Alone in the Dark – Day 1 of Advent 2019

Well, here’s a good start – a game I’ve already covered on the channel. Five years ago, in fact! I had some misgivings about it in the past, saying that it hadn’t aged well. For the most part, my thoughts haven’t changed all that much in terms of looking back at its gameplay…but I find I’m a lot more forgiving of it considering it’s the first real example of a survival horror game. And a 3D one, at that!

Just to clear something up from that old video, mainly for my own sake: I hadn’t configured DOSBox properly for the game, which is why it ran like treacle down Everest in the middle of a particularly chilly winter. Once you get that sorted, the game becomes infinitely more playable.

Upon starting the game, you’re fully introduced to what Alone in the Dark is about by way of a brooding monologue from whichever of the two characters you’ve picked. Then it’s into the mansion, and I must say, this intro cutscene is genius. It essentially shows the places you’ll end up going to, but in reverse, and it’s worth paying attention here as certain traps and items are visible as your esteemed protagonist heads on up to the attic.

And then it’s all up to you.

Edward Carnby stands on a brown rug in the middle of a brown attic with brown walls.

Let’s get my main complaint of Alone in the Dark out of the way: the combat. Within the first fifteen minutes of the game, you could very well be treated to four or five fistfights with the locals, and the combat basically consists of ‘hold space, then hold up’. There’s not a lot of nuance to it, and winning a fight can be a bit of a crapshoot – either you stunlock the enemy, or the enemy stunlocks you.

I appreciate that combat is supposed to be a desperation move, when there are no other choices – but you’re forced into the situation more often than is necessary. Supposedly, the sequel puts a lot more emphasis on combat, which is why I haven’t touched it yet.

Otherwise, this game presents one hell of an atmosphere. Each room is pre-rendered and populated with 3D objects, a little like watching a cartoon, and the way the backgrounds are illustrated gives a huge sense of terror…like there’s always something out to get you, or possibly watching you…or both. There’s a lot of interaction with the environment as well: for example, the first puzzle involves blocking a window with a wardrobe to prevent a monster from breaking through the glass.

I have to question this monster’s design. It’s like a dog and a chicken had a freaky evening.

Carnby matches wit and brawn with a chicken dog, a bald creature with giant green eyes and even bigger teeth.

If you don’t already know that a trap’s coming up, it can easily catch you out. Fortunately, the game allows you to save at any point, and save you must. It’d be nice to have a quick-save key so you’re not taken out of the game as much, but hey. It was 1992.

Sometimes the camera angles can get in the way somewhat, but for the most part they’re reasonably-placed. I particularly like it when the angle changes to show something about to happen – for example, when the chicken dog breaks through this window.

Sadly, I got a bit stuck at this point, because I either couldn’t work out how to get past this purple creature, or I wasn’t patient enough to keep sticking and moving.

Carnby takes aim at a purple demon. Unfortunately, he hasn't been to the range in a long time, and he's quite forgotten how to fire a rifle.

But I want to leave off by mentioning how influential AITD was to the gaming industry. It essentially spawned a brand new genre, which was later popularised by Capcom’s long-running Resident Evil series. It’s also probably responsible, in part, for all these survival games we get all over Steam these days.

Verdict: worth a go!

All he wanted was a good lie down. Maybe a cuppa and a few Custard Creams while you're at it.

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