Alone in the Dark – Final Rating

From The Adventure Gamer

By Andy Panthro

As I said in the introduction, this game not only brought 3D elements into game design in a new and interesting way, but also paved the way for what we now consider an entire genre. How well did it succeed? And how well does it perform as an “Adventure Game”? And most importantly, how will it score on a PISSED rating?
I began this game with a vague knowledge of it from my childhood memories, knowing certain parts near the beginning quite well, while the late game had faded almost completely. The attic area in particular are ingrained in my mind, as that’s the place where you spend your time learning how to play the game, and the dangers it presents for you to overcome.

It certainly tries to increase the tension and danger at every step, even near the end there wasn’t a point I felt truly comfortable, although the oppressive atmosphere is at its best when you’re exploring the house proper. Derceto makes for a wonderfully dreadful haunted house, almost every room containing a trap or a monster. A thorough search is required too, unless you wish to be left confounded by puzzles later on.

To spawn a genre requires a notable first entry, to allow for themes and ideas to be copied or expanded upon, and certainly you can’t deny that this was something quite unique in 1992. Games using 3D had been around for a while, but this was a great step forward in using 3D models to provide characters and monsters with expressive animations and interactivity. From here we would see so many games push things further, the desire for a cinematic experience was met with advancing CD-ROM technology and 3D technologies, and while some games took a more static direction or relied on video, games like Alone in the Dark moved in a different direction.

On to the scoring!

Puzzles and Solvability

The strongest puzzles were in the first half of the game, with encouragement to read all the books you could find in order to discover clues that might assist you. Some puzzles allowed you to avoid fights which could tax your health or resources, and others were required to progress through the game. There weren’t too many difficult ones though, and although there are many items to pick up, it was usually quite easy to figure out what to do.

I found the worst puzzles were those where you’re put under pressure from monsters, such as in the library. A crucial location, it requires you to perform a thorough search to find the secret room and the way of defeating the Vagabond (and in turn requires you to have thoroughly searched a nearby room to even gain access).

Any puzzle where dying is the main obstacle to solving it is perhaps not a great one in an adventure game, such as when I was running in circles around the tree during my battle with the owner of the house. While this creates tension the first time or so, that tension withers if you know what to do but fall short of being able to do it in the required time.

The final areas are largely a maze to be explored and don’t provide the same level of challenge as the house itself, which is a real shame. I found myself doing a lot more running and felt like I wasn’t able to explore and investigate as the earlier sections had required.

Score: 5

Interface and Inventory

I actually really enjoyed this interface and inventory system. It only becomes more of an issue later, when it adds the “Jump” command without previously giving you that option, and when you have far too many items to scroll through (partially my problem with being a classic adventure game hoarder).

The interface works well with the environment, searching for clues and moving around is generally easy. It falls down a little with the fighting, as often the otherwise wonderfully atmospheric camera angles can really throw off your aim and sense of distance. I feel this wasn’t fully solved as a problem with this sort of game until fully 3D environments were commonplace.

The inventory items get a spinning 3D graphic to show you what they are, although they don’t provide any written descriptions for the items, some of this information can be found in the various books and other written documents found throughout the house.

It’s pretty simple to use, and the game is paused while you’re in this menu, so there’s no rush to select the action you desire, but more ways to interact with the items or item descriptions might have pushed this score a little higher.

Score: 6

Story and Setting

The story borrows very heavily from H.P. Lovecraft, and isn’t afraid to let the player know this with references to the Necronomicon and Cthulhu. It’s not a straight rip-off though, but rather an homage in the style. You begin investigating an apparent suicide, and from there uncover a history of strange visions, demonic forces, and a house that was built by a bloodthirsty pirate for his nefarious quest for eternal life and power.

The story is told through the books and notes scattered through the house, working backwards from Jeremy Hartwood all the way to the source of evil himself, Ezechiel Pregzt. The source of the evil in this house, at least. The powers that granted him this unnatural existence are beyond the mind of a humble private detective.

You could say this is a game about reading, about knowledge, the power of it and the dangers. The clues you need for the story and some puzzles are all available to be read (or indeed listened to, in the CD-ROM version). This knowledge is what propels you forward in your quest, but it is the dark and forbidden knowledge that Pregzt used and that so captivated the Hartwood family, and lead to their ruin.

Proper horror games are less common, but horror and adventure gaming make for a good mix in this reviewer’s opinion. It’s not the most complex story though, and some of the monsters and weird creatures don’t fully tie in with the overall theme.

Score: 6

Sound and Graphics

I’ve already discussed in part the strides it makes with graphics, but this rating is less for the important history of the game, or what it inspired, but to acknowledge the often brilliant art and design that went into this game. It is easy to scoff at the low-poly figures, but their animation is often brilliant, notably for the main character. Everything from walking, fighting, drinking and even dying happens with a fluid and expressive motion, something which is shared by many of the monsters you see.

The background art also is impressive, and it is here that you appreciate what I have termed “camera angles” as the forced perspective shows you only what parts of a room the designers wish you to see, obscuring potential danger until you are right upon it. This is something that horror film-makers have been doing for decades, and it’s great to see a game so keen to move beyond the flat landscapes and interiors we are so familiar with.

As for sound design, I was playing through on the CD-ROM version, which gives this a massive boost. CD quality music accompanies your progress through the game, with bold orchestral tracks to stir your emotions. The voice-over work is of a good standard too, with every book and note read to you, by a variety of different voice actors.

Score: 7

Environment and Atmosphere

This is a category where Alone in the Dark can score highly. The game immerses you in its haunting and unsettling rooms, danger lurking beyond every hallway and behind every door. The combination of the claustrophobic viewpoint and the slow, careful way your character moves really does increase the tension as you uncover the house’s secrets.

I enjoy a good horror story, and the game carefully gives you breadcrumbs throughout as to what is happening in Derceto, and the lack of other friendly characters make those books and notes your only companions in this otherwise bleak and lonely house.

The caverns beneath the house are wonderfully creepy, but very light on any story by that point. Other than a letter directed at the player character, it becomes more of a series of mazes and jumping puzzles and loses a bit of the mystery and potential for horror than earlier sections.

The way it uses music and sound heightens the tension and atmosphere greatly, with slower tracks for when you’re exploring replaced by faster tempo music for the inevitable fighting. Occasional sounds, such as creepy laughter, and noises from the house’s supernatural inhabitants attempt to give you a sense of foreboding and danger even when there is currently nothing dangerous apparent on screen.

Score: 8

Dialogue and Acting
There’s no dialogue to speak of, no other friendly characters to interact with, everything being delivered to you in writing. From the introduction to our main characters to the books and notes you uncover, I enjoyed reading it all, but it is a more limited experience compared to games that provide colourful characters to interact with and as we’ve seen recently with King’s Quest VI that cast can be quite large indeed.

The voice-acting is of a quality that is about as good as you could expect from this era, with notably anguished acting for Jeremy Hartwood’s notes to the pirate drawl you might expect from the game’s villain. They add a lot to what might otherwise become a more sombre experience, and since we are playing a game here rather than reading a novel I welcomed the voices.

Score: 3

Final Score:

5 + 6 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 3 = 35 / 0.6 = 58

A fair score I think, doing well in a couple of areas but let down a bit by others. It’s ambition paved the way for an entire genre, and I feel this score is appropriate for that, but it’s flaws prevent it from getting too far up the leaderboard. How many of its direct and indirect descendants will we see on this blog in the future? We will have to wait and see.

Is Alone in the Dark still worth playing now? I’d certainly say so, it certainly holds up to memories of playing it as a youngster. It isn’t likely to actually scare anyone, but like much of Lovecraft’s work that this game picks from, the horror is less in directly frightening you and more in the feeling of unseen and unknowable forces beyond your control.

The graphics certainly are of their time, but a retro aesthetic hasn’t stopped many other games from doing well. Perhaps this era of early 3D will become a nostalgia property akin to the pixel art of 8 and 16 bit console eras.

CAP Awards

105 CAPs to Andy Panthro

  • Blogger Award – 100 CAPs – For playing through and blogging about Alone in the Dark for everyone’s enjoyment 
  • Elephants on a Turtle Award – 5 CAPs – For taking part in a discussion on Discworld
54 CAPs to Joe Pranevich
  • Classic Blogger Award – 50 CAPs – For playing through and blogging about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for everyone’s enjoyment 
  • I Sure Check My Uber Driver Award – 4 CAPs – For refusing to accept a generalisation
40 CAPs to Biscuit
  • Winning Bet Award – 50 CAPs – For correctly guessing Joe would need help to get through a hatch
  • Losing Bet Award – – 10 CAPs – For incorrectly guessing Joe wouldn’t get a babel fish without help
28 CAPs to Voltgloss
  • Helping Hand Award – 20 CAPs – For giving correctly formatted hints for Joe’s plea of help
  • I Know This Game Inside Out Award – 8 CAPs – For interesting notes on some puzzles in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
23 CAPs to Michael
  • Elephants on a Turtle Award – 5 CAPs – For taking part in a discussion on Discworld
  • Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – For the exact PISSED score guess for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • CGA Award – 4 CAPs – For sparking an interesting discussion about graphical styles
  • I Drive Uber Award – 4 CAPs – For providing insights about people using Uber
19 CAPs to Alex Romanov
  • Light in the Dark Award – 15 CAPs – For sharing information about Alone in the Dark
  • Definitely Not CGA Award – 4 CAPs – For defending the graphics of Alone in the Dark
18 CAPs to Laukku
  • Faithful Companion Award – 18 CAPs  – For playing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy along with Joe
17 CAPs to TBD
  • Unfaithful Companion Award – 10 CAPs – For starting, but not completing Alone in the Dark
  • From Comma to Full Stop Award – 3 CAPs – For helping a commenter fix a nickname
  • I Sure Check My Taxi Driver Award – 4 CAPs – For opening an interesting discussion about cab drivers
13 CAPs to Rowan Lipkovits
  • Teachers Seducing Innocent Children to Piracy Award – 6 CAPs – For an educational story about the effects of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game to young minds
  • Protective Symbols Award – 3 CAPs – For pointing out the use of a floor symbol
  • Legacy of Alone in the Dark Award – 4 CAPs – For listing few games that we might consider playing in the future
11 CAPs to ShaddamIVth
  • Elephants on a Turtle Award – 5 CAPs – For taking part in a discussion on Discworld
  • Hogwarts Award – 2 CAPs – For having interesting lessons at school
  • I Sure Don’t Check My Uber Driver Award – 4 CAPs – For raising a point
5 CAPs to Kassidy
  • Elephants on a Turtle Award – 5 CAPs – For taking part in a discussion on Discworld
5 CAPs to Lisa H.
  • Elephants on a Turtle Award – 5 CAPs – For taking part in a discussion on Discworld
5 CAPs to Laertes
  • Elephants on a Turtle Award – 5 CAPs – For taking part in a discussion on Discworld
4 CAPs to Charles
  • Cinematographic Award – 4 CAPs – For explaining why graphics of Alone in the Dark were considered awesome at the time
4 CAPs to Ask me about Loom
  • Simplistic Polygon Characters Award – 4 CAPs – For explaining some details about graphics and animation in Alone in the Dark
3 CAPs to Reiko
  • Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs – For the closest PISSED score guess for Alone in the Dark
  • Losing Your Bet Award – – 10 CAPs – For an incorrect guess about Joe’s ability to solve the babel fish puzzle
  • Learned My Lesson Award – 3 CAPs –   For deciding not to bet anymore
– 2 CAPs to Mr. Valdez
  • Losing Bet Award – – 10 CAPs – For incorrectly betting Joe wouldn’t get babel fish without help
  • Elephants on a Turtle Award – 5 CAPs – For taking part in a discussion on Discworld
  • Repeating Words Award – 3 CAPs – For taking care of Joe’s despair

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