Review - Alone in the Dark 3 (DOS, 1994)

One of the most powerful legends U.S. history has to offer is the Wild West. Real men out on the frontier with nothing between them and chaos but their trusty six-guns. Between John Wayne movies and Louis L'Amour novels, this idea has gained mythic status in our popular culture. Small wonder, then, that so many folks are trying so hard to tear it down. The most famous recent example of this revisionism is the movie Unforgiven, in which Clint Eastwood presents the controversial view that men were no smarter or more resourceful in those days than they are now. Obviously, the ghost of the Old West continues to haunt America. Maybe that's why the idea of an occult western seems to work so well.

After delving in the world of Cthulhu and defeating a ghostly pirate king, Detective Edward Carnby is about to take a trip to Slaughter Gulch, California, in his latest adventure, Alone in the Dark 3 from I-Motion.

The thing about Slaughter Gulch is that, despite its morbid name, no one ever dies there. It was founded by a man named Jed Stone, who stole the land from the Navajo. It was once sacred ground, but now it's home to the orneriest bunch o' cowpokes you ever did lay eyes on. They continued to get upset and shoot each other now and then, but they stayed alive.

In 1925, a Hollywood film crew made their way to the gulch with the thought of shooting a western movie. Well, they got shot, all right. And they managed to inspire Marshall Stone toward a fiendish plot. Finally tired of hanging around in this world, he now plans to shake up the San Andreas and send the whole of California toppling into the ocean. Now THAT'S going out with a bang.

Carnby gets involved with this situation because of an old friend from the original Alone in the Dark, Emily Hartwood. Now he's up to his ears in dust and bullets, and even he won't last forever. Or will he? While he's bound to be shot down sooner or later, Slaughter Gulch seems to like to keep people around. With the assistance of a Navajo medicine man, Carnby will be reincarnated as a wildcat, and have to "prove his valor" to regain his human form. Meanwhile, the town has already created an evil twin Carnby, and when the two meet, only one can walk away.

While a lot of the fun of Alone 3 is the liberal use of cowboy clich├ęs, you will never really be able to guess what's going to happen next. At one point, after a strange experiment, Carnby is shrunk down to one-tenth his normal size. This is handled by keeping the screen Carnby the same size and making everything else around him huge.

Alone in the Dark 3 combines many of the best aspects of the previous two installments. Like the original game, it maintains a strong focus on puzzle solving. Like the second part, there's a lot of exciting action, and a large field of play. In fact, Alone 3 is half again as large as Alone 2.

Also, like the first two parts, the visuals are very cinematic, with shifting camera angles as Carnby walks around. This aspect is even more important in 3, since movies are inseparable from the Western myth. This sets the stage for some unabashed tribute, including a Peckinpah-style slow motion gunfight.

The film element, while compelling, was not enough to satisfy I-Motion. To design Slaughter Gulch with a maximum amount of realism, two members of the design crew took a field trip across the Mojave Desert, looking for the weirdest ghost towns they could find. They brought back lots of photos and notes and put together a rough version of the town.

Then, I-Motion enlisted the help of French comic book artist Joel Mouclier. He drew hundreds of color and black & white roughs. Most of them were done right over prints of the design coordinator's 3D construction, to keep an accurate view of what would appear on screen. While there are a few moments in the final product where Carnby seems a little out of place with his surroundings, the overall effect is very successful. The collaboration worked so well that Mouclier is currently working on I-Motion's next project, Prisoner of Ice.

Alone 3 uses the same game engine as its predecessors, but it runs a bit faster. I-Motion is already making promises about the new, improved Alone 4. It will include a better engine, which will allow the player more control over the visuals. This will hopefully eliminate that inevitable moment when Carnby has not yet crossed the line that changes the camera angle, but he's getting lots of point blank gunfire from someone you can't see to aim at.

Download the demo for Alone in the Dark 3