Saturday, May 15, 2010

Retro Review: Alone in the Dark

The name "Survival Horror" was coined by Resident Evil in 1996, since then it's been tossed around on various occasions and renamed things like "Psychological Horror" or "Survival Action" when the developers felt the need to change it up a bit. The latest change would probably be "A Psychological Action Thriller" which is what Remedy is calling Alan Wake for the X-Box 360. However, in 1992 was the very first definition of the then small horror game genre named with Alone in the Dark, dubbed a "Ambient Survival Horror".

ALONE IN THE DARK
Developed by Infogrames

Published by Infogrames/Atari
Platforms: 3DO, PC-CDROM, MS-DOS

(Reviewed on PC-CD)
The very first thing I need to mention in this game are the graphics, because it's one of the biggest evolution in gaming. Alone in the Dark was the very first game to use 3D polygons for characters and objects in a game. Borrowing a set perspective in the style of classic Point and Click Adventure games, Infogrames managed to make the 3D models blend in perfectly with the 2D backgrounds. From a modern view it looks like garbage, games like Resident Evil still feels playable, but Alone in the Dark might just feel a bit to primitive for modern gamers. However, as I'm speaking out of a 1992's gamer perspective that won't matter, as these are the best graphics of it's time.
The music in Alone in the Dark is some of the most atmospheric music I've ever heard in a game, whether or not you're playing with the low-bit DOS music or the amazing CD soundtrack in the background. It's chilling when you're alone, it's terrifying when you're facing enemies and it's epic when other obstacles block your path, not to mention the music by Chopin, Saint-Saƫns and Strauss that is also featured in the game to set the standard even higher. I'm actually going to go out and say that even from a modern view this game has one of the best soundtracks I've every experienced.
The story takes place in 1925, Louisiana. You control private detective Edward Carnby or the lady Emily Hartwood. Edward Carnby later became the protagonist of every sequel to Alone in the Dark, including the spin-off "The New Nightmare" that used his name for the entirely different protagonist. Carnby is a grumpy guy as understood by his introduction in the game, he doesn't pay his bills and he's not a very social person, a lot of this was later evolved in the later games. Emily Hartwood have less of a personality but means more to the story itself. The story is very much inspired by the work of H. P. Lovecraft, taking place in the lovecraftian mythos (aka. Cthulhu Mythos). The famous painter Jeremy Hartwood, Emily's uncle, has commited suicide in his manor named Derceto, and it seems that the house itself may have had something to do with it. Carnby is sent to find a piano in the attic at the house, and finds himself trapped. Emily just wanted to search for an explanation to her uncles suicide and found herself trapped as well.
The controls are not the best of its kind, it's pretty much a very early concept of what would later be known as Resident Evil's "Tank" control. Every command is executed through your menu in which you also equip your items. The interesting things here is that you can throw almost any item at the enemy and swing melee weapons in several directions using your keypad, both concepts was re-used and modernized in the latest game in the series. This gives you some freedom to the combat, but it's still uneven and complicated. The throw system also rarely works the way you want it to, but that's more a gameplay issue rather than a control issue.
The gameplay itself is very simple. It's reminiscent of a classic point and click game where you must search on several places to find what you need. The combat is varied and often gives you the option of running if you feel you can't get the upper hand. The negative parts however is that you can get permanently stuck in some places of the game if you screw up just a little bit. So far I've found a least three places spread out at random in the game where you have no choice except for restarting the game or, if you're in luck, restore an old save file. There are a few glitches here and there that you might find if you spend a lot of time exploring, but nothing game breaking except for an incident that might have you walking up and down a couple of stairs uncontrollably for all eternity. The length of the game is pretty short though, it's under an hour long when you know what to do, but the first time around it will probably take about 6-7 hours as it's a pretty clever game.
In the end, Alone in the Dark is far from perfect, but for it's time it was revolutionary. It's still one of the scariest games out there, and the franchise itself is one favourite of mine. I certainly recommed any horror fan out there to try the game out and finish it, especially if you like the classic Resident Evil or Silent Hill games.

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