Brace yourselves, you know how dismal it is when I review new games… Well, I downloaded The Force Unleashed and Alone in the Dark demos for the XBox 360 and gave them a whorl. I enjoyed both demos but I’m still going to be tough on both games…
I have to start by saying… OMG WOW.
Perhaps neither game is the most artistically perfect game ever but I found them visually delightful. Both games seem to be pushing some kind of envelope so that if you look for flaws, they are there to be found.
Force Unleashed immediately flagged an alarm for me: You start in a corridor on a spaceship with huge windows; Smash a window and a brief gale of escaping air will suck enemies, droids and various bits of debris out of the window before a bulkhead slams down.
It’s the sort of bizarre detail I’ve come to associate with over-promising “open-ended, in your hands” story lines that have been disappointing gamers since the 80s.
Likewise with some of the larger objects you can manipulate, it feels like the game is on the edge of trying to sell itself to you as a “complete Star Wars universe – the only limits are your imagination!”
But it turns out these dire predictions were wrong; it hunkers down to business and gets on with being a modern console game: only the fly stats for all kinds of things, such as noting a bonus for “a long way to die” kills (when you drop an enemy off a ledge), destruction bonus, etc.
The fact that you’re playing a Dark-Side NPC is well suited to console mayhem. I found the two-stick force-throw system a little hard getting used to so that after finishing the demo twice I still was far from mastering it.
My only real complaint is that the Demo is staggeringly short, and I was able to finish it in medium and hard modes in fairly short order.
Lots of very cool things that I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll move on to Alone in the Dark.
The demo opens on a blurry scene overhearing a conversation while you are introduced to the view controls. Your vision begins to clear up and you realize you are lying on your side on a bed, looking at the medical equipment monitoring your breathing or something. One of the two people talking comes over and sits you up, and you are introduced to the button to press to blink to clear your vision.
While not a major part of the game, you’ll want to remember how to blink for when your vision gets bleary at various points later on.
The game is organized into episodes and there’s a little “playback” interface for choosing episodes. If you don’t start from the beginning there’s a neat little “Previous on Alone In the Dark” thing it does :)
I found the storylining a little annoying: You get control of your character long enough to determine the only thing you can do is, say, walk around a corner. As soon as you do, new cutscene-sequence triggered. GAH!
First and Third person have some very different characteristics so that they have specific roles in the game. First person is for exploring and shooting; third person is primarily for mele it seems. You can pick up fire-extinguishers to put out various fires, but you can only do use them in first person mode. If you go to third person, the right stick controls swinging the item you are holding as a weapon.
I really have to say I do like how they have used the character itself as the UI in-game. For instance, your inventory is literally the insides of your jacket. You have a bunch of loops and holders inside your jacket and you can only carry what fits in those. Accessing your inventory is done by tapping a button that opens your jacket and looks down.
There’s no health bar, you can check on your health by looking down at the wounds on your body. If you have a medical spray you’ll see him holding that and you can spray it onto the wounds to treat them.
But where the game seems really promising is in the inventory system. You can combine items in your inventory to do some rather novel stuff: combine a handkerchief with a bottle of flammable liquid to create yourself a molotov cocktail. Combine that with double sided sticky tape to make a sticky bomb. Or combine the liquid with your bullets to make “fire bullets”.
The demo was, again, fairly short.
My big issues were:
. In terms of movement and combat, the controls seem sluggish and clunky; for some reason I couldn’t seem to shoot at enemies, only at doors, locks, scenery etc;
. You have to stand still to swap which inventory items you are using and looking at your inventory doesn’t pause the game, this can make it a real pain to adapt. There’s a 180 button that was generally 90 degrees more than I needed to turn.
. If you don’t have a mele weapon equipped you can’t swing your fists or push an enemy out of your way, so if they back you up against something you can’t easily move around, you’re helpless as they repeatedly interrupt the few precious moments you actually have control between the falling/tumbling/etc animations during which you have no control.
. Alone in the Dark; you don’t appear to be alone but it sure is dark. I somehow find sitting infront of a 24in widescreen 90% of which is showing darkness a little … less than satisfying.
Both look really promising but if I play AitD it’ll be a rental.