Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


I’m Not Alone (PC, 2010, Italy): Disappearing Act
March 9, 2013, 3:28 am
Filed under: I’m Not Alone (PC, 2010, Italy)

1INAGood luck getting your hands on a legitimate copy of this turkey. Why? If you happen to stumble upon the publisher’s website, you’ll be greeted this way: “You are trying to access a domain that previously belonged to The Games Company Worldwide GmbH. Following a decision dated August 31, 2010 the Berlin district court has initiated insolvency proceedings regarding the assets of the company.” The page goes on to discuss how “reassignment of development activities” will be carried out by the eastern Euro publishing giant bitComposer Games GmbH. Ouch. (Apparently, Kalypso [publishers of the “Tropico” series of games] also bought parts of the company.)

Similarly, if you visit the developer’s website, the Italian-based Pix Rev, you won’t get much information there either. They haven’t updated their site in the last two years as of this writing, and other than mentioning the digital distribution of their survival horror opus “I’m Not Alone,” they highlight a casual iPhone game “Polly Bad Dream” which, I guess, someone somewhere played at some point. Two years of no updates? I think we call that “inactivity.”

2INAInterestingly, before any of these mysterious disappearances occurred, there was the usual high hopes and press hype for “I’m Not Alone,” a survival horror game poised to reinvigorate and reanimate the failing genre. It simultaneously appeared on a handful of digital distribution sites in February of 2010, including Direct2Drive, Gamersgate, and even—gasp!–Steam. More interesting, marketed as a full-length survival horror game (which it actually is, clocking in around 8 to 10 hours or so), it had a rather hefty $35 price tag attached to it. Of course, survival horror enthusiasts bought it at that price…because survival horror enthusiasts are suckers. I am, by the way, president of the fan club.

Most interesting to me, however, is that by November of that same year, a mere nine months after all the hype, the game had disappeared from every distribution site you could find. Steam users who had added the game to their wishlists for a delayed purchase found that not only was the game completely unavailable, they couldn’t delete it from their wishlists either! Steam’s official company line: We will not sell products that are no longer supported by their publishers. Certainly, since The Games Company GmbH had entered into insolvency proceedings and couldn’t pay its own bills, it was a safe bet that “I’m Not Alone” was no longer going to be supported by its creators. Awww.

And POOF! The game vanished into thin air from every distribution site. From what I can tell, you cannot currently buy a copy of this game anywhere. The only remains were the seething Steam threads of those who managed to purchase the game at full price during that short window. In essence, the game was a broken mess. The user interface was a joke, screen resolution couldn’t be accurately set, controls were wonky, optimization was nonexistent, the game ran like a slideshow even on a supercomputer, the characters would suddenly begin speaking in foreign languages, etc.

3INAFascinatingly, if it weren’t for archival sites like 3D Shooter Legends (let light perpetual shine upon thee), intrepid gamers would never be able to experience the astonishing awfulness that is “I’m Not Alone” and similar catastrophes. Thank God for the internets.

Of course, “I’m Not Alone” is a poster child for my little crappy games blog for one main reason: Regardless of the crash-and-burn spectacle I just described, the game ain’t all bad. (Yes, it’s mostly bad, but there are fleeting moments of adequateness.) Believe it or not, I’ve found one or two sympathetic posts on the net (and even one sympathetic review a’la “I know it’s bad but I like this kind of game”) that gives this little disaster its due. As usual, I’ll engage in a little bit of praise and a lot of bitching. First, some kindness.

The story and characters here, if clichéd, are interesting and oddly detailed. This is the strongest element regarding this title without a doubt. In a contemporary setting, you play as Patrick Weber, a psychic who has the genuine ability to enter into an alternate dimension where demons dwell. Both his mother (eventually hospitalized as a looney) and grandmother (who, although poverty-stricken, ultimately raised Patrick) shared this ability, and all of them have pentacle-shaped scars on their hands. As a young child growing up in Holland, Patrick discovered his ability, which scared him, but his grandmother trained him and assured him that it was a special power to be used for good. On Patrick’s seventeenth birthday, grandma died of pneumonia, and he set out across the countryside hawking his skills as a professional exorcist. But as he matured, he became a cynical, womanizing, gambling drunk. This leads him to offering his services NOT out of the kindness of his heart, but simply for cold, hard cash. As an adult, which is when we first meet Patrick, he’s basically a money-grubbing asshole with a corny soul patch, as far from sainthood as you can get. Sorry grandma. (Anyway, the game gets some props from me for creating a character with a little grit—who, some say, too closely resembles country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. I wouldn’t know.)

4INAAs the game begins, Patrick has been contacted by Caroline, an elderly (VERY elderly) woman who owns a mansion nestled in the Austrian countryside and who claims it is haunted and requires exorcising. When Patrick arrives, hung over from his typical debauchery the previous night, he learns from Caroline that the house was originally built in the beginning of the 19th century by the Von Gruber family, ancient and rich landowners well-known throughout Austria. The last Von Gruber to inhabit the house was Lillian who, born in 1898, was a famous musician and composer at a very young age. He lived in the house with his mother and had little contact with the outside world. Needless to say, he developed a kind of morbid, extreme attachment to his mama, and things went to hell when she died in early-1900. Grief-stricken, Lillian found books on necromancy and demon worship in the extensive library within the house, and he began studying ways to bring his mother back to life.

10inaHe began to worship the evil deity Baphomet, having a large sculpture of him made and placed in the foyer of the house, which is still there to this day. He also began making sacrifices to the god. These sacrifices included young women from the town he would invite into the mansion; they always accepted his invitations because they were apparently entranced by his musicianship. So, he’d wine and dine them, play piano for them, and then chop their heads off. Additionally, he sacrificed his piano students too, most of whom were children—nice guy. When those sacrifices ran out, he began offering up his own maids and servants in the house, dozens of them. He disposed of his sacrifices in a variety of gruesome ways and always melted their remains in a bathtub of acid so no evidence could ever be found.

Caroline has called Patrick because she believes the ghosts of all these sacrifices are lingering around the place, and she wants them gone. So, Patrick gets to work first in the mansion itself (which is suitably large), and later in the gardens located behind the mansion, a swamp area connected to the gardens, the family cemetery, and series of underground tunnels, all built by Lillian for his devilish purposes a century ago. As you work, Caroline just sort of conveniently disappears.

9inaDuring gameplay, you discover a surprisingly extensive diary (yes, all in one big package, like 18 pages long, uhh, so the game just sort of stops cold for a while as you read…) that explains even more about Lillian Von Gruber. Particularly, you learn that all these sacrifices were ultimately worth it; eventually, Lillian’s mama did return from beyond the grave, though she wasn’t quite right. Although he was glad to have his mother back, Lillian realized that she was evil incarnate, and that some terrible entity (later you discover is called Thamiel) has taken possession of her while she was on the other side. In the pages of the diary, he admits he has made an awful mistake (duh), and that she must be contained or else the entire world might be at stake from the wrath of Thamiel. But that’s where the diary ends.

So, what is the gameplay exactly? All in third-person, your primary job is puzzle-solving with some rudimentary combat thrown in (emphasis on rudimentary). For example: Since the entire game is music-themed (Lillian was a major musical artist after all), you find a piano score on the floor which must be played on a certain piano in a certain room, which moves a bookcase aside in another room, which reveals a piece of paper on which a chemical formula is written. You must then use that formula to fill a bathtub with acid to burn an attacking ghost, who then drops a key to a locked door……you get the picture, right? Although “I’m Not Alone” goes the haunted house route, if you played “Resident Evil” or “Silent Hill” circa the late-90s, you’ve been here and done that.

5INAThe puzzles are inventory-based (items can be combined and used as needed), and Patrick is attacked at certain points when finishing part of a puzzle, like picking up a key or inputting a correct code to a door. At these moments, the screwy-scary violins kick in, the screen turns a bluish color as the air turns frigid, and then Patrick must activate his “dimension shift” (his psychic gift mentioned earlier) to enter the demon world (the screen turns red), which reveals the demons who are attacking. Then, using either a set of daggers or a bow, Patrick can dispatch the baddies, all of which are in the form of the various folks who were sacrificed by Lillian a hundred years ago–for example, a set of twin maids, the house cook and butcher, the cemetery caretaker, etc. Each weapon has two attacks—one does lesser damage to the supernatural enemy but simultaneously refills your health bar. The other attack does more damage but does not regenerate your health. While in combat, alternating between the two attacks is required. No surprise, hit detection is dodgy, and some of the larger mini-bosses can be extremely frustrating to deal with and balancing seems completely out of whack in some instances. The attack animations are dreadful all around—actually all the animations are atrocious, but I’ll mention that in a minute.

I’m a sucker for story and character (even when poorly implemented within a game), and in theory, “I’m Not Alone” actually delivers in this way. I not only found the backstory somewhat engaging, I also liked stumbling upon the ghosts of the various servants who Lillian sacrificed; this gave the whole narrative a feeling of completion. The other strength in the game is the music, which is something I rarely comment on. But as I mentioned, there is a musical motif running throughout the game—for example, all of the chapter titles are musical terms like “Preludio,” “Tranquillo non troppo,” and “Lento patetico”—and the developers have paid special attention to the quality of the music within the game. Though typical “horror music” fare (moody piano notes, swirling violins), most of it sounds authentic, is carefully recorded, and adds considerably to the atmosphere.

6INASPOILER ALERT: As you work your way through the various maps, exorcising demons/ghosts (basically “killing” them even though they are already dead—and most of them just look like dumb bald zombies wearing overalls anyway), you eventually find Lillian himself, who is in the form of a massive tentacled “thing” that is chained far underground. After defeating him (a real, horrible chore), you learn that you’ve just committed a terrible disservice: As you’ve been exorcising each area throughout the game, you’ve been unwittingly breaking spiritual seals that have kept Lillian’s horrible resurrected mother imprisoned. Before he croaks, Lillian tells you the reason he built all the gardens and tunnels and populated them with demons was to keep his mother at bay…and to keep the world safe from her. And now she has been freed because of your intervention. Oooops. Not too surprising, seconds later, Caroline, who originally requested your services to exorcise her mansion, shows up in an altered form, and we find out that she is, in fact, Lillian’s mother–a real demon bitch who can now leave the estate and terrorize the world. The final boss battle against Caroline is even more of a confusing and frustrating mess that is practically impossible to survive. And even after you do kill her, Patrick ends up getting permanently smacked down by her at the very last second anyway as he exits the underground chamber. Ugh. All I have to say is ugh. But the story itself is acceptable videogame fare. I’ve certainly experienced MUCH WORSE stories in games than this. SPOILER ENDS.

While the mechanics are sloppy and imprecise, the game actually is a little tense at times. That tension may be intentional (due to some adequate programming and art) or unintentional (due to a poor control scheme), but either way, it’s there. While walking around the underground tunnels, cemetery paths, creepy temples, or the hallways of the mansion (many of which are maze-like), you are consciously waiting for the violins and screen-color-change to prompt you to enter the demon-dimension and start hacking away at whatever materializes in front of you.  Although infrequent, some of those jump-moments actually work in a rudimentary way (there’s that word again).

7INAOh, but I don’t want to misrepresent to anyone that the game is actually good. For the vast majority of people who bought this due to their survival-horror-addiction, they found it almost unplayable. Just check the remaining Steam forums for evidence. While, generally speaking, the lighting and static environments rendered by the “S2 Engine” (from Italian-based Profenix Studios) don’t look too bad (as long as you keep the screen dark and force Patrick to use his flashlight as he runs around—the angle and movement of which reminds me a lot of “Alan Wake” and “Silent Hill: Shattered Memories”), the character animations are laughable and horribly dated. Everyone is stiff, voices don’t match lip movements, enemies awkwardly float over the landscape rather than walking—all that great stuff from a decade ago. The control and animation problems become hazardous in most combat situations and require some seriously inventive gameplay from time to time. For example, there is a swamp area where you are pursued by a dozen walking dead hunched-over nymphos with inflated lifebars who require multiple shots with your trusty bow. The problem is that if they come within less than 5 feet of you, they swipe at you below the belt at an angle that is literally too low for your reticule to reach. In other words, you cannot actually target them even though they are at arm’s length. Beyond irritating. So after an hour of trial-and-error, I learned to run away from them, and they would follow mechanically. Then, while still running, I’d turn myself (via the third-person camera) so that a tree would perfectly block the enemy’s trajectory as she advanced. If I aimed it just right, she’d get stuck on the tree, continuing to walk forward but making no progress. Then since she was no longer advancing, I could actually target her and take her down. Rinse and repeat a dozen times. Snooze. I’m pretty damn certain this is not how the developers imagined anyone playing the game, but poor game-making is the mother of invention…or something like that.

11inaOf course, combat is not the only problem here. For a game that relies heavily upon puzzles, you’d want to make damn sure you get them right. Unfortunately, that only happens about half the time. While the majority of the puzzles you’ve seen time and again (a chess board that requires specific placement of pieces, or pulling levers in a specific order in front of some menacing statues), some of the solutions to these puzzles seem utterly random, forcing the player into a string of trial-and-error “Game Over” sequences (or hunting around the net for a cheat…hint, hint). From what I understand, a number of the solutions might be teased out of Lillian Von Gruber’s 18-page diary found early in the game, but due to sketchy translation issues, I wouldn’t bank on finding it too useful. And speaking of translation issues: Yes, it’s true that right in the middle of a conversation with himself, Patrick suddenly begins speaking in German for a handful of lines. But then it self-corrects. Seriously though, glitches like these are welcome given how stiff and inhuman most of the dialogue is anyway.

8INAOverall, for anyone other than REALLY HARDCORE survival horror enthusiasts, this oddity is only interesting because of its ephemeral nature: Being a download-only title (without a retail shelf release that I know of) whose publisher and developer have completely evaporated and no longer provide support, this game technically doesn’t exist. There’s a reason for that, of course. But it’s also fascinating that since it had a shimmering few months of digital distribution on the net, that means this expression of human effort will exist forever, somewhere, on someone’s hard drive. There’s something hopeful, and a little scary, about that.

PS: A few technical notes. The game seemed to run smoother (and load considerably faster)  on my dual core laptop than on my 8-core desktop. I think that is evidence of optimization problems. Just keep in mind that if you experience poor performance, it might mean that your computer is too new and powerful for the game, rather than the other way around. I’m not sure if turning cores off on your processor will matter, but you might try it. Lastly, I did have trouble figuring out how to get the game to fill a 1920×1080 screen. The game seems to want to always run at 1280×1024. I finally realized that by running the game, tabbing to the desktop, opening up the task manager (control+alt+delete) and going to the “applications” tab on the task manager window, right clicking on the game’s process and going down to “maximize,” this opened up the game to my entire screen. Whatever.

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13 Comments so far
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So the game itself leads a ghost-like existence. Only seen by a few people that others consider to be loonies if they claim to have experienced it. That in itself makes it appealing for me.

But not nearly as appealing as your opening paragraphs, describing the story and premise, which sound really quite good. Kind of like Hitchcock’s “Psycho” taken to another level (or maybe ‘extreme’ would be a better word).

Another well-written review.

Comment by Mark L

Thank you, kind sir. Check out 3DSL if you are trying to find it.

Comment by wkduffy

From their official page: “Becoming a global entertainment company in the next ten years is our main goal.”

http://www.pixrev.com/company.asp

lol

Comment by ZIGS

Luckily I happen to know a guy who is good at getting me copies of rare games like this for reasonable prices, either in the form of a physical copy or a download, and that’s how I managed to get my hands on this game. I noticed the resolution problem right away and at first I thought it was just my computer, but i’m glad to hear that’s not the case.

This game certainly does have it’s issues, but it’s not terrible on the level of say Guise Of The Wolf or Ride To Hell: Retribution.

Comment by darkrage6

darkrage6: Having contacts is a grrreat thing! More than anything about these relatively unknown games, I like the feeling of traipsing around a game that few people have tried or bothered with–just to see if there’s anything worthwhile in them. One “contact” I want to point out though, in case you are not aware of it: The website 3D Shooter Legends is an encyclopedic website attempting to catalog (and keep alive) every single shooter game ever made. It’s been around for more than 10 years at this point, that I know of. Many of the entries also include download links to “preservation” copies of games that have long since disappeared (or are in danger of disappearing). I’ve spent hours of my life browsing the entries there. Check it out if you are unaware of it: http://www.legendsworld.net/shooter/news.

Comment by wkduffy

Indeed it is, and actually boxed copies of this game are still availible on Amazon’s German, Uk and French websites(though despite claiming international shipping, most of them couldn’t deliver to the U.S. for some bizarre reason, the only one that would would’ce cost me 50 dollars, so I said screw that).

Thanks for the awesome link! Maybe there I can find this one really rare Polish PC title called Super Agent 008.

Comment by darkrage6

darkrage6, Have you ever found “Super Agent 008”? I literally looked for years for that thing. Not even the shady sites had it. Finally found it for $2.66 (pay by paypal, and they send you a link) at play-publishing.com. They were slow to respond, but finally sent me the d/l link. (They don’t have it listed now apparently, but it’s still worth a try, since they were the official publisher) I’m still looking for a boxed copy of it though, so if you do locate one, please show how you got it. Thanks!

Comment by Mark L.

I did manage to download it from 3D Shooter Legends, but short of taking a trip to Poland, i’m not sure where one would find a boxed copy of that game.

Comment by darkrage6

Hey darkrage: I was poking around the sites you mentioned (Amazon UK, Germany) but couldn’t find the one seller who would mail “I’m Not Alone” to the US. (I’m used to going international when trying to find copies of these obscure games, and jumping the shipping hurdle still remains a mystery to me–though fleaBay comes in handy from time to time) Could you tell me which one you found, if it’s still there? I know, $50 shipping for a shit game like this is a poor way to blow money…but I’ve done worse. I’m just really a collector at heart (physical copies of games, even bad ones) when possible. When not possible, I burn and make art for my own (I’m no artist, but I can turn a trick with Photoshop), but when a real copy exists, I kinda can’t help myself. Thanks.

Comment by wkduffy

Yeah unfortunately it seems like the Amazon copy has already been sold. I also saw the game for sale on the German Ebay site, though I don’t know if any of those sellers ship internationally, here’s one lot which has the game:

http://www.ebay.de/itm/PC-16-VERSCHIEDENE-ACTION-SPIELE-Sammlung-Horror-Paket-USK-18-Top-/360903212363?pt=DE_PC_Videospiele&hash=item540781fd4b

Comment by darkrage6

Thanks darkrage6. Maybe buying an entire lot of games is a bit more than I’m willing to do. But now that I know shelf copies of this half-baked oddity are floating about, I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Comment by wkduffy

There’s also individual copies floating around on Ebay.

Comment by darkrage6

Yeah, at the moment, I can’t find any. But I’ll check periodically. It is something worth owning, if only to shelve it.

Comment by wkduffy




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