You won’t find yourself scared by Alone in the Dark, and you may become a little frustrated by its control and sometimes poor camera angles, but to survival horror fans, the experience may be rewarding enough to face these flaws.
If you’ve heard of the game Alone in the Dark, it’s quite possible it was in reference to Resident Evil, since Alone in the Dark is seen as the father of the survival horror genre that Resident Evil made famous. You never really seem to hear about the actual game, though. Certainly, you may know that the game takes place in a haunted mansion and that it works with H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, but beyond that, it seems that no one really discusses this game to any great extent. How is it that a game that launched such an important genre in the gaming world remains relatively anonymous?
I could speculate about the reasons for this. For one, maybe it is because Alone in the Dark’s only console release was the 3DO, which fell into obscurity rather quickly, at least in the U.S. Maybe it was because it was a new type of game that the community was not yet ready to embrace. Or maybe, despite some of the reviews you might see out there on the web now, the game just actually isn’t that good.
I’m going to have to go with the latter.
It’s not that Alone in the Dark is a horrible game, and like many fans of the survival horror genre, I appreciate that this game set some of the conventions that would be seen in later games, such as solving puzzles and being limited on supplies. The problem is that it is the first of its kind, and as is often the case, a game can be innovative and still not be that fun to play.
One of the first flaws to discuss with Alone in the Dark could be its graphics, but considering this game was released very early in the 3-D era, I am willing to cut it some slack. To a contemporary gamer, the graphics are going to be very ugly and polygonal, but to be honest, they actually grow on you a little after you get into the game. There is, perhaps, a certain charm to the simplicity of their construction. You will never find them scary, but you may find them interesting nonetheless.
I think what really hurts Alone in the Dark, even when trying to place it in its era and not seeing it through the eyes of a 2008 gamer, is that the game is very slow and has disastrous controls. Fortunately, you won’t find yourself needing to make many precise movements, as this would be extremely frustrating. Your character plods along when walking, and you’ll likely be holding down the run button often to speed up the pace. OK, I can live with that. What is difficult to abide are the ridiculous fighting controls. To fight, you hold down an action button (which must be assigned to “fight” through your inventory screen), and then you press your control pad in different directions to do different attacks. There is some thought that has to go into which attack to use; for instance, your right punch appears to be a hook that can hit enemies further away than your left punch, which may be an uppercut (it’s not entirely easy to tell with the graphics). The thing is, your attacks come so slowly that timing them correctly for an incoming enemy is extremely difficult. What I ended up doing was holding down the attack button along with one direction so that my character would just continually punch, hoping that I would connect before the enemies could get close enough to hit me. It felt like cheating, but I didn’t care—I wasn’t going to deal with the frustration of trying to time my attacks correctly with such poor controls.
The story of this game comes across through books and letters you find throughout the mansion, and you can tell that the creators were maybe a little in love with CD technology, as they have every written work you find narrated by an actor. The overacting can become humorous at times, but in all, it does add to the experience. Fans of Lovecraft will appreciate the bits and pieces that are interspersed about the Great Old Ones and of the cults that worship them. You will see mention of Dagon and Cthulhu, as well as the madness they can cause to mortal men. The story is really what makes this game interesting and might have you contending with the gameplay in order to see it through. It would be great to see a remake of this game, as I believe the story behind the game, with its Lovecraftian influences, could result in a genuinely terrifying experience. Perhaps if the new Alone in the Dark had fared better, we might have received the remake. We can still have hope, though.
So how does the father of the survival horror genre hold up? Not well, but the game is still worth a look to those with an interest in the genre. You won’t find yourself scared by Alone in the Dark, and you may become a little frustrated by its control and sometimes poor camera angles, but to survival horror fans, the experience may be rewarding enough to face these flaws.
Recommended only for survival horror enthusiasts