by finicky controls and inconsistent hit detection, so you'll often find yourself merely repositioning your weapon instead of striking, or clanging it off of a wall that you could have sworn wasn't so close.
For practical reasons, you'll end up taking on most of the evil legion with your trusty handgun. Throwing an explosive bottle and shooting it midair is a cinch, thanks to the aim assistance in the form of a glowing trajectory arc and the slow motion that kicks in whenever you throw something. Alternatively, you can pour flammable liquid on your bullets and fire flaming rounds at your foes. Sure, this combo is a bit improbable and the gun should probably explode in your face, but flaming bullets will be the keystone in your monster-battling strategy so it's best to suspend your disbelief. However, firing these babies into monsters won't kill them unless you hit their fissures. These are the livid scars left on monsters by the evil that corrupted them, and hitting them can be a real pain. Combat certainly isn't anything to write home about, but there's definitely some satisfaction to be had in scourging your enemies with flame after bashing them stupid with a heavy pipe.
Free-roaming fissures are formidable foes.