2008's Alone in the Dark can be summarized in two words: poor execution. The game was a technical mess, wrapped within a ridiculous story, but its ambition and attempt at innovation are impossible to deny. In fact, Alan Wake – which released last week to mostly positive reviews – shares many of the same ideas and concepts.
The one very distinguishable difference? Alan Wake is actually good, while Alone in the Dark is clearly not. Here's how two surprisingly similar games ended up so far apart in quality.
Similarity #1: The television presentation
The most obvious similarity between the two games, and the only one that I will argue Alone in the Dark may have bested Alan Wake on, is the serialized presentation. Both games successfully give you the impression that you are watching an interactive television show.
Alan Wake closes each chapter by cutting to an Alan Wake logo and playing credits-style music. When you start the next chapter, either immediately or days later, you are greeted with a "Previously on Alan Wake," and are given a very informative flashback cutscene telling you what happened in the previous chapter. Alone in the Dark literally shows credits at the end of every chapter, but they are thankfully skippable. Whenever you return to the game, you are given a similar "Previously on Alone in the Dark" flashback sequence.
The only reason Alone in the Dark gets the edge here is because it is also presented like a DVD, enabling you to rewind or fast-forward to any section of the game at any time. If you are frustrated by a chapter, skip it. If you want to jump to the end and get the game over with (which many undoubtedly did), you can! And if you want to experience it all in order, that option certainly exists as well. Alan Wake does offer the ability to revisit any episode upon completion, but Alone in the Dark's "play anything at any time" approach is definitely cooler.
Similarity #2: Darkness, real and imagined
Both Alan Wake and Alone in the Dark explore themes of darkness. Alone in the Dark implies the fear of shadow and night in its very title, but mostly just uses darkness as a way to make enemies, well, darker. Alan Wake, on the other hand, uses darkness as a metaphor for the human mind. We explore phobias, mental illness, emotion and mystery all in the inescapable blackness. Darkness means many things in Alan Wake, while in Alone in the Dark, all it really means is that you can't see or figure anything out.
Similarity #3: Light as a weapon
Alan Wake carries a flashlight for most of the game, and in a stroke of Zelda-inspired brilliance, developer Remedy has made that tool necessary for both exploration and combat. You need light not just to navigate a dark environment, but also to fight off supernatural enemies. Alone in the Dark uses a more elemental light – fire – for combat. The problem with fire, however, is that it is unpredictable. You will find yourself on fire as often as your enemies do.
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