A Fortnight of Fright: Alone in the Dark

Posted: October 25, 2011 in Retro
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As Halloween night draws near, Chad has taken it upon himself to dig into the vaults to bring you some of his favorite horror-themed video games. Can you handle the madness? Read on, if you dare!

A Lonely Place to Die

The opening scene of Alone in the Dark 3.

Each of the original trilogy begins with a similarly sinister scene.

Few games have the influential reach of Alone in the Dark. Ever played Resident Evil or Silent Hill? Or how about the medieval adventure Ecstatica? Perhaps you remember the prerendered backgrounds and keyboard-based movements of Grim Fandango? All of these owe something to Infogrames’ 1992 classic, the first true survival horror title.

The game begins with you choosing your character, either private investigator Edward Carnby or heiress Emily Hartwood, as they go to unravel the mystery of Derceto, Emily’s uncle’s Louisiana mansion. You start out by rooting around in the attic, and after your first fight with a ghoul, you start to suspect that weird forces might be at work in Derceto. The scraps of Jeremy Hartwood’s journal reveal the dark secrets of the mansion. Along the way, you fight increasingly dangerous creatures with your limited supply of weaponry, often resorting to punching zombies to death in uncompromising displays of toughness. Yeah, Chris Redfield doesn’t seem so tough when Emily Hartwood is punching ghouls to death with her bare hands.

Edward Carnby fights a zombie.

Karate: a good way to deal with zombies.

The game was one of the first popular titles to use 3D rendered characters, and this certainly makes the Alone in the Dark trilogy look particularly dated. Characters are constructions of flat-shaded polygons. This is especially unfortunate for the game’s Lovecraftian beasties. The ghouls are green and cartoonish, the Nightgaunts look like Spider-Slayers, and what I can only assume are supposed to be Byakhee…look like giant, bulbous-headed chickens with sharp teeth. Or maybe super-deformed velociraptors (was Jurassic Park even out at that point?). The game makes up for its graphical deficiencies, however, with sound and music. The music is often quite overpowering, even if it is synthesized, and the sounds can be incredibly loud and disturbing. Even if the monsters aren’t quite nightmarish, the game still retains a sense of mystery.

The original Alone in the Dark trilogy (and the promotional spin-off Jack in the Dark) used the same basic engine and gameplay. Alone in the Dark 2: One Eyed Jack’s Revenge featured Carnby going up against demon ghost pirates (LeChuck not included, sadly). One Eyed Jack’s Revenge was far more combat-oriented than its predecessor, with Carnby picking up a Tommygun off the first enemy he takes out. This makes it, in my opinion at least, the weakest game in the original trilogy. However, it’s by no means a bad game; I’m just partial to puzzle solving and mystery over combat in survival horror. The third game finds Carnby trying to track down Emily from the first game in a Wild West ghost town. In my opinion, this is the best game in the series because it does a good job of splitting the difference in combat and puzzles, and also has the most original setting. As big a fan as I am of Lovecraftian horror, an abandoned ghost town full of actual ghosts is a very fun and inventive premise.

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare character select screen.

Edward Carnby steals Gabriel Knight's taste in clothing. I miss Carnby's mustache.

There were two more Alone in the Dark games, The New Nightmare and the 2008 game simply titled Alone in the Dark (the PS3 port got the subtitle “Inferno“). The New Nightmare updated the setting with heavy helpings of Resident Evil and The X-Files, and while not as good as its predecessors, it was a decent enough game in its own right. It’s also the only game in the series to have a handheld version, with a Game Boy Color port appearing at one point. Unfortunately, its legacy is rather tainted as it was the basis for Uwe Boll’s universally loathed adaptation of the games. By extension, it seems that the 2008 installment failed to move out from the shadow of Boll, with the team having claimed to use ideas and designs from the film in one of the biggest moments of “What were they thinking?” ever. The game was an unmitigated disaster on all formats except the PS3, which benefited from an enormous delay which gave them time to fix the problems and complaints reported from the other releases.  I had the misfortune of playing the PS2 release, which was nearly unplayable.

Whether the series will return is unknown. While the recent game was universally panned in all but its PS3 ports, it apparently did quite well financially. And somehow, Uwe Boll was able/allowed to make a sequel to his famed monstrosity. So who knows what the future holds? Let’s just hope that whatever happens, Carnby regrows his mustache.

View Previous Fortnight of Fright: Monster Bash 

View Next Fortnight of Fright: Blood

 

 

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Comments
  1. Tom Rippon says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this wouldn’t be the original game that inspired the 2008 title “Alone in the Dark”, now would it?

    Because wow, that game was hard. I am terrible terrible at survival horror.

    • Tom Rippon says:

      Ah, yes. Totally missed that bit. My bad. But that was a pretty good game – I remember being quite scared of it and definitely intimidated. But in a good way – in a kind of “I want to get back on this and finish what I started, no matter what it costs me” way.

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