Work: The Bourne Conspiracy and Alone in the Dark

Two reviews of mine have been published in print this week. I played The Bourne Conspiracy for the Official PlayStation Magazine and Alone in the Dark for the Official Xbox Magazine. (Go buy them now! The magazines, that is, not necessarily the games.) After the jump is an excerpt from each review along with some additional commentary.

“Alone in the Dark is a punishing and at times humbling experience. Some will think the controls are broken. They’re not, but they are needlessly convoluted and often just not as responsive as you’d like. The manual takes four whole pages to describe the various moves Carnby has at his disposal. It really is a million miles away from the modern trend of one-button context-sensitivity.”

“Successful hits increase Bourne’s adrenaline which in turn opens up the use of “takedown” moves. When activated, a takedown sees Bourne improvise a much more powerful attack, often taking advantage of items and objects in close proximity. This is precisely where you’ll see him grab a fountain pen off a nearby table to stab his opponent, or back slam his foe into a handy electrical box.”

I selected the above passages to highlight the contrast between the two games in how they empower the player or enable him/her to do cool stuff.

Alone in the Dark is a mess of a game; for everything it does right – or at least aspires to do right – it gets another thing hopelessly wrong. Eden’s ambition takes it to places few other games have dared, but at the same time they totally fuck up basic elements of design I thought had been agreed upon years ago. As a result of the complex controls, even the simplest actions are demanding, and I would imagine, utterly impenetrable to an inexperienced player.

The Bourne Conspiracy is a classic example of empowering the player through readily understood and easily achieved means. You have a couple of basic controls, which when pressed at the right time or in simple combination, make your character do awesome stuff. It’s not that Bourne is necessarily an easy game, but it is one that caters to players of all abilities.

While Bourne presents spectacular canned moments at the touch of a button, Alone delivers an array of player-authored expression behind a veil of arcane controller manipulation. In both cases, there’s something missing: Bourne runs the risk of making the cool stuff too accessible, while Alone hides it all far too well.

There’s a fine line to tread when empowering the player. Make it too easy and they won’t care; make it too obscure and they’ll never find it. In both these games there’s plenty of empowering going on, but at what cost to the overall experience?

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2 Comments on “Work: The Bourne Conspiracy and Alone in the Dark”

  1. flexiblestrategy Says:

    Alone in the Dark makes an even graver error with the DVD-style “chapter skip” function. Sure, frustrated players will enjoy taking full advantage of it, but it seems to have been an easy way to get around balancing issues…

  2. David Wildgoose Says:

    Error or admission of defeat?

    I will happily admit to skipping past the first driving sequence after upwards of a dozen failed attempts.

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