First of all, apologies for breaking my usual rule about placing articles between reviews. Although there was originally meant to be an article here, I wasn’t satisfied with it and had originally planned to replace it with an art preview – but then I happened to stumble across a “let’s play” video for something which I just had to review instead. I am, of course, talking about the “work in progress” demo version of a modern indie survival horror game by Caspar Croes from 2019 called “Alisa“.
Of course, being a demo, this won’t really be a full review. Still, one of the cool things about this demo is that not only does it have ultra-low system requirements that are actually appropriate for a retro-style game but it is actually a proper old-school demo too (which is technically free, albeit with an option for donations).
So, let’s take a look at the demo version of “Alisa”:
“Alisa” is set in the 1920s and begins with a Royal Armed Defences agent called Alisa waking up inside a creepy old mansion. She has no clue how she got there or why she is wearing a bizarre Victorian “Alice In Wonderland”-style costume.
After finding a door key, a pistol and a mysterious note, she decides to look for a way out. What could possibly go wrong?
Not only is the mansion filled with creepy murderous automatons and a hulking brute, but scattered notes leave ominous references to scientific experiments and someone has placed bizarre puzzles around the mansion too.
But, everything isn’t doom and gloom – there’s a friendly puppet called Pol who wants you to scavenge cogs from the broken corpses of fallen automatons. What a nice fellow.
One of the first things that I will say about this demo is WOW! The best way to describe “Alisa” is that it is like a cross between the original “Resident Evil”, “Alone In The Dark” and “American McGee’s Alice” 🙂
It is a totally new 1990s-style survival horror game and you have no clue how long I have been waiting for something like THIS! If you enjoyed playing the first three “Resident Evil” games when you were younger, you will feel at home here 🙂
In terms of the game’s horror elements, they are brilliantly creepy 🙂 Although this isn’t the kind of game that will make you jump and clutch your pounding heart, it is the kind of game that will leave you feeling decidedly unsettled after you’ve played it for a while. In other words, this game achieves a deeper and more subtle form of horror through atmosphere, setting and story. Not only are Victorian porcelain dolls inherently creepy, but the ominous hints about the nature and purpose of the “dollhouse” are also fairly disturbing too.
Unlike a lot of classic survival horror games, this one is completely bloodless. Although this might sound like it would make everything less frightening, the opposite is true. The complete lack of gore just adds to the eerily uncanny and inhuman atmosphere of the giant dollhouse. Plus, it places much more emphasis on the other types of horror in the game – whilst also denying the player the cathartic comfort blanket of “Resident Evil”-style cartoonish blood clouds too. Add to this some exquisitely disturbing background music, a couple of well-placed eerie set pieces and an ominously mysterious plot and you get a game that will leave you feeling haunted after playing it for a while.
This is the kind of game that wears its influences on it’s sleeve and yet also manages to be it’s own unique and distinctive thing at the same time.
There’s the “zombie mansion” style premise and gameplay of “Resident Evil”, the twisted gothic Victoriana of “American McGee’s Alice” and the early 20th century Lovecraftian eeriness of “Alone In The Dark”. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, this game is very much its own distinctive thing at the same time. Like many classic games, it actually has it’s own personality – with a “creepy old dollhouse” theme and some wonderfully twisted moments of quirky humour too.
As for the gameplay, this is an old-school 1990s style survival horror game 🙂 If you grew up with the classic “Resident Evil” games, you’ll instantly feel at home here and will relish the chance to finally play this type of game again. But, if you are a modern gamer, then you might find both the camera and controls to be a bit confusing or awkward at first. But, don’t give up – this is the whole point of the game!
This game makes expert use of well-framed fixed camera angles to build suspense and 1990s-style “tank” movement controls to unsettle and disorientate the player. In classic “Resident Evil” fashion, the aiming system is also deliberately slow and imprecise – requiring the player to stand still, raise their weapon and carefully pivot towards the enemy.
Not only does this make the monsters more of a threat to the player, but the combat is also made slightly more user-friendly thanks to a small icon (which is easily missed) that shows you whether your shot is lined up properly. This extra help is balanced out by the fact that you have to reload manually, which can add extra tension to each fight too.
Although the game doesn’t use a limited inventory system for puzzle and health items, this is made up for by the fact that you can only carry one weapon at a time (and have to use an item box to change it).
Yes, the menus and controls can take a bit of getting used to – but this is part of the fun of the game. It is evocative of the very first time you played “Resident Evil” and it is also a homage to the days when survival horror was a new genre that was still finding its feet.
The game’s monster design is really cool too. Although there are only three types of monster here, each has it’s own distinctive movement and attack patterns that add some variety to the gameplay.
There are basic “Resident Evil” style slow-moving enemies, there are faster crawling enemies (that are difficult to shoot and are best run away from) and there is a giant hulking monster who seems to be pretty much invincible and therefore has to be avoided rather than fought. In addition to all of this, I cannot praise the monster design enough too – not only are all of the monsters consistent with the game’s theme/atmosphere, but they all look genuinely creepy too because of this.
As for the two puzzles in the demo, they’re reasonably good too. Although I’m not a fan of puzzles in games (and had to use a “let’s play” video as a walkthrough for the second one), both are reasonably well-designed and consistent with the sort of thing you’d expect from an old-school survival horror game. One is a traditional slider puzzle – albeit with a slightly unintuitive U.I – and the other is an item/combination puzzle that, to be fair to the game, does give you a clue about how to solve it when you find one of the puzzle items.
This game is “old-school” in the most loveable and awesome way possible. Everything from the low-poly/pre-rendered graphics to the tank controls to the endearingly fun voice-acting just oozes 1990s nostalgia 🙂 This is a game that gets the style and atmosphere of this part of videogame history absolutely right. It looks and feels like an actual Playstation One game from the mid-late 1990s.
Yes, without this historical context, it is easy to point at this game’s flaws (and expect to be frustrated by the controls/user interface once or twice) – but this misses what makes this game so awesome. By also recreating some of the technical flaws of older games, “Alisa” feels less like a modern indie game and more like a “lost” game from the 1990s 🙂
The demo is very short – but you will have an incentive to replay it a couple of times thanks to how the game handles weapons and upgrades. Whenever you kill an automaton, they spew several cogs which can be collected and used to “buy” weapons, ammo, health and stat-altering alternate costumes. Since there are only about seven monsters in the demo, you won’t find enough cogs to get both the tommygun and the gothic alternate costume in a single playthrough. So, this encourages replayability.
All in all, although this is only a small demo, it is a “quality over quantity” type thing 🙂 I have been waiting for a modern game like this for so long 🙂 Yes, this is the type of game that you’ll probably get the most out of if you grew up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s – but, if you fall into this group, then you’ll love it. It is literally like a “lost” mid-late 1990s survival horror game 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.