Unless you count my holiday at Butlins in Clacton-on-Sea in the early ‘90s, you don’t seem to get many horror experiences set in the dazzling daylight. Keeping things dark and moody with the eternal threat looming in the shadows is a trademark of every terror-based game I’ve ever played. And that’s the same with Allison’s Diary: Rebirth – there isn’t a shakeup of the formula or any surprises, but the big question is whether or not it manages to scare you down to your bones.
Allison’s Diary: Rebirth was originally designed for VR and was then ported to PC before it made a move to the Xbox One. This cross-platform, cross-ideas process is however where I think some of the problems with Allison’s Diary, and the game mechanics within, originate from. But let’s start from the beginning…
Allison’s Diary: Rebirth starts in an abandoned asylum. You play a roving reporter who is following on from a story where a nine-year-old girl was imprisoned after killing her parents in 1956. It is said her diary is scattered around the ruins and will explain the spooky goings-on, and the reasons why she did what she did. Your job is to find those diary entries and uncover the truth. You know, standard horror stuff.
The game is a first-person horror experience, seeing you arrive in the darkness of the asylum – the first thing you have to do is find a way in. There is no health bar in this game and no instructions or markers as to what is required next. Some will love this and like the lack of hand-holding, but I personally like some direction in my games, instead of wandering around for an age in the darkness, confused.
The control system revolves around a walk and then a slow run, up to opening certain objects like drawers or doors, and picking up specific items. But there isn’t any inventory. In fact, you are just armed with a torch that has a limited life and needs to be topped up with batteries which you will find dotted around the levels. There is no fighting to be had either in Allison’s Diary, but enemies will appear at times, running full pelt at you as you frantically shine your torch at them, flickering the light by tapping RB. This will kill them and you can continue on the journey.
The good thing about this entire experience though is that the story comes with a nice setup and has all the ingredients for a solid horror yarn. The scary locations are great, from the asylum to the underbelly of a creepy cathedral. There are some great jump scares going on as well, and yes, these really will do as they suggest – at times I really did jump out of my skin. I won’t ruin things too much, but at one point there was the ghost of a girl appearing to me in a lift; a ghost that I didn’t spot until the last second, and a room full of spiders crawling up the walls. Again, it’s all usual horror stuff but it’s still enough to creep you out.
The game has some problems though – the main one being the sensitivity of camera movement, something that you can amend. The issue is, if you go high or medium the camera is too jerky and it creates a feeling of nausea. I had to play the game with this set to the lowest level and the issue here is that I couldn’t turn quick enough. And believe me, you’re going to need to turn quickly to deal with the horrible enemies. You see, every now and then an enemy will appear and this is announced by the sound of a heartbeat and the screen flickering. Sometimes they appear in front of you and other times they appear behind. A quick turn is, at times, near impossible and if you’re not fast enough they will kill you with one hit. It’s not helped by the fact that the save points are so few and far between too; you will definitely end up repeating whole sections again and again, and again. This in turn takes you completely out of the atmosphere and the story.
Visually things are okay although it doesn’t look like a piece of work that fits in this generation of consoles at all. The textures, characters and locations don’t feel alive enough, coming across as a bit low budget. The lighting is good though, although it is all very dark in places – I guess that is the point. The soundtrack has a nice creepy piano piece at the beginning and good bits of tracks that appear on and off throughout the course of the game. Thankfully, the effects are brilliantly done and will scare the living daylights out of you.
I’m a big fan of the horror genre and Allison’s Diary: Rebirth on Xbox One is a game that I really wanted to love. But I just didn’t. Much of the enjoyment is spoilt by the camera sensitivity, enemy spawns and save points, and all that combined just means it is too frustrating to play for any length of time. I can well imagine this game working perfectly in VR, but for the humble Xbox console it still needs some work.