Alone in the Dark review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Adventure

Alone in the Dark game image

Alone in the Dark undoubtedly stands out as being one of the most important and influential PC games of the past 20 years.

Apart from creating an entirely new survival/horror sub-genre (now occupied by the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill), Alone in the Dark also pioneered the third-person viewing perspective, dynamic camera angles, and the use of 3D polygonal character models in pre-rendered 2D settings; techniques further refined in PC games like Ecstatica, BioForge, Grim Fandango and of course Tomb Raider.

Meet Edward Carnby, not your typical Action Hero…

Released two decades ago back in 1992 Alone in the Dark drew inspiration from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. The game cast players in one of two possible roles: private detective Edward Carnby, or Emily Hartwood. For whatever reason most players tended to choose Carnby as their on-screen alter ego (I know I did) and his googly-eyed, heavily moustached visage became something of a PC gaming icon.

At the start of the game Carnby (or Emily Hartwood, depending on who you chose to play) is sent to retrieve a piano from the attic of a recently deceased artist (Jeremy Hartwood – Emily’s uncle). But the house in question (known as “Derceto”) has a rather sinister history…

Before Carnby enters Decerto he learns that police suspected Jeremy Hartwood had committed suicide. This impression is reinforced by Hartwood’s butler, who describes his late master as a deeply depressed man under considerable strain. Apparently Hartwood suffered from insomnia and was becoming increasingly convinced that he was not alone in the house…

So begins Edward Carnby’s excursion into the supernatural.

One of the most Innovative PC games of all Time!

At the time of its release Alone in the Dark really stood out because it featured an unusual mix of puzzle-solving, exploration and real-time combat. Almost as soon as Carnby enters Derceto he is beset by a range of unsettling supernatural foes which include everything from a howling zombie (which pops up through a platform in the floor), to a small gibbering fiend (the little bugger smashes in through a window) – and that’s just the entree! The marvellously dramatic manner in which these creatures appear is yet another of the game’s unique traits.

Probably the most innovative feature of Alone in the Dark was its use of dynamic camera angles (similar to those of Tomb Raider). While they had a tendency to switch at critical moments making it difficult for the player to see what the hell was going on, they also created a rather eerie, disconcerting effect, contributing to the game’s overall spookiness.

The success of the first title spawned two sequels: Alone in the Dark 2 saw Carnby attempting to rescue a kidnapped girl from the clutches of an evil bootlegger known as “One Eyed Jack,” while Alone in the Dark 3 catapulted Carnby into a Western setting – the ghost town of “Slaughter Gulch.”

More recently (in 2001 and 2008 respectively) there have been two attempts to reboot the series with a modernised setting and a younger protagonist but while prettier to look at, in my opinion they don’t come close to matching the gameplay innovations and suspenseful atmosphere of the 1992 original.

Review Summary
Score: 94%
Info: When Alone in the Dark first came out in 1992 it was like nothing I’d ever played before. I immediately liked the quirky but courageous protagonist “Edward Carnby” and I was enthralled by the odd mix of puzzles, adventure and real-time combat. While the graphics and sound-effects are certainly primitive by today’s standards (they were cutting edge back in 1992) they still managed to evoke an extremely creepy atmosphere.
The Good: This game paved the way for all modern survival/horror games. It featured a fantastic storyline and ton of gameplay innovations.
The Bad: The dynamic camera system had an uncanny habit of pointing your viewpoint in the wrong direction at the worst possible moments.

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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