In retrospect: the original alone in the dark

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The lead up to Halloween looks as good as any for revisiting the ancestor of the modern survival horror game. Released in 1992 on PC, Infogrames’ Alone in the dark is notable for being the first 3D title of its kind. He even inspired the same but more action-oriented resident Evil series, without forgetting the most distant silent Hill.

A cross between an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure and today’s more non-linear titles, Alone in the dark traces a day in the life of private investigator Edward Carnby as he investigates an old piano in a mansion in the dark swamps of Louisiana, only to discover that the mystery goes far beyond mere antiquity (miles, in made). Formerly owned by a certain Jeremy Hartwood, an artist who committed suicide (there is a first one), Derceto Manor is full of labyrinthine puzzles in which the player must navigate by rummaging through drawers and looking for clues. , and of course, there’s the usual secret passage or two to discover.

In a nutshell, it’s your basic haunted house. A barely original premise, but the execution is superb. With only a few flimsy 1920s weapons at his disposal, Carnby’s progress is characterized by that tight survivalism that is the hallmark of this genre of gaming, but it’s more of a horror mystery than action. Yes, there are enemies to fight and, yes, it’s extremely satisfying to send them out in any way you can, but it’s the environment and the atmosphere that makes this game what it is. Tense and sometimes really disturbing, Alone in the dark is a captivating descent into the underworld of terror inspired by Lovecraft.

There is no bandage. This game is hard, so any determination to finish it better be too. Deemed too miserable to have their handheld, the player is on their own and if they don’t know what they are doing from the start, they can expect to die within the first two minutes of play. Again. And even. That’s because Derceto is filled with more dangerous and weirdest dangers than your average ghosts, from ordinary armored ghouls, rats, a zombie chicken, and even smoke from a resting cigar, not to mention a shapeless ghost entity ( “The Great Old One”) which will relentlessly pursue the player if they attempt to leave the mansion prematurely – perhaps one of Infogrames (or Lovecraft’s) finest creations.

Image: Power Play (Germany), issue 04/1993

Carnby’s death toll will only pile up as he goes, perhaps through a painting that spits arrows down a hallway, or the sharp spider bites descending from the sky, or the blade of a mysterious pirate wielding a sword – not necessarily in that exact order. Alone in the dark is great for finding new ways to kill the protagonist. It’s worth it, if only for the fun post-death sequence consisting of Carnby’s corpse being dragged shamefully into a dungeon by the same undead jailer (it stops getting funny the ninth time around). In addition to this, several enemies can only be defeated by more esoteric means, such as by casting a spell. Yet despite all its ghouls and dark undertones, Alone in the dark is not without a bit of humor, including a zombie snack and a monster relaxing in a bathtub.

A minor complaint is the trial and error nature of some of the obstacles, such as a collapsing floor that the player has no way of knowing until they step on it and fall to a death without mistrust. However, the majority of dangers are obvious enough to be avoided, or to allow sufficient time to escape. Fortunately, the game can be saved at any time, although this option can be spammed to the point of detracting from the overall challenge somewhat.

As for the puzzles, they require time, patience, and experimentation to decipher, which can prove frustrating for many instant gratification streamer players today. Some are bordering on the puzzle, and it is mind-boggling how anyone could have solved them in 1992 without the luxury of looking for a guide. Despite this, the thrilling gameplay, along with the tantalizing prospect of getting to the bottom of Derceto’s terrible secret, keeps the player going and more than makes up for the high difficulty.

Alone in the Dark 1992
Very first concept art by Didier Chanfray

Perhaps exceptionally, Alone in the dark makes good use of the various libraries scattered about by filling them with really readable books. They are teeming with lore about Cthulhu and other untold creatures and teeming with dark, Lovecraftian descriptions of the occult, as well as haunted dreams and thoughts of Jeremy Hartwood, the late owner of the house. It’s not exactly bedtime reading, and while it’s entirely possible to skip that material and move on to the practical side of adventure, it does provide a welcome backstory about the forces terrorizing the mansion. . While playing a less central role here, this idea of ​​piecing together a story through written fragments or clues left by one or more other characters is something that comes up time and time again in future survival horror games, Amnesia: The Dark Descent being a “remarkable” example. And if someone isn’t familiar with Lovecraft’s stuff, this is a great place to learn.

The controls are horrible by modern standards, involving an unknown attack pattern that uses the space bar, but it’s something that must be tolerated to enjoy this masterpiece. The various camera angle changes, often from an enemy’s point of view, are a staple of the series and can be great for setting the mood, but also slightly irritating when suddenly rocking in the middle of a fight. The jump, necessary in a few selected sections, also leaves something to be desired, making the original Crash Bandicoot feel like a parkour simulator. There is a knack for the controls, however, but there is certainly no pride in researching the core game mechanics beforehand, as many players are unlikely to be able to figure them out on their own, which in turn is unlikely. makes the title most immediately accessible.

The soundtrack is reasonably creepy and gets the job done, and it’s possible to turn it off for an entirely weirder experience. And if anyone chooses to read the books scattered around the rooms, they’ll even have an old-fashioned narrator. The physical sound effects are good but can sometimes be buggy; for example, continuing to hear the drip effect of the cellar on the upper floors. The design of the house looks organic and the obstacles are well integrated into the layout. The design team have clearly done their homework here, as Derceto feels like a real place (minus the dark creatures of the night, of course).

Images via Infogrames

Despite all its promises, this first entry in the series was as good as it gets. Alone in the dark 2 steered the franchise in a strange direction. It’s similar at first glance, with a “haunted house” called Hell’s Kitchen (no, not Gordon Ramsay’s version), the secrets of which must be meticulously unraveled, except that it is neither as dark nor as scary as Derceto. The fear factor is lessened and the comedic elements increased, especially by providing the player with a Santa costume. It’s still decent and has met with positive reviews, but it feels like the developers ran out of ideas or just wanted to milk the proverbial cow. 2001 Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare offered a welcome return to the series’ darker roots, but it wasn’t great, being overshadowed by the unstoppable rise of the popular resident Evil games, new installments of which have been released on either side. Then a 2008 reimagining, simply titled Alone in the dark, which won praise for its originality but whose style differed markedly from the originals. As for Alone in the Dark: Illumination (2015), the less said, the better. The only thing it illuminated was how far the series had fallen – the lowest ebb of a long decline.

The inauguration Alone in the dark was originally intended to be the first entry into the Infogrames project Call of Cthulhu series, but eventually spawned its own franchise. You almost wish he hadn’t. And although earlier and inspiring resident Evil, what did this series do Alone in the dark could not do by continually evolving and staying relevant until today. And so, like Lovecraft’s monsters, perhaps, the franchise is slumbering in a restless sleep, waiting for the next Spark to bring it back to life, hopefully in better shape.

Written by Michael McKean

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