Reviews

Alone in the Dark review — Not what you might expect

Note: Review mainly written by Henry with assisting thoughts from Adam.

If you’re a fan of survival horror games you are bound to know big names like Dead Space, Silent Hill, or Resident Evil, but do you know of a little title called Alone in the Dark? This franchise has been around since 1992 and every single reboot or sequel to the original has been a flop. I’m looking at you, 2008 Alone in the Dark and 2015 Alone in the Dark: Illumination. Well publisher THQ Nordic tasked developer Pieces Interactive with another modern reboot of the title back in 2018, and it’s finally here after six years. This version of Alone in the Dark is a modern reimagining of the classic 1992 title of the same name, which laid the groundwork for 3D survival horror games. It features two playable characters, Emily Hartwood and Edward Carnby, each with separate campaigns that encourage multiple playthroughs. 

The narrative largely sticks to the structure from the original, where Emily receives a disturbing letter from her uncle Jeremy Hartwood, and proceeds to hire Edward to go and investigate the derelict Derceto Manor. Jeremy has gone missing after claiming to be haunted by an entity known as The Dark Man, and it is up to our duo to maintain their sanity and find Emily’s uncle. The story takes heavy inspiration from cosmic horror and Southern Gothic themes, with a focus on psychological terror. Big-name actors Jodie Comer and David Harbour lend their voices and likenesses to the main characters, bringing a high level of production value and emotional depth to the story. Much of the context is delivered through collectible objects and handwritten notes.

Adam Moreno: To prepare, you may want to play the Alone in the Dark Prologue which gives you some insight as to what Derceto is and what spooky things might occur.

The biggest misleading surprise is that this remake of Alone in the Dark is not really a survival horror game. If you’re expecting an experience similar to the Resident Evil remakes, Dead Space, or Alan Wake 2, you’re in for big disappointment. The main feature that won’t be found is inventory management. There are frantic combat encounters and poorly designed stealth sections, but as a whole, Alone in the Dark is a puzzle-heavy psychological thriller instead. In fact, I would say the majority of the game revolves around solving various riddles and finding the solution to different mysteries.

Adam Moreno: Without the inventory management, one of the things I really loved about Alone in the Dark is that items that have been used to their full purpose are archived in your inventory. Meaning anything in the main inventory menu is still useful to you moving forward and might have clues for puzzles you have going on right now. I had a book that I picked up in Chapter 1 that fully had hints for things in Chapter 4-5. This made finding the right clues much easier because you know that there are things in those items that still haven’t been used. While Alone in the Dark may not feel like what we’re used to in modern day survival horror, it really shines bringing a “point and click” genre gameplay into a fully 3D and semi-open thriller. 

Gameplay is played via a third person over the shoulder perspective. Most of your time is spent treading the halls and rooms of Derceto, figuring out how to open doors, unlock safes, and solve puzzles. The residents of the manor will respond differently to you, depending on if you are playing as Emily or Edward, which is a nice little detail. Each character also visits unique areas, both of which I won’t spoil and let you discover on your own.

Occasionally you’ll be thrown into combat encounters, and you’ll have to rely on your firearms to put your foes down. You have access to three weapons: a pistol, a shotgun, and a tommy gun (and a Flare gun for a certain section at the end), along with a drinkable potion to replenish health. It was a bit off-putting to see that enemies take two pistol shots to die but also two shotgun pellets as well, which made no sense. Melee weapons can be picked up, ala a pickaxe or stick, but have limited durability and will break eventually. You also have access to a dodge button and a sneak feature, but both don’t work very well. Overall, the combat is just alright. It gets the job done, but lacks the snappiness and smoothness you might expect from recent horror titles.

I mentioned the game’s heavy emphasis on puzzles earlier, and that is probably the biggest highlight of Alone in the Dark if you enjoy this type of gameplay. Not long on your journey into Derceto, you’ll come upon a mysterious talisman that can transport you to different worlds, but you first need to figure out how to configure said talisman. Many of the puzzles reminded me of old school point-and-click adventures where you have to pay attention to your environment or study your collected clues. Every single one that I solved felt refreshing and unique, and all of them struck a perfect balance of not being frustratingly difficult or overly easy.

Despite being delayed for over half a year, Alone in the Dark suffers from some frustrating technical issues. For starters, there are some unattractive transitions between gameplay sequences and cutscenes, resulting in staggered and choppy backgrounds that break the overall immersion. Then there’s the buffet of bugs during various portions of my playthrough, including getting stuck in terrain, not properly dying, hard crashes, and having all the audio disappear. The worst of all is probably having the game emit an ear deafening screech that occurred after the absence of sound. Thankfully progressing past this area and reloading the game fixed it, but I was genuinely worried that I had to play the entire game with no sound.

Adam Moreno: While my friend Henry here had a plethora of issues, I did not suffer the same fate. I began as Emily, finished the game fully with only one issue (a bugged out puzzle in Chapter 5 that was fixed by restarting the game) and wasn’t able to replicate the issues poor Henry faced in the Edward storyline when I began my second playthrough. I completely understand how the bugs can ruin an experience, but thankfully I didn’t face as many issues and therefore had a much more positive experience with Alone in the Dark. 

As for the rest of the technical performance, things are quite standard. Load times are fairly quick, coming in at five seconds from a fresh launch. Both a quality and performance mode are offered, with my playthrough taking place in the latter. The game mostly maintains 60 frames per second but there is the occasional stutter and frame drop. Paying extra for the Deluxe version of the game grants you some neat vintage horror filters, director commentary, as well as the “Derceto 1992” character skins that replace the main characters with the 8-bit blocky versions of the original.

Adam Moreno: The biggest stuttering issue I had was when there was a massive storm-like event. Sand, snow, wind, they slowed down the gameplay just a bit. 

In terms of accessibility, a handy controller layout is provided, but unfortunately controls cannot be rebound. Difficulty comes in easy, standard, and hard, which can be changed at any time in-game, along with modern guidance that grants you hints for puzzles. For someone who wasn’t expecting so many puzzles, the extra help was definitely appreciated, though you can opt for old school guidance too, which has you relying entirely on your own detective skills. One character’s playthrough will take around 7 hours across 5 chapters, depending on your skills, and there is no New Game Plus feature. There are also no unlockable extras like infinite ammo or additional character skins so the replayability feature is a bit limited. That being said, the game does encourage you to play through both characters and collect all objects to achieve a true secret ending.

Adam Moreno: I believe, with the lack of bugs and frustration on that end, I was able to clock in my first playthrough at 12 hours. That includes getting 9/15 collections fully completed and running through the one bug that I spent 30 minutes figuring out. I can very easily see Edward’s story going a bit quicker as he’s much more up-front in his way of handling situations. 

There’s no sugar coating it: the visuals look average at best. Plenty of last generation titles look much better than this game, even though Alone in the Dark is only available on latest generation consoles. The character face animations look rigid and stiff, and the lip syncing needs more polish. Other games of the same nature usually feature unique monster designs that instill fear and intrigue, but I felt none of that here. The very limited variety of grotesque monstrosities that you face all look blurry and generic, ranging from black blobs to annoying insect creatures. With all that being said, the developers did capture and deliver the eerie and haunting atmosphere of the Decerto mansion well. The shifting realities and nightmarish dreamscapes were all dripping with style during exploration.

Adam Moreno: I personally found that the scariest part of Alone in the Dark is not the monsters, but the implications of actions throughout the game and the mansion itself. Especially with Emily’s storyline, as her story unravels at a great pace. While I agree that the facial animations can look quite stiff, the unease didn’t come from the monsters, but the mansion itself and the individuals and history inside of it.

An avid enthusiast of both tabletop and video games, finding endless joy in exploring different realms of entertainment!

Adam is a musician and gamer who loves his partner in crime, Regan, and their two pets Rey and Finn. Adam is a fan of Star Wars, Mass Effect, NFL Football, and gaming in general. Follow Adam on Twitter @TheRexTano.

70

Good

Alone in the Dark

Review Guidelines

Alone in the Dark plays more of a moody psychological thriller with a heavy emphasis on puzzles rather than a traditional survival horror experience. That combined with the plethora of technical issues hold another remake of an original masterpiece back from reaching its true heights.

Henry Viola and Adam Moreno

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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