Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Your spine shakes with chills as your heart begins to race. Your mind wanders with the fear of the unknown, and just when you think you were safe from whatever hunts you, you feel it’s grip across your throat. It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means, a series of reviews on some of the scariest horror themed games out there today! Welcome to my 13 days of horror reviews, where we honor the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky side of video games, both past and present. Today, we look at Alone in the Dark.
If “ Resident Evil” made survival horror a household name, then “Alone in the Dark” is the grandfather it never knew, because a lot of “Resident Evil’s” gameplay elements are lifted from this old PC game, with some being perfected, but overall still can barely hold a candle to the menacing granddaddy that it takes after.
This PC powerhouse back in 1992 was the definition of horror games, as you star as Edward Carnby, a P-I who is trying to find a missing piano in the hunted house of Jeremy Hartwood, who committed suicide and has since then been inhabited by the spirits of the dead. You can also play as Emily Hartwood, the niece of Jeremy who is after the same piano. Carnby and Emily are pretty much character swaps, but the story that unfolds is intuitively designed as you progress from the house to the outside, solving puzzles and fighting off zombies, ghouls, possessed toys, and other enemies that may slay you.
The game is mostly a puzzle-adventure, similar to maniac mansion, where you need to find items or lure enemies into traps to help solve puzzles and outsmart specific creatures trying to kill you. In fact, some of the enemies can’t be killed at all, so using your wits is the only way to ensure your own survival in the house. The use of puzzles is the strong suit of the game, as it takes the forefront of survival horror that has since been emulated but never repeated. Instead of it solving door X with Key Y, it is something different. Yes you have to find the items to solve the puzzles, but sometimes improvising, or finding a new pathway occurs, giving a sense of non-linearity to the entire design of the game.
The games story is also a strong suit. As the background information on the house unravels and the evil spirits are explained, the action actually picks up and the enemies become harder to evade. The story is deep in Cthulu mythos and Lovecraftian themes, and even pays homage to the writer with some clever in game references to his work. This all helps the atmosphere for an already terrifying game.
And I totally admit, it scared the hell out of me when I was younger. Being chased down by zombies and unkillable creatures was a fright, and even when solving puzzles and finding items to slow them down or kill them, the constant barrage of boo scares and overall fearful moments struck a chord in me easily.
The game was graphically a 3-D game with 2-D backgrounds, just like “Resident Evil,” but with smaller polygon counts. It may look primitive today, but back in 1992, this was brand new. Remember, C-D games were still being made, and it was the advent of games like Myst and the 7th Guest which helped that take off, but Alone In the Dark, even on a floppy drive, was powerful stuff.
And thanks to the music and sound effects, it was scary. Every time you walked, the floor creaked. Every time you opened something, it emitted a moan of rustiness that would make a cat jump in fear. The first time you hear a zombie moan off screen, you will probably start running around to find a way past it. And the games music helped this cause, augmenting the sound effects with a brooding score that was always in the background, going fast paced when faced with an enemy or a slow, kind of melodically bouncing when exploring the mansion itself.
“Alone in the Dark” is one of those games that changes the way games can be played. Even with the action elements of fighting enemies, the goal of the game was to solve puzzles and just survive. Backed by innovative graphical techniques, a great soundtrack and sound design, and a devilish storyline with tons of Cthulu mythos and real, scary moments, “Alone in the Dark” was something good, something amazing for its time. It started the genre of Survival Horror as we know it today, and despite a TON of bad press thanks to Uwe Boll and poor remakes, it stands out as one of the scariest games ever made.