20th Anniversary Game Review – Alone In The Dark 1, 2, & 3 (1992-1994)
By David Mayne
Release Date(s): AiTD (1992), AiTD2 (1993), AiTD3 (1994)
Platform(s): MS-DOS (Windows Installer), MacOS, RISC OS, 3DO, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation
Genre: Survival Horror
Where To Find: GOG.com
When I think about Alone in The Dark, I think back to the days of my very first PC, an AST Advantage 486, with a 33Mhz processor, 4MB of RAM, 210MB hard drive, 3.5″ floppy drive, single speed CD-ROM drive, and Windows 3.1, with DOS! My dad and I picked it up from Circuit City, in 1993, for just around $1,200. Top of the line, baby! Ok, so I did have a Commodore Vic-20 in the 80’s, but really? About all the Vic-20 was good for was writing hundreds of lines of code just to hear it play a few musical notes, or a few semi-decent tape games (yes, games were, at one time, ON cassette tapes). It was no Commodore 64, which I never had anyway, so when this new PC came into my life, things got a whole lot more interesting!
My first few games were golden-aged PC titles like Star Wars: X-Wing, Where in The World is Carmen Sandiego Deluxe, Flight Simulator 5, Gabriel Knight, and of course, Alone In The Dark! For those of you who were born in the 90’s, you probably won’t remember the love/hate relationship with things like boot discs, DOS commands, extended and expanded memory, and the magic of hearing digitized speech in video games. The early 90’s were pioneering days for the PC, and a plethora of games were coming out that were changing the landscape of video gaming, both on computers and consoles.
While Alone in The Dark was, by no means, graphically revolutionary for its day (even though it did sport cool polygon graphics), it is best known and remembered for what it did in terms of catapulting an entire genre into the mainstream: Survival Horror!
That’s right; before the Resident Evils, before the Silent Hills, and before people thought video games were nothing but happy-go-lucky tales of princes and princesses, Alone in The Dark was busy setting the stage…for the unsettling.
In Alone in The Dark I, you are given the option to play as one of two different characters sent to investigate a mysterious mansion in Louisiana called Derceto: Edward Carnby, a down-and-out paranormal investigator or Emily Hartwood, the niece of the mansion’s original owner. While both characters play identically, without story or control differences, the option to choose between Carnby and Hartwood is a cool addition, one that adds a touch of depth to the already fantastic story.
Being a shining gem of the survival horror genre, and one whose legacy spawned dozens of future franchises, Alone in The Dark puts you in the now cliché setup: alone in a house, no weapons, and trouble EVERYWHERE. After beginning the game, your first instinct is to find a weapon of some sort to protect yourself, as the hideous sounds of nearby terror looms. Where Alone in The Dark stood out was in its requirement that you interact with the environment to survive. If monsters could break through windows, why not move a big cupboard in front of the window to block them? Or, if a trap door on the floor was starting to rattle, you might want to push something heavy over it to prevent some evil demon from rising up to kill you! Alone in The Dark isn’t all about moving things around though. Once armed with a double barrel shotgun, the game looks more like The Wild Bunch than simply exploring an old house! Free form and non-linear, you are free to explore the mansion at your discretion, although clearly some areas will yield nothing for you unless you are properly equipped. Explore, fight, and read…yes, read! Alone in The Dark is chock full of ancient writings, mysterious clues, and general lore worth reading and noting. Books on pirates, monsters, magic, and spells will further serve to pull you in to Derceto’s haunted past. While not overly long (you can eventually learn to beat this in about 10 to 15 minutes), the first play through of Alone in The Dark will probably take you a while longer, as some of the puzzles can be downright tricky! My good friend Nick had to help me out on one particular puzzle that required mirrors, I’m sure he remembers. All in all, Alone in The Dark I is a quality achievement in PC gaming and survival horror in general, and should not be missed as the grandfather to the modern-day genre. Final Verdict: 5 out of 5
Good things come in pairs, right? Jekyll & Hyde. Bonnie & Clyde. Jake & The Fatman? Not so much…and such is the case with Alone in The Dark 2. Switching the focus away from exploring and surviving, in favor of wonky ass, arcade-style combat, Alone in The Dark 2 instantly feels less like its superb older brother, and more like a $5 piece of shovelware that should take it’s place in a landfill with Atari’s ET. Once again taking up the gauntlet of Edward Carnby (or his partner, Ted Stryker…lol), you now find yourself up against ghostly pirates and spectral gangsters…I’m not kidding. Nothing about Alone in The Dark 2 is scary, much less interesting, as the lore and mystery of the first installment is all but stripped away here. Graphically, this is a step up (slightly) from Alone in The Dark I, yet with its unwieldy gameplay and unrepentant cornyness, the visual bump won’t matter much once you’ve found yourself betrayed by something branding itself “Alone in The Dark“. Final Verdict: 1 out of 5
If two is company, then three must surely be a crowd, correct? Correct-a-freakin-mundo! Saddle-up Amigos, it’s time to hit the old west with Alone in The Dark 3, and believe-you-me pardner, this ain’t no chuck wagon you want any part of. Edward Carnby is back, this time in chaps and cowboy boots, as the gun-slinging super detective bent on curbing evil from taking over the Earth…or, a small, dusty ghost town in the Mojave Desert called “Slaughter Gulch”. A small tie-in to the original Alone in The Dark is present in part 3, as one of your goals in Slaughter Gulch is to locate Emily Hartwood: now a member of a missing film crew who were in the middle of shooting some kind of spaghetti-western in said run-down town. Again, a teensie-tiny graphical bump is slightly noticable, and while more of the original Alone in The Dark’s “charm” and game play makes a return in Alone in The Dark 3, it ultimately comes off as too little-too late. This is unfortunate too, as on its own merits it’s actually not that bad, but simply aged a little to long to be anything more than mildly entertaining. Had the original trilogy of Alone in The Dark built itself correctly after the first installment, by rights Alone in The Dark 3 should have been a masterpiece! What we are left with, however, is an overcooked run-and-gun, with nothing new in the way of innovation. Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5
Alone in The Dark is a wildly popular franchise, mostly known for its initial offering, Alone in The Dark I. With spectacularly haunting game play, of which would be any classic PC gamer’s wet dream, this series deserves at least one play through, if for nothing else than to be able to say that you did it. While the first game soars, the second game stumbles, and the third game shows up 3 years late to the wedding, Alone in The Dark is nonetheless held aloft as the granddaddy of survival horror. Coming up: Alone in The Dark: The New Nightmare (PS1) & the 2009 Alone in The Dark (PC)!
Now…where can I find a rope, matches, and some lamp oil…?