Alone in the Dark: Illumination Preview

It burns! Not the light… I think I caught something.

I frequently profess that I am not the kind of gamer who gravitates towards survival horror mechanics and atmosphere. It’s too damn creepy! Something about fighting back against the forces of darkness in cramped, claustrophobic environments makes me want to turn the game off rather than delve even further into its loops and options for interaction. Why? Why does a singular genre have this kind of effect on me? I’d like to think it comes from the knowledge that I have a choice.

Choice proves important in nearly all aspects of video gaming, particularly as the medium can be expensive if you have a Steam digital platform habit that burns through gift cards even when there isn’t a sale. Atari, however, promises content in the dozens of hours for Alone in the Dark: Illumination, a new entry in the franchise that puts gameplay above narrative. 

Before I outright refuse to play a survival horror game, I’ll at least listen to the proposition offered by developers and publishers who continue to pursue the genre as a compelling place to experiment with players. Quite literally, survival horror itself offers one of the more direct paths to a player-software-psyche relationship, and Alone in the Dark: Illumination wants to utilize this by limiting the power you have outside of well-lit areas. The obvious point of comparison for this mechanic is in Alan Wake, though that game’s flashlight allowed players to deal damage regardless of their surroundings.

Illumination makes it clear that you’ll need to seek out light sources and wade through darkness in order to find them. Rather than parting the seas of evil with a Bear Grylls-approved heavy duty torch (powered by the Energizer bunny no less), this game offers kindling-stuffed barrels, overhead lights, generators, and spooky-looking tribal fire pits. These points of light allow enemies to be damaged, while in the darkness baddies prove more resilient and near un-killable. That, however, doesn’t mean each of the game's four classes don’t have a few tricks to fall back on.

Switching from an assault-rifle-toting hunter to a magic-wielder allowed me to perform a snappy electric spell that dismantled the zombie-like creatures pursuing my character. Perhaps more importantly, all of the environments I saw provided a definitive sense of close-quarters vulnerability and haunting atmosphere. A coal mine area with a lengthy conveyor belt felt starkly quiet and spooky in such a way that I’d have felt a lot more comfortable playing through the area with a few teammates at my side.

I asked the folks at Atari whether or not Alone in the Dark remains a key property at the publisher, and the answer was a firm yes. While Illumination subverts the franchise’s culture and history of narrative, it didn’t seem completely without purpose. Enemies and light resources both will push players further into levels either by necessity or curiosity, though the ability to shut a gate behind you and lose a mob of monsters will go a long way in offering choice in combat on higher difficulties.

Further, as a PC exclusive, Alone in the Dark: Illumination will support the Steam Workshop community, making a wealth of modded clothing, weapons, character skins, monsters, and the like available very early on. Due out this holiday season, Illumination has its sights set squarely on PC gamers with a penchant for online multiplayer and replayability.