Review: “Alone In The Dark” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Alone In The Dark Review Sketch

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been playing the original “Alone In The Dark” recently and, well, I’m quite honestly astonished that it’s taken me until now to play (and complete) this game. Especially considering that I was a huge “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” fan when I was a teenager.

Yes, I tried to find the demo of “Alone In The Dark” aeons ago (and may have even played a small part of it). In fact, about eight or nine years ago, I bought a copy of “Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare” but I got completely stuck on one part of it and abandoned it in frustration.

However, I didn’t really discover the original “Alone In The Dark” until a couple of days before I originally wrote this review (several months ago).

At the time, a collection of the first three “Alone In The Dark” games was on special offer on GoG. And, since I was in a slightly glum mood at the time, I decided that a horror game from the 1990s might be just the thing to cheer me up. It worked πŸ™‚

So, let’s take a look at “Alone In The Dark”:

Alone in the dark 1 leaving

“Alone In The Dark” is a survival horror game from 1992. No, it isn’t a survival horror game, it is the survival horror game!

It was the very first game of it’s kind and, if you’ve played the original “Resident Evil“, then it’ll suddenly become clear exactly where that ‘groundbreaking’ game got it’s inspiration from. That is to say, there are lots of things in “Alone In The Dark” that “Resident Evil” *ahem* borrowed four years later.

If this looks familiar, then just remember that THIS game came out four years BEFORE "Resident Evil" did....

If this looks familiar, then just remember that THIS game came out four years BEFORE “Resident Evil” did….

 Again, this game came out four years BEFORE "Resident Evil"....

Again, this game came out four years BEFORE “Resident Evil”….

In “Alone In The Dark” you can play as either Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood. Although there don’t seem to be any gameplay differences between the characters, their backstories are slightly different. Not only does this game give you the option of choosing a character, but each character actually has a proper backstory too.

I played as Emily Hartwood, who is summoned to the mysterious Derceto Mansion after her uncle mysteriously hanged himself in the attic.

This attic. The one you're standing in right now! Don't worry though, it isn't haunted...

This attic. The one you’re standing in right now! Don’t worry though, it isn’t haunted…

The beginning of this game is, quite simply, sublime. If you just wander around the attic aimlessly and look at everything, then a monster will jump through the window and attack you. After dying a couple of times, you start to wonder whether it’s a good idea to push a nearby cabinet in front of the window. Needless to say, this does the job. So, you stand there with a smug grin on your face as the monster outside howls mournfully and claws uselessly at the cabinet.

Then, a few seconds, later, you hear a quiet creaking sound. In the distance, a trapdoor gently swings open and a zombie slowly climbs out. If this sort of thing makes you spontaneously smile or suddenly burst into laughter, then you’re going to love this game πŸ™‚

Seriously, this scene is hilarious :)

Seriously, this scene is hilarious πŸ™‚

Although this game is ostensibly a horror game, the passage of time has turned it into something far better than just a horror game. It’s a dark comedy game. A totally unintentional one, but a bloody good one! Seriously, this game made me smile so many times πŸ™‚

I don't know whether I want to hug it or fight it. I love this game :)

I don’t know whether I want to hug it or fight it. I love this game πŸ™‚

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I felt like this game had been made specifically for me. The (unintentional) humour was exactly my type of humour, the monster designs were amusingly inventive, the graphics were gleefully cartoonish, the atmosphere of the mansion was wonderfully gothic, and the horror elements of the game trod a fine line between being creepy and funny.

All of this astonishingly great (unintentional) dark humour is complimented by a brilliantly melodramatic H.P.Lovecraft-inspired backstory that is revealed through numerous documents that you can find scattered around the mansion.

If you buy the GoG version of this game, then all of these documents are also read aloud by a hilariously melodramatic cast of voice actors, who sound like they came from a vintage horror movie. Seriously, I really love this game πŸ™‚

 *rolls eyes* It's spelled "Ia!", do you WANT Cthulhu to devour your soul or not?

*rolls eyes* It’s spelled “Ia!”, do you WANT Cthulhu to devour your soul or not?

In terms of the gameplay, I would say that it’s fairly standard 1990s survival horror gameplay but, well, this game invented that type of gameplay. As you would expect, you explore the mansion, solve puzzles, read documents and fight monsters.

In terms of the controls, they’re what you would expect. You use the arrow keys for movement and the spacebar can be used to either perform actions or ready your weapons. The camera angles, naturally, can change several times within the same room. Personally, I love this aspect of old survival horror games, but modern gamers might find it confusing.

One slight problem with the movement system is that, whilst your character can run, you have to tap the up arrow quickly and then hold it down in order to move at anything faster than a snail’s pace. Needless to say that this gameplay mechanic can be tempermental to say the least….

In order to select items, or to choose what types of action you want to perform (eg: searching, pushing, fighting or jumping), you can press “i” to bring up the inventory screen:

Yay! Inventory :)

Yay! Inventory πŸ™‚

Like in all classic survival horror games, your inventory is limited. However, this is calculated using a weight-based system. So, you can’t really tell whether you have any inventory slots left until you try to pick something up. But, unlike “Resident Evil”, if your inventory is full, you can just drop any unwanted items and come back for them later.

Yes, it's actually MORE realistic than "Resident Evil". You can actually just leave unwanted items on the floor!

Yes, it’s actually MORE realistic than “Resident Evil”. You can actually just leave unwanted items on the floor!

Yes, you don’t have to search for item boxes to leave your stuff in! You can save your game literally wherever you want! You also don’t have to sit through an annoying animation every time you walk through a door (you just walk up to the door, your character opens it and it stays open).

Did I forget to mention that this game came out four years before “Resident Evil” did? And the gameplay is still more advanced!

There's even a hilarious in-game animation when you use one of the (scarce) health items. Again, this game came out four years BEFORE "Resident Evil". And it does everything much better than that game does!

There’s even a hilarious in-game animation when you use one of the (scarce) health items. Again, this game came out four years BEFORE “Resident Evil”. And it does everything much better than that game does!

One cool thing about this game is that you don’t always have to fight the monsters. Although combat is unavoidable in some areas, you can sometimes find another way of dealing with any creatures you encounter: Likewise, some weapons won’t always work in every situation.

Yes, if you're going to fight the pirate, you'd better use a sword. Oh, did I mention that there are pirates in this game? Pirates!!! :)

Yes, if you’re going to fight the pirate, you’d better use a sword. Oh, did I mention that there are pirates in this game? Pirates!!! πŸ™‚

Growing up on "Resident Evil", I just instinctively drew my pistol and started blasting away fairly soon after I entered this room. When I read a walkthrough later, I learnt that there's another - sneakier- way of dealing with these zombies...

Growing up on “Resident Evil”, I just instinctively drew my pistol and started blasting away fairly soon after I entered this room. When I read a walkthrough later, I learnt that there’s another – sneakier- way of dealing with these zombies…

However, the combat system is a little bit clunky, to put it mildly. You hold the spacebar to draw your weapon and then you use the arrow keys to either aim or use it.

With bladed weapons, you can use the left and right arrows to slash and the up arrow to swing your weapon downwards. With projectile weapons, you use the left and right arrows to aim and the up arrow to fire.

Another cool bonus is that, unlike in "Resident Evil", the knife is actually a reasonably decent weapon here. You only have to hit a zombie with it four times, rather than thirty....

Another cool bonus is that, unlike in “Resident Evil”, the knife is actually a reasonably decent weapon here. You only have to hit a zombie with it four times, rather than thirty….

The main “problems” with the combat system are either aiming the guns in the right direction, or timing your attacks so that they’ll actually hit the monster you’re fighting. If you play for a while, then you’ll probably get used to this and see it as part of the game’s charm.

Not to mention that, since this is a proper survival horror game, it isn’t an action game! The clunky combat makes every battle appropriately challenging, and it reinforces the idea that you’re just an ordinary person who is trapped in a house filled with much more powerful monsters.

Plus, when your character inevitably dies horribly, you’re treated to a wonderfully theatrical (which you can skip by pressing “Esc” if you get bored of it) cutscene featuring their body being dragged through a stone corridor by a zombie and placed on a sacrificial altar. Then you are rewarded by this really cool picture:

- *Sigh* Remember when really cool artwork was actually an integral part of the horror genre? Yes, I miss it too!

– *Sigh* Remember when really cool artwork was actually an integral part of the horror genre? Yes, I miss it too!

As for the puzzles, they start out reasonably well. In fact, this was one of the things that made me really happy when I started playing this game – I could solve the puzzles on my own. However, after playing about half of the game, I started to get stuck. Eventually, I checked a walkthrough. Then, a while later, I checked it again. Soon, I found myself relying on it quite heavily.

Then again, I’m terrible at both adventure game puzzles and survival horror game puzzles, so it was really wonderful to at least get through half of the game without having to use a walkthrough. Still, I didn’t really play this game for the puzzles. I played it for the atmosphere, the exploration, the unintentional comedy and just for the sake of playing it.

As for the graphics, they work surprisingly well. For a game that came out twenty four years ago, the 3D graphics aren’t bad. In fact, they’re astonishing when you consider that most games at the time (and for about a year or so afterwards) didn’t use 3D graphics extensively.

One cool thing about the old 3D graphics is that they make the main characters look like characters from a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon. If you grew up in the 1990s, then you’ll probably find this wonderfully nostalgic πŸ™‚

Seriously, she looks like a character from "Rugrats".

Seriously, she looks like a character from “Rugrats”.

Curses! Foiled again! And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those meddling kids!

Curses! Foiled again! And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!

Not to mention that I absolutely love the vintage fashions in this game too. Seriously, I love the fact that -even with a relatively small number of polygons- both characters actually look like they genuinely come from the 1920s/1930s.

As for the rest of the artwork in the game, the pre-rendered backgrounds have aged fairly well, since they now look wonderfully cartoonish, rather than “realistic” . Plus, being a game from the early-mid 1990s, “Alone In The Dark” features quite a bit of really cool pixel art too πŸ™‚

*Sigh* I miss the days when games featured awesome pixel art AND clever compositional tricks too.

*Sigh* I miss the days when games featured awesome pixel art AND clever compositional tricks too.

As for the music, it’s fairly decent. Like in many later survival horror games, one cool feature is that dramatic music will start playing whenever you encounter a monster. Plus, if you get this game on GoG, then you’ll also get a free MP3 copy of the soundtrack too.

All in all, I loved this game πŸ™‚ If someone had made a computer game just for me, it would look like this game.

When I was a teenager, I thought that the early “Resident Evil” games were the games that defined the survival horror genre (even if I later thought that the second and third “Silent Hill” games were better). This game blows all of the classic “Resident Evil” games out of the water! Not only are the gameplay mechanics a lot better, but it’s also crammed with (unintentional) dark comedy, Lovecraftian mysteries and all sorts of other cool stuff.

If you’re a survival horror fan, you need to play this game. In fact, I’m astonished that it took me until 2016 to play it. That would be almost as unthinkable as being a fan of FPS games and never playing the old “Doom” games (which, in terms of gameplay, are still better than most of the FPS games that came after them… including “Doom 3”).

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would get at least five. Maybe even six.

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