Game Review

Alone in the Dark (1992) [PC]

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The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
-H.P.LoveCraft

 

nightmoon.png “The following is a contributor post by the Indecisive Night Mage.”

Psst… Did you Know this game has nothing to do with the 1982 horror film of the same name?

Also… how do you make a rainbow armadillo mascot creepy?

…That’s how.

Upon starting the game, you are prompted with a choice. Play as Emily Hartwood or as Edward Carnby. Hovering over each character gives you a background story and an audio sample of the actors’ voices. By 1992, we were finally seeing more female protagonists, as something about the gaming industry’s designs were slowly becoming more progressive, but not often were we given an actual choice.

Despite being male, I often chose the female character (Was this taboo for anyone else back then? Maybe I grew up in an awkward setting.). The initial reasoning for the decision was that it seemed, out of the two character choices, Emily seemed to attack just a hair faster (though this may have been a false perception at the time). Many years later, I still choose Emily when playing the first Alone in the Dark; the first game is the only one to give you that choice. That’s right, nothing but Carnby for the rest of the series!!! (Not including mini game Jack in the dark, which stars the kidnapping victim of AITD 2.) Emily as a choice also just made more sense to me, as she was the only one directly related to the deceased owner of Derceto manor, “Jeremy Hartwood”. Edward Carnby of course being a detective might make sense in any horror or murder mystery game so I won’t fault him for being there. It seems after the incident at Derceto all he can find now is jobs in detecting and removing supernatural forces. Emily however is actually trying to solve the very personal mystery of what drove her relative to the brink of insanity and caused his suicide, while hoping to get out alive.

Image result for alone in the Dark 1992 pc characters

Carnby is… “Accidental Ghostbuster”.

Emily is… “Hero of this tale”.

Despite being ever indecisive, only to pick the same character I always do, I am rewarded with the sound of digital crickets chirping. Seemed like beautiful sounds quality back then, though kind of grating/irritating now but thankfully it doesn’t last nearly long enough to cancel the experience. Once those crickets silence, and the car drives by, and the creepy frog with the overly wet eyes has been seen, it’s time to start.

Your chosen protagonist walks up the stairs and straight up to the attic like she/he has been there before and already knows the way (Why would Carnby already be familiar?). The mission is simple: find the suicide note and leave (spoiler highlight to reveal: It’s in the piano, and you don’t even have to find it to beat the game).

The first thing you’ll notice aside from the very detailed pixel art (Playing from an early 90’s perspective) is that this is the first survival horror game in the early 90’s to contain a 3D polygonal character sprite over a pre-rendered background, and it was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for this feat later in 2008. Again… first survival horror game, not first game ever. What was the first ever? Trivia time!!!

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Shortly after starting, you must be quick to either combat two foes back to back, or figure out how to block their entry. This game often gives you a choice between combat and evasion, and I always loved that evasion was sometimes made out to be a puzzle.

Speaking of puzzles, there were sometimes more than one solution to them (Developers thinking ahead is always a good sign). The greatest thing about the puzzles in this game is that the majority of them required little to no backtracking as long as you pay attention to clues, picked up everything that looked useful/essential, and figure out how the pieces fit in order to proceeded. Bonus: No “Fetch Questing” (Yes, FQ’s have occasionally been a thing in horror lately, these need to be tossed back into RPG’s where they belong, and even then… they need to be used sparingly).

Protip: Don’t try to leave the house before the situation has come to a close… Trust me…

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After all of the puzzles of the house have been solved, all of the monsters have been avoided, outsmarted or slain, there was still more work to be done in the underground maze. I would have thought the game to be finished, until the woodwork of the house transitioned to the stone of the basement, then similarly, to the chiseled rock of the caves below. More puzzles, more Gems/Keys/Artifacts/Weapons to be found and deployed, and one more real boss/puzzle to conquer.

Though the first playthrough took me months to finish in my youth, once you learn your way through, it’s not hard to beat in under 2 hours if you know what you’re doing. Although that doesn’t seem long today, many of my Nintendo games could be beaten in 20-30 minutes once I was any good at them (excluding my favorite RPGs). At the time, this was also the first “immersive” feeling of horror I had ever gotten from a game. Having been no stranger to games like Castlevania and Shadowgate, I had gotten into horror gaming a quite a young age, but none of that experience had prepared me for this. (This was long before I had played any Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or my personal favorite horror RPG, PARASITE EVE!!!). The music, the sound effects, the atmosphere… it was all so perfect (Aside from those @#$% crickets).

Though this isn’t a game I play daily, weekly, or even monthly anymore, its 2-hour length always ensured that if I was looking for something I could finish in an evening, this was always an option. As much as I prefer my 25-1000 hour games. Sometimes it’s good to know that there’s something I can complete, that will occupy me for more than 30 minutes and not leave me with that “now what do I do with the rest of my night” feeling. Being about as long as your average horror movie helped its case on many an occasion.

If you love horror gaming, survival gaming, PC gaming, or retro gaming, this game is a must-play. And it’s really cheap on steam at the time of this writing. Sometimes it even comes in a pack with all of the other Alone in the Dark games for a quarter of the price of a new game. Watch for deals, even if it means you have to own “that one” eww (I’m rolling my eyes at you, PC/X360 reboot with terrible controls…). Five games in one pack (1, Jack, 2, 3, Reboot) is a great deal even if it means putting up with

It just didn’t live up to the standards of the time, and it was certainly not a pusher of console limits and abilities.

This being near the end of my first ever video game review, I suppose it’s probably about time to discuss scores… (Also please let me know how I did as a first-time reviewer, be brutal, I can take it!!!).

Each score is out of 10, and I’ll keep in mind both a retro score for its time and what I’d score it today, then average them out. The average will be displayed as each category’s score. The retro and modern scores will be at the end of each “Score Explanation”.

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8bitreview

 Visuals: 7/10

Though it was a masterpiece visually for its time, there are now people who work alone in basements and garages who can stitch together more believable imagery in almost no time by comparison. Retro 8/Today 6

 Audio: 9/10

Its sound design was impressive upon first release, the music fit the theme of mystery, murder, horror, curiosity, and action. One of the first few games I remember to have encounters trigger a musical change, aside from RPGs. Retro 10/Today 8

 Gameplay: 6/10

Though WASD wasn’t an average/mandatory thing back then, it is now. Moving with arrow keys should be an option, not a default. Though its controls worked well enough for me to beat it, the arrow keys and the attack delay would be something that would get on someone’s nerves until they grew accustomed to it.

Reminder, in order to attack, you must press attack and a direction, not just attack. (They really make you commit to that slow attack animation, and if you stop pressing early, the attack stops and frees your movement again). Though I absolutely loved this game, the controls are going to give it a big dip in score because I have always believed that control responsiveness has always been the most important thing in gaming. (I did score it higher on the retro side, but only because WASD wasn’t considered average or automatically intuitive back then). Retro 8/Today 4

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Narrative: 7/10

I gave it a high retro score here because there wasn’t a whole lot of story needed, and they didn’t rely on forced exposition to get across what plot points were necessary, while hiding plenty of backstory in books throughout the game for those who were curious. So those who wanted plot got a rich history of Derceto Manor, Occult Texts, and other Cthuluistic short stories, and those who were just in it for the puzzles and survival could get down to business with little to no interruption. I gave it a lower modern score because its library is teeny compared to the rich text-containing worlds found in the books of Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim. Retro 8/Today 6

 Challenge: 5/10

Though challenging enough to keep a young me busy for a couple months, I can beat it now in a couple hours, as previously stated. I have climbed and conquered much greater mountains in the horror genre since then. Retro 6/Today 4

 Replayability: 7/10

I believe the replayability hasn’t changed much from a retro or modern perspective. After the first time beaten, it’s less about solving the problems, and more about remembering solutions you already know (Unless you are trying to find the alternate solutions to some of these problems). Also, there is a speed running community surrounding this game that is active from time to time in both “Any%” and “100%” categories, so if you have any interest in speed running, this is not a difficult game to learn. Retro 7/Today 7

 Uniqueness: 8/10

Alone in the Dark’s story, puzzles, atmosphere, art, and use of the horror theme with 3D sprites over pre-rendered backgrounds was so unique for its time. There weren’t many developers in that time that were willing to use H.P. Lovecraft as an inspiration and if you read all the books contained in Alone in the Dark, you’ll probably see the obvious influence almost immediately.

Downside… using Lovecraft as an inspiration back then was unique, but now it’s almost the standard for good horror games. If you want to play a good horror game that isn’t just another zombie FPS/TPS you almost can’t escape H.P.’s influence. Though that’s not a bad thing at all, it does take some level of uniqueness away when it seems like “everybody is doing it”. Retro 10/Today 6

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My Personal Grade: 7/10

I loved it enough to beat it.

I loved it enough to keep playing it.

I believe it is worth its flaws.

I learned it inside out so well that I even decided to record a YouTube walkthrough to help others that may be confused by it. Most of the puzzle bits make sense, but some of the items aren’t always easy to find or decipher. Infogrames wasn’t as bad at this as Sierra. Sierra games were good, but puzzle-solving hotlines were a money maker. I enjoyed playing and recording it so much, that it was one of the few games I ever gave a cheesy YouTube intro to. I would certainly score it a ten here if things like Parasite Eve and Final Fantasy didn’t exist for comparison. Retro 8/Today 6

I do suggest anyone who is interested in the horror genre and retrogaming ought to give this game a try.

If you get stuck, or simply want to experience the game before making a decision, follow this link to see my Playthrough/Walkthrough.

WARNING THE NEXT LINK IS A COMPLETE WALKTHROUGH AND CONTAINS “ALL” GAME SPOILERS (Except for most book contents, I left that for you explore on your own).

-Excuse the Uber cheese intro it was recorded for Halloween, My favorite day ever!!!

Aggregated Score: 7.0

 

The Indecisive Night Mage – “Developed/Released” 1982. Survivor of the “Atari VS. Nintendo”, “SNES VS. Genesis”, and intermittent/ongoing “Playstation VS. the world” Console Wars (more than occasionally seeking solace in his PC). Also known as PlayJAK, he sometimes goes as “Joshua A. Knable”. Happily married gamer geek and father of two, INM/PJ/J.A.K. works overnight shifts so when he has time off he spends his nights on a ton of other projects (Never quite deciding which ones to finish – If you are seeing this text a miracle has occurred). Fueled by Rockstar energy drinks and the positivity of his Twitter feed, PJ currently runs a website (temporarily down), YouTube Channel, Twitch Stream (Variety Gaming stream, AutoHosting other streamers), and can be found on Twitter advertising his channel and supporting other friendly Tubers/Streamers/Writers/Indie-Developers.

Twitter: @PlayJakSayBack
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/Playjakplays
Twich: https://www.twitch.tv/playjak1982
Website: WWW.PlayJAK.COM

 

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9 replies »

  1. Great review! I never got around to playing this game, despite being a PC gamer back in the early 90s. Chalk it up to my obsession with flight sims and and Xwing/Tie Fighter, I guess. I appreciate the retro vs. current scoring system too, puts things in perspective.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you!, Your input is appreciated. I couldn’t think of which score I’d want to go with at first, So I figured “Why Not Both?”.

      Like

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