Good Old Reviews
Alone In The Dark - Dying To Be Remastered

Marshall Lemon | 24 Oct 2015 08:00
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The key difference from adventure games is an emphasis on resource management - your lamp can run out of oil, bullets are limited, and only a few medical supplies exist across the entire game. Later survival horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil refined these mechanics, but they're still nerve-wracking here. Monsters will absorb all your ammo if you're not careful, and overusing the lamp can leave you in complete darkness. If you don't have another oil can handy, finding the way back to a light source is almost impossible - even moreso, if it went out after you put it down while investigating nearby items.

As you've probably gathered, Alone in the Dark still has a top-notch horror atmosphere, which is impressive given its horribly dated graphics and controls. Almost every room contains unique dangers, some of which can kill you before you fully realize what's happening. You'll probably feel your own breath quicken every time the music informs you a monster is approaching, even if you know where it's coming from.

While there are no sanity mechanics, Alone in the Dark does borrow themes, lore, and monsters from HP Lovecraft. Deep Ones and other-dimensional beings are in-game monsters, and the final boss name-drops Cthulhu as a personal ally. On a design level, exploring certain locations or attempting the wrong actions might lead to a grisly end. My personal favorites? Reading forbidden lore (a major Lovecraftian no-no) has horrific consequences, but there's no way to know which book is dangerous until you start reading. Then you have the creature within Alone in the Dark's Game Over screen. See that giant green shape blocking the front door? That's not game art, it's a warning. Open it at your own peril.

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As unique and varied as Alone in the Dark's deaths can be, they do undercut the atmosphere after a while. Stumbling your way through a house full of Lovecraftian horrors is unsettling at first, but after a dozen deaths it loses meaning. You'll run afoul of monsters, the floor will collapse, ghost paintings throw axes at you, and a giant worm will crush you with its tail. But there's no tension when you experience death in every single room. Yet sometimes it can be frustrating when you die too slowly - some monsters stagger you each time they strike, creating a cycle where it's impossible to run away or fight back. You're just forced to watch for several agonizing moments as your health wears down and you're helpless to do anything.

At its most extreme, these constant deaths turns Alone in the Dark into a kind of meta-game. Unless you're willing to use a hint guide, the only way to win is save-scumming until you know exactly which actions will get you killed. But since several resources are expendable - especially oil - you could be left without the resources needed to beat the game if you overwrite the wrong save file. Thankfully, Derceto manor has a fairly small game world, so it's easy to replay if you completely botch your progress.

When Alone in the Dark first launched, there was nothing quite like it. The horror mechanics were so groundbreaking they actually inspired fear in players, kicking off the entire survival horror genre. Today, those terrifying system are out of date, but still satisfying in their own right. In fact, Alone in the Dark puts many of its present-day sequels to shame. Why go with reboots and co-op shooting when Infogrames gave us a solid horror foundation?

Derceto seems like a perfect way for Alone in the Dark to return to its roots. Why not take a page from Black Mesa and create a remastered edition, one that recreates the manor using modern design principles? Keep the 1920s time period, Lovecraftian overtones, and other-dimensional strangeness. Add procedurally-generated monsters, so you can never guess which room will house a threat. Tweak puzzles so they're more intuitive. And drop sillier elements - like an out-of-place pirate swordfight - unless there's a way to make them feel scarier.

That's an Alone in the Dark game I'd love to play. Wouldn't you?

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