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Previews

Alone in the Dark

Preview: More Half Life than horror

"You can just skip straight to the end", many winged during all that hoo-ha over being able to skip episodes in Alone in the Dark. You won't skip it though. Trust us.

We sat down in one of Atari's plush game demo rooms, decked out with a nice big HD TV and 5.1 surround sound with a booming subwoofer (cranked up so load someone actually came in to ask us to turn it down) and had some of the most cinematic gaming experiences we can remember.

Alone in the Dark, we say with all confidence, will impress you. It's one of those games that tries hard to step away from the conventions of videogames to provide you with an experience that's just that little bit more convincing than most.

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There are loads of nice touches that enforce that realism. There's no HUD, no health bar and no weapon ammo count. From what we've seen of the game so far, most of the time you don't even have a gun (you're an investigator, not a soldier).

When you're damaged you see the wounds on your character. Your character bleeds, and when you heal you don't just click 'Use' on a medikit and magically spring to life - you hold cans of freeze spray over wounds and actually spray them to stop bleeding, or apply bandage to repair damage.

You know that truly ridiculous game convention where locked doors are like the most formidable obstacles man has ever created? You've used machine guns and rocket launchers to obliterate thousands of man-eating monsters, yet a relatively thin plank of wood is utterly impassable? Not in this game.

If the door is made of wood (and most are), you can shoot the lock off with a gun, burn the door down with fire or batter it to shit with the nearest chair, fire extinguisher or whatever object that comes to hand. Every feasible object can be lifted and used either as a tool or weapon, because that's what you would do if the world suddenly became a hell hole and you were fighting to survive.

We loved the way the whole world seems interactive. In an adventure game such as this, cars, for example, are used most of the time as environmental fillers. Sometimes you can shoot them to make them explode, but you can usually only ever get into a car if you're on the game's special driving level. Think Half Life 2.

In Alone in the Dark you can get into any car you see, even utterly wrecked ones. Most games would draw the line there, but in this you can proceed to search the glove compartment, turn on the radio and tune in different stations, turn on headlights (if they work), and even pull down the sun visor or pear into various compartments in the detailed interior for a set of keys that the owner may have left in there.

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Can't find any keys? Rip off the steering panel and try hot wiring it. With a wire in each hand, you push the two analogue sticks towards each other to join the wires and start the car. Imagine doing all this as a deadly enemy approaches, only to find that the car won't start. It's classic horror stuff.

We were also impressed by the way the game's obstacles are physics-based, like Half Life 2. One flooded corridor had an electric cable hanging down onto the water, obviously creating a pool of high voltage death. "Hold on", we thought. "We've seen this before". The first Half Life in fact. You know the part in the Black Mesa offices near the start.

But the solution here was far more brilliant than just deactivating the electricity. The Atari representative showed us how it's done - you run off and find a long object - like a plank of wood from a broken chair - with which you can stretch out far enough to reach the wire.

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