Alone In The Dark Review


When I was asked to be one of the reviewers for Alone In The Dark, I jumped at the chance. A game I wanted to play anyway, but I’d be getting a free copy? Sign my non-game reviewer ass up!

But I wanted to make sure it kept in line with HMAD traditions, so my review will be presented in 8 daily updates, one for each chapter of the game. Each one will talk a bit about my progress in the game in general, and also focus on a particular aspect of the game (control, graphics, sound, etc) in context. Hope you enjoy it!

(Rather than clutter the main board with a daily post, each update will just be linked here)




AITD: Chapter 8


TIME SPENT: 6-7 Hours
ACHIEVEMENTS EARNED: 7 (Flaming Roots, Blazing Roots, Hidden Cave, The Path of Darkness, THE LIGHT BRINGER, A Day in Central Park, The Path of Light)
FOCUS: Game as a whole

At long last, the final level of Alone in the Dark! This one is a lot like the last level, in that you spend a good amount of time burning Roots of Evil around the park. Strangely, while there are more of them to destroy, they are much easier for the most part. There are really only two that require puzzle solving, and then there is a group of 5 or 6 on a sort of island where you have to go on foot (and supplies, as usual, are limited). Of course, you don’t need to destroy them all, but you get an achievement for doing so, and it makes a later task much easier to complete. See, killing the roots raises your spectral vision, which allows you to see “hidden” things after you blink your eyes. The more SV you have, the longer the hidden things stay visible. So it’s definitely worth getting as many roots as possible, especially since the barrier your SV allows you to see can cause damage if you accidentally touch it.

Once all the roots are destroyed, you enter a dungeon. And oddly, for the rest of the game you don’t have to really fight anything. You solve an Indiana Jones-style series of booby trap puzzles (hard, but not annoyingly so), and then find some dude who looks like Dhalism at the bottom of the cave or whatever. Then you re-enact that one scene from Hitchhiker’s Guide (“I design fjords”) and go outside.

What follows is yet another annoying driving sequence. It’s the least problematic of the three, but again, there is a jump you need to complete, and random game shit causes your car to lose momentum. Basically, you have to drive up to the end of it, let everything activate (thorns rising from the ground, explosions, etc). Then back up and gun it forward again. And after that, the game is essentially over, you have a bunch of cutscenes in which you do almost nothing in between. The ending is incredibly half-assed – people complained about Halo 2? This one is far more “What? THAT’s the end?”

In the end, I didn’t hate it, but it was very disappointing in several key areas, and what makes it frustrating is how many of them have obvious solutions. Driving sequences? Allow you to get another car if your first one gets stuck. Control scheme? Allow 3rd person shooting and reassign buttons to make a bit more sense. Black liquid? Give you a chance to jump out of it with a health penalty instead of instant death. Also, I didn’t mind the limited inventory space (and many reviews complained about the fact you get attacked while in your inventory, an issue I never really encountered), but I really wish the game would let you put whatever you want in the inventory slots that ARE open. For example, you can only put tape, ammo, and Molotov wicks in the LEFT side of your jacket, for some reason – even more annoying when two left slots are permanently used by a puzzle item and your lighter), and you may have open slots on the RIGHT side.

And maybe, you know, write a goddamn ending.

And really, there is a lot of the game that is truly great. Without all of the glitches, the first driving sequence (59th Street) is one of the most exhilarating game sequences in recent memory (its like the one at the end of Halo 1 and 3, only far more destructive and nerve-wracking). The puzzle system is one of the best of its kind, and the graphics are above average (not quite Gears of War, but better than the rather bland and soft Halo 3). I didn’t care much for the dialogue (too much useless profanity – and that is ME saying this), and the story is sort of generic (amnesia, a human being the key to the rebirth of some ancient evil...), but that would have been easily forgivable had the aforementioned smaller problems been wiped out. Unfortunately, you add those things together, and all of the great things the game offers are sort of negated. It’s a game that’s like 90% great and 10% awful, but that 10% really does a lot of damage.

I would recommend a rental. Some folks have claimed that they had no problem with the game at all, passing through the sequences I’ve mentioned without any difficulty. The skip function is definitely a plus if you want to see what you’re in for before making a purchase. And hell, maybe there’s a patch on the way that will correct some things. The game is thisclose to being great, but for now it’s a tough sell at 60 bucks.

Graphics: 9/10
Sound (including acting/dialogue): 7/10
Story: 5/10
Control: 3/10
Gameplay: 6/10

Overall 7/10


AITD: Chapter 7


FOCUS: Graphics

Anyone who claims I have no patience has clearly never seen me play Alone in the Dark. This is definitely a make or break it level, and I admit, I came very close to just skipping it entirely, especially when after putting it down for a while and coming back, discovering that my progress was not saved and thus I had to redo the first 2/3 of the level all over again (or else not get the Achievement – which I had earned, dammit!).

In an apparent attempt to make up for the relatively easy and enjoyable previous level, this one just annoys you almost all the way through. You start off hanging by a rope, and need to climb up as shit falls down on you. Then you have to climb another rope as Ratz descend shooting their blinding acid spit at you. To shoot them you have to stop, take out your gun, aim, and fire (sometimes twice). By then they usually have the acid in your face which causes you to fall. Fall enough and you simply plummet to your death. After this monstrosity, you have to kill 8-9 Humanz with almost zero supplies, including a knife thrower who you need to shoot in the back to kill (he occasionally turns around but only briefly). Finally, things calm down for a bit as you make your way out of the subway station and into the park once again.

Once there, you need to find and burn x amount of “Roots Of Evil” in order to get your “Spectral Vision” high enough. This is merely an excuse to lengthen the game a bit, but it’s actually kind of fun for the most part. You still have to deal with bad controls and inventory issues, but at least you’re sort of in an open world and can approach it however you want. If one root is causing you problems (about half of them take some puzzle-solving to destroy) you can move on to another, or target practice on Humanz, or simply do the bare minimum and move on (you only need to take out I think 8 or 9 of the roots, there are like 15 around though).

Moving on means heading to a castle and solving another puzzle, completing a mini boss fight, and dealing with some more annoying black liquid, adding another half hour to this already lengthy level. Even if you never died and did only the bare minimum amount of root burning, it would take at least 2 hrs to complete. It took me about 6-7 (factoring in having to do the first 2/3 of the level twice), hence the two day session (it’s the first time I didn’t have time to beat a level in one sitting, let alone one day).

On the plus note, the varying locations gave me the opportunity to marvel at the game’s visuals. For all its problems, this is a damn good looking game and almost demands a nice HD presentation. There is a lot of variety here. Mass Effect is a great game, but every dungeon looked exactly the same. Not the case here, it’s very rare you find yourself in an indoor location that even resembles another, and the outdoor Central Park is also far from repetitive (lakes, sporting areas, a few odd buildings and restrooms, etc). Edward’s character animation is also quite good; especially when he is injured (he gets visual wounds all over his body). And of course, the fire effects are phenomenal, especially when you set a door or something ablaze and watch it spread and burn like a real fire would. The cutscenes are also usually quite good, if not particularly taxing (no FMV, it’s all in engine stuff). I almost wish the sun would come out during the park levels, if only to fully enjoy the scenery.

Out of nowhere difficulty aside, this was actually a pretty good level, due to the various things you have to do and exploration aspects. Supplies could be easier to come by in the park (it’s often quicker to just go back to the castle than look around in the park itself for bottles and meds, which usually results in you attracting the attention of a few Humanz). But the schizo “sometimes great sometimes awful” nature of the game is growing tiresome. With only one level to go (which looks to be another lengthy one), I’m now just looking forward to being done with it more than I am excited to sit down and actually play it. Bummer.


AITD: Chapter 6


TIME SPENT: 30 minutes
FOCUS: Storyline

Well here’s a rather unsatisfying level. Not because of the gameplay or anything, but because it was so short! While the other levels have taken 40 minutes at least (more with dying and such), I breezed through this one in under a half hour, and that includes getting momentarily stumped with a puzzle and screwing around trying to do something that I gave up on (there was a high ledge I was trying to get to because I just KNOW it has health spray or something equally useful on it).

Actually though, it’s a good level. Nothing really annoyed me, the puzzles were fun (you get to use a forklift!), enemy combat is kept to a manageable amount, and a lot of exposition is delivered.

Which is why I want to talk about the game’s story. Having never played any of the others, and seeing no connection to the movie, I’ve been sort of in the dark so far. I know Edward Carmby was the protagonist of the other games, but those took place in the 1920s. His age is mentioned in one of the earlier levels, but as to why he is seemingly immortal, they haven’t quite explained. In fact, a lot of the plot is sort of mystical mumbo jumbo so far, and seems largely inconsequential. I’ve played a lot of story heavy games lately (Mass Effect, for example) so maybe I’m just spoiled, but the plot development here is uneven at best. This level gives you lots of info, but previous levels have gone by without any real advancement to the story. All you have to do is watch the “Previously, on Alone in the Dark” sequence before each level and see which ones are important and which are filler.

Another issue is that while I get the gist of what is going on, it’s not really drawing me in to the point where I am truly interested in seeing its conclusion. Even though half the game was just filler, I was truly curious if Nico would ever find the guy he was looking for in GTAIV, and also if he would ever fuck Kate, which kept me going until the end. Here, my primary objective in completing the game is for the theoretical cool points I get for sticking with it despite all the annoyances. It may be laughable at times, but if nothing else, Metal Gear Solid never lets you forget the storyline because the cutscenes are equal to the amount of gameplay, and perhaps they should have followed suit here.


AITD: Chapter 5


TIME SPENT: 2+ hrs
ACHIEVEMENTS: 5 (Revive, Bloody Mary, Goal!, The Biggest of All, NOT ALONE ANYMORE)
FOCUS: Enemies

Alone in the Dark chapters apparently operate on an alternating design of having a really annoying driving sequence (chapters 2 and 4) and a really annoying black liquid sequence (3 and 5). Chapter 1 had liquid too but it was pretty easy to navigate through. Here, it’s a long L shaped hallway with the liquid covering the entire thing and no nearby fire. You have to run, jump, and of course, do a running jump in order to get through. On a normal game this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but with the bugginess that I’ve grown used to (I even added the word to spell check!), it’s not so simple here.

For starters, the camera often turns at inappropriate times, resulting in you walking into liquid where you couldn’t even see it. But even if the camera worked right, it wouldn’t matter much, because sometimes you’ll die even when standing in a spot that looks clear (apparently the barrier that triggers the instant death animation wasn’t drawn exactly on the lines of light/liquid). And, of course, the jumping button doesn’t always work right when you’re running, and your guy sometimes stops on a dime as soon as you let go of the run button, rather than slow to a normal walking speed, so if you let go in order to prevent yourself from running too far ahead of the light, you’ll just die from behind. Nice. This took me almost an hour to finally get through. And, par for the course, the rest of the level posed no real challenge.

That’s not to say it was a quickie either. Early on you need to clear a bunch of nests, something that isn’t really explained. This took me a while as I ran around scouring for items and ammo, with lots of back and forth stuff. Then there was a pretty goofy puzzle involving lighting a rat on fire that also stumped me for a bit. But that’s OK – I like thinking things through and trying different ways of getting the job done. I DON’T like having to do the same thing over and over again because the unpolished control/camera kept resulting in my death as I tried to do what is otherwise a very simple task. At least when I am stumped with a puzzle, I don’t have to keep watching myself die over and over and then look at a re-loading screen.

This level also contains the first true boss battle. There have been other minor ones, but they were largely simple – you just had to throw a Molotov at them. And that’s how you beat this one too, but unlike the others, it’s not a stationary, largely harmless mass of monster organ stuff. It’s a big ol’ tarantula man thing who shoots an almost endless series of stingers at you and also runs around chasing you. To beat him you gotta wait until he stops shooting in order to take a breath, THEN toss a Molotov at him. I think it takes 5 hits, after each one he goes apeshit and demolishes one of the pillars you are using for cover. Supplies are limited and obtaining them leaves you open to attack. It’s not the toughest battle ever, but it’s a good, and more importantly FAIR, challenge, un-hindered by the problems facing the driving/liquid scenes. It’s not completely perfect though – at one point I got stuck on the wall and had to reload.

The enemy design is great, and it is one of many you see in this level (I think this is the first one to incorporate all 5 of the game enemies seen thus far – Batz, Ratz, Humanz, liquid, and some sort of underground tentacle thing that whips you around if it catches you). I like that you can’t just shoot everything to death, as that would get boring (far as I know, there is no way to ‘kill’ the last two I mentioned). The limited number of supplies and imprecise aiming controls actually serve to intensify the excitement of the battles when they come – not only are you down to a single Molotov, it’s also possible to miss when you toss it in order to make it explode midair because your guy decided to suddenly spin around. Humanz are the most fun to fight – not only are they easy to see (unlike the Ratz, which have a tendency to attack you out of nowhere), but they don’t endlessly respawn like the Ratz/Batz do. Along with the boss, this is probably the most action driven level so far (not counting driving sequences), and the locale (a half-demolished museum) is a nice change of pace after the last two mostly outdoor levels.


AITD: Chapter 4


TIME SPENT – 2 hrs+
ACHIEVEMENTS EARNED – 6 (Vampirz, Purification by Fire, The Smart Fighter, Stuntman, Fissure, The Sharpshooter)
FOCUS: Overall game setup/design

Oh hey Atari? GO FUCK YOURSELF. I thought nothing could be more frustrating than the driving level at the end of the 2nd chapter, but the one at the beginning of chapter four makes that one look like taking a walk in the park (which is actually one of the many ways to get yourself killed in this level). I cannot honestly believe anyone tested this goddamn game.

In yet another driving sequence, you need to get to the museum. You have one car, and that car is constantly besieged by Batz, which will eventually pick your car up and then drop it to the ground, killing you in an unskippable 25 second animation. How do you fight the Batz? Simple – you either drive really fast or hit something with your car. Let’s list off all of the things that are totally fucking stupid about this scenario/level.

- To defend yourself against enemies trying to kill you, you are asked to ram your car into objects to ward them off – an action that, if repeated enough, will cause your car to burst into flames and kill you.
- Driving fast enough is almost impossible due to all the shit laying around in the road and the constant number of turns you need to take. Anything you so much as brush against will cause you to slow down, if not spin out and stop entirely. And of course, these things add to the damage done to your car, even if it wasn’t enough to drive away the goddamn Batz.
- You cannot get another car or go on foot. All the cars on the road are destroyed, and going on foot results in instant, no warning death after a few seconds.
- There are checkpoints to guide you on the way to the museum. These checkpoints are incredibly small, to the point where it’s possible to drive right past one without it “counting” and thus lighting up the next point (see GTAIV for an example of how to code/implement this type of thing perfectly). The fact that you can’t just use the knowledge you’ve gained from your multiple attempts at the level to just drive to the spot where you last got killed however you damn well please is annoying enough, but the fact that you need to drive over a marker the size of a dime is just infuriating.
- It’s also inexcusably long – I had hit about 20 checkpoints on my best attempt and I didn’t see the museum anywhere close.

Luckily, the developers apparently KNEW that their game was damn near impossible, and thus rather than fix the horrible driving problems, they simply added a pretty unique feature to the game: the ability to skip any part of a level from the menu. This sort of “play the part of the level you like” option is nothing new, lots of games have it. But I think this is the first time a game allowed you to skip parts before you actually completed it (at least, without using a code). Anytime you want in the game, you can pause and look at where you are in the level (they show a timeline with hashmarks denoting each part of the chapter as a whole) and skip ahead using DVD style controls (there is a fast forward button in addition to the chapter forward, you can even skip to a certain part of a part!). I’ve known about the feature since I began playing, but it was the first and hopefully last time I had to use it. I play games to have fun, but when one frustrates me to the point where I need to skip a section entirely, there’s definitely a problem or two with the way the game is designed. Especially when what follows it was ridiculously simple – after that debacle I don’t think I died a single time or even got stumped for the rest of the level. I also racked up a few more achievement points, just not the one for completing the level, natch.

Speaking of the DVD style menu, the whole game is setup like a “TV on DVD” disc. Hell, you even get “Previously...” segments every time you begin a gaming session (even if you are picking it up from halfway through a particular level). I much appreciate this setup – I am definitely one who will sometimes go months without playing a game, so it’s nice to have the little refresher. And believe me you, if I didn’t have to review the game, I certainly would have walked away from it for quite a while after that stupid fucking Batz part.

I also like how the achievement point system is implemented. Unlike some other games, the achievements are easily obtainable just by playing the game – you don’t have to go out of your way for a good number of them. Guitar Hero 3, for example, has insanely stupid ones that require you to do things that you would never actually do if you were just playing the game like a normal person (one had you beat a song on expert with the sound turned off – what?). I am sure there are a few that would probably require some extra work, but since I haven’t “tried” to get any so far and have gotten 22 out of 49 of them (assuming I can finish the Batz part, that would be 23 out of 49, just shy of half), and I am halfway through the game, I would say that’s a good sign. The game is very linear and so far I have seen no sort of benefit to exploration or item collecting (two things you actually CAN’T do for the most part), thus I highly doubt that I will spend much time with it once I have finished the final level.

And yes, I know achievement points have no value, but in a way, they DO – the more achievements you have earned (even idiotic ones), the more of the game you have obviously explored/completed. Take a game like GTAIV – there is an achievement for getting 100% completion in the game (doing the actual game, all the side missions, meeting all the friends, finding all the hidden packages, completing all of the stunt jumps, etc). If you were to get that (not to mention all the ones you’d get in the process), you’d have close to 800 points (more if you’ve also played multiplayer), and thus it’s pretty safe to assume you have gotten more out of your 60 dollar investment than someone who just beat the game straight through (which would yield about 300 points total). You can look at a low number of points for any particular game as a sign that you haven’t really taken part in everything the game has to offer.

Anyway, now that I am halfway through the game, I expect it to get more difficult. I HOPE the difficulty stems from things like “This boss has a lot of strength” or “I am running low on ammo” instead of “I just died because my car got stuck in between nothing and a lamppost”. We shall see...


AITD: Chapter 3


ACHIEVEMENTS EARNED: 10 (The Molotov Cocktail, Countdown to Death, Basic Combination, The Sticky Bomb, The Air Bomb, Cocoon, Fire Bullets, Toasted Eggs, The Glowstick Bomb, PAINFUL ANSWERS)
FOCUS: Puzzles

In this level, you need to first navigate your way into a building via a series of ledges, half suspended cars, pipes, etc. It’s actually a really fun sequence, with some good puzzles to boot. My favorite involved a bus that was seesawing over a ravine. You need to get in the back of the bus and exit out the front without tipping it too far. It wasn’t exactly a stumper (look at all those corpses in the bus!) but it was a perfect example of what I was talking about before – the puzzles making sense in the context of the game. Later, I actually WAS stuck before realizing that a door at a 90 degree angle above me may have something above it that would drop once the door was opened.

After this sequence you enter the sewers, where more puzzles await. Most are simple in execution, and again make sense in the game world. Wires need to be removed from the water, doors without handles need to be blown open, inventory items need to be combined, etc. The only time frustration really set in was near the end, when some black liquid ripped off from The X-Files kept killing me. You need to use light to keep it away, but for whatever reason the light I was using (and that had worked perfectly fine before) wasn’t good enough. I don’t particularly care for inconsistent enemy behavior in a game, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Plus, it was part of a multi-part puzzle that I enjoyed, even if it was slightly “gamey” (why would a gas valve be located at the bottom of a pool?). There was also some action involved, and like I suspected, shooting and fighting is getting a bit more natural.

The only downer was another driving sequence at the end of the level, which again was marred by poor collision detection. You need to jump a gap, and your car will occasionally get stuck or clip something that you can’t actually see, resulting in reduced speed and thus not enough momentum to get across the gap. Blah.

Otherwise this was probably my favorite level so far – it was challenging, but I didn’t need to repeat anything more than 2-3 times, which is fine. Not too much of the story was revealed, allowing you to just play for the most part. And as an achievement point whore, I much enjoyed seeing my score rack up so much over the course of an hour.


AITD: Chapter 2


ACHIEVEMENTS EARNED: 5 (Car Thievery. Never Leave a Key Here, Wired, The 10 Mile Race, QUESTIONS)
FOCUS: Driving

The second chapter finds you teamed with a girl named Sarah as you attempt to escape the building (er, ALONE in the dark?). You’re on the ground floor now, but walking out the front door is apparently not going to work. You also get your first real taste of combat, as well as some of the enemies in the game. First are what the game calls Humanz, which are essentially zombies (fast kind) that have been infected by whatever the monster is. You also encounter some small facehugger type things that are a real pain to kill due to the poor control of shooting (you can only shoot in first person mode, and aiming when they are standing still is pretty difficult, let alone when they are scampering about and attacking you). You also meet another guy who claims to have some of the answers you seek, but in true gaming tradition he won’t actually tell you anything until you do some more puzzles and combat.

This level also includes the first of what I hope aren’t too many driving sequences. After playing GTA for two months, it’s almost refreshing to control a car that doesn’t really follow real world physics (meaning turning while going 75 mph isn’t that hard), but the problem is the car gets stuck way too easily. At one point I had to restart a part of the level because the car got stuck in a place that kept me from progressing. However, I did like the little minigame process of stealing a car. Cumbersome window smashing controls aside (see Chapter 1 for details), it’s pretty awesome to check under the visor for a key, turn on the radio, and hot wire a car in first person mode (as opposed to the scripted, “out of your hands” style of GTA).

After this initial driving sequence comes what may be the most frustrating game segment of all time. You are finally outside of the building, but the entire city is under attack. Your task is to drive to Central Park as the city crumbles around you (not to mention the tentacle monsters attacking from all sides). It’s an amazing sequence visually, and the score that accompanies it is also well above average for a video game. Unfortunately, the aforementioned tendency for the cars to get stuck on other cars (or nothing at all in some cases) makes this entire sequence much more of a chore than it should be. It becomes a series of memorization and trial and error gameplay, so coupled with the bugginess of the whole thing, you can expect to make several attempts before finally reaching the end. I actually got an achievement award for driving 10 miles in the game, which is the type of achievement that you probably wouldn’t get until the very end of the game if you were playing it “right”, and yet I got it on what was essentially my first driving level. Kind of suspect.

Luckily everything else about the game is solid fun, and I look forward to playing through the rest. I just hope that the bugginess phased out or simply outweighed by the good.


AITD: Chapter 1


TIME: Hour or so
FOCUS: Controls

I had never really played any of the other Alone in the Dark games (I tried one on the PSone, and got rid of it ten minutes later due to a truly awful control scheme, I forget which one it was though), but that didn’t make me any less excited for the new one, because I love survival horror in general, and if my beloved Xbox360 has one flaw, it’s the complete lack of games in the genre. Condemned is the only other one, and that came out at launch almost three years ago! There is also Dead Rising, but that’s more of an action/comedy game than anything scary (plus the actual survival mode is only available once you beat the game). So not only did I want to play the game, I want it to be a success, thus presumably paving the way for more of its type to hit the system (and indeed, two more are on the way – Dead Space and Left 4 Dead. Woooo!)

The game starts off in the middle of a crisis. New York is seemingly under attack by some sort of monstrous force (black liquid/tree-ish tentacle things devouring everything), and of course, its up to you, Edward Carnby, to stop it via solving puzzles, killing enemies, and having long dialogues with strange people you meet along the way. And of course, since it's a video game, he has amnesia (which is a bit odd for a game that’s essentially part 5 of a series). As the game begins he is about to be executed for some reason, but the monster things kill his captors and destroy much of the building he is in, and so your job is to get out alive while helping a few folks along the way.

The first level functions as sort of a long-form tutorial, as you learn to use weapons, heal yourself, solve puzzles, climb on wires, etc. None of it is particularly groundbreaking, but some of the puzzles you’ll encounter are pretty original. For example, at one point a dangling electric wire is blocking your path. To get by, you must keep the wire away from the ground by hooking it on an extruded part of the wall above. Stuff like that is much more preferable than the type of puzzles found in the Resident Evil games, which often don’t make any sense (why would a police station have a statue that needs two differently colored jewels placed in its eye sockets in order to get to the second floor?).

The controls are not very intuitive, sadly. The Y button is used to switch perspective from third to first person, and A is used for pretty much everything else. X is used to make Edward run, but it’s barely faster than his walking speed. In addition, it’s very difficult to make him turn around when in third person mode, as he is often seemingly fixated on something in front of him (I quickly got into the habit of just switching to first person, turning, and switching back rather than fumble about). It’s also a bit awkward to swing melee weapons (chairs and brooms mainly), which is how you catch things on fire to make torches. You use the right stick to swing them around, which is a sweet idea in theory, but it’s very awkward and hitting an exact target (a small flame for example) is a very trial and error process. Hopefully this is just growing pains associated with a new control scheme, and as I progress it will become more natural. So far, it’s a pretty fun game and definitely has a bit of an old-school charm that I highly appreciate.


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