Since inventing the survival-horror genre 16 years ago, the Alone in the Dark series has been defined mainly by creeping around in dimly lit corridors and hoping something didn't lurch out of the shadows to gnaw your face off. The creators of the new Alone in the Dark, however, want you to know that crawling through claustrophobic spaces won't be the focus this time around - and to hammer that point home, they'll literally tear those spaces apart right in front of your eyes.
So while Alone in the Dark (actually the fifth game in the series, despite its numberless title) starts off quietly, pushing amnesiac hero Edward Carnby along a linear, first-person path through the creaky hallways of an after-hours Manhattan skyscraper, it's not long before you're thrust into a lengthy, vertigo-inducing sequence that forces you to escape from the building as it collapses around you. Filled with explosive, Hollywood-style set-pieces and occasional moments of pants-shitting terror, your escape will take you through shattered elevator shafts (one of which you'll need to rappel down on a cable), burning hallways and more than a few dark, monster-filled areas. And the whole time, you'll be pursued by a creature that - for now, anyway - appears only as a rumbling fissure that spreads across the walls, ripping apart masonry and swallowing people whole.
The highlight of the escape - and the biggest "oh shit" moment we witnessed in our time with the game (which we played on the 360 and Wii) - comes when you're trying to escape a burning apartment before it all rips away from the building and falls into the street below. As you're dashing for the exit, a huge chunk of the floor above comes crashing down in front of you, complete with a terrified man standing in an intact doorway. As he shouts for you to help find a way out, a massive fireball erupts just behind him, rocketing him through the apartment's crumbling outer wall in slow motion.
Just then, the wall falls outward, the floor tilts down at a sharp angle and everything in the apartment - Carnby included - goes sliding out toward the street far below. As Carnby falls, he latches onto a gargoyle and the camera slowly pans away from him, giving you your first view of New York's Central Park, where the rest of the game will unfold. First, though, you're going to have to get out of the building alive.
Aside from symbolically opening up the game world from its close-quarters roots, this sequence makes another point: in Alone in the Dark, your biggest enemy is often the environment itself. In the first chapter alone, you'll constantly be faced with collapsing hallways, deadly chasms that open suddenly beneath you and lots of fire - which, interestingly, is programmed to act exactly like the real thing. In the 360 version, it spreads randomly and consumes any flammable object that it touches (it behaves similarly in the Wii/PS2 version, except that its actions are all pre-scripted instead of dynamic).
In fact, everything in the game world, in addition to being usable and realistically destructible, has a hidden value that determines how flammable it is. Wood will catch fire pretty quickly, for example, while other objects might burn more slowly, or not at all. To keep the flames from spreading too quickly, you'll be able to use fire extinguishers (assuming you can find them, anyway), which double as bludgeons when you're confronted by locked doors or angry monsters.