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Alone in the Dark

Alone in the Dark

Written by Eric Hauter on 3/19/2024 for PS5  
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There is something about the phrase "alone in the dark" that creeps the hell out of me. On a recent rewatch of The Shining, I kept picturing Jack Nicholson standing alone in a pitch black ballroom, talking to people who weren't there, listening to music that wasn't playing, and drinking drinks that were only air. It's a horrifying idea that any one of us could currently be absolutely unaware of our real world circumstances, and might be experiencing an entire universe that exists only in our mind. Going into Alone in the Dark, I wondered whether or not it played with these ideas. It turns out that yes, yes it does.

While I have played quite a few fun survival horror games over the years, I've never sat down to play Alone in the Dark - which is often considered to be the common ancestor of  just about every game in the genre. So while many of my gaming compatriots are quite familiar with the adventures of Detective Edward Carnby and Emily Hartwood, this is my first trip to the haunted grounds of the Derceto mansion in Louisiana. And during my first playthrough as Detective Carnby, it became quite clear that he was talking to people that weren't there, listening to music that wasn't playing, and drinking drinks that were only air. He was indeed alone in the dark.

In Alone in the Dark, players are able to chose between the two main characters, as portrayed by David Harbor and Jodie Comer in some pretty stellar film-grade performances. Set in the 1920's, the story has Emily Hartwood and her hired detective Carnby arriving at Derceto mansion in search of Hartwood's missing Uncle Jeremy. My first run as Detective Carnby took me about 12 hours or so (including time spent staring at the puzzles and...puzzling). My second run was substantially quicker, as I knew all of the game's tricks.

As an Alone in the Dark noob, I was a little surprised while playing this new game at how boilerplate the Lovecraftian story is. Sure, it's an interesting yarn, but those with familiarity with cosmic horror will find a lot of the story beats to be recognizable from other stories, films, and games. Only after I finished the game and was researching its origins did I learn that this was a modern remake of the original Alone in the Dark game, which explains a lot. While tons of games have tread this ground since the early 90s, this was a retelling of what - at the time - was a fairly groundbreaking story. So I'll skip the bit where I criticize the story for being slightly predictable, as it is an adaptation of a tale first told 35 years ago.

Instead, I will talk about how cool some of the lore drops are in Alone in the Dark. I've played the game twice now, once as each character, and even during my second playthrough I would stop and set down my controller and let the amazing voice cast read the game's many clues, diaries, and notes out loud. This is not something I've ever done in a game - I'm pretty quick to jam on that "skip" button and read stuff for myself - but the voice acting is so good that it adds a depth to the experience that wouldn't be there otherwise. Further, there are times when some added bits of information or color are added in for players that are patient enough to sit through the narration, which hooked me even further. 

I won't get into the various twists and turns of the story for fear of spoiling it for other newcomers. I will say that while the game plays out very similarly in terms of gameplay mechanics regardless of which character you choose, there are different story beats for each that reward a second playthrough. I will also say that I really hoped that the game would go big at the end, and it did not disappoint. For the majority of the game, I was thinking that it was sticking safely in the PG-13 zone regarding violence, but the ending veers very suddenly into Mature territory in a delightful way. 

The game is broken up into five chapters, each of which follows a fairly standard cadence. Players explore the Derceto mansion itself, solving puzzles and slowly unlocking new floors, wings, and rooms. This was surely my favorite part of the game, as I adored the hard-boiled 1920's steamy Louisiana vibe of the thing. The puzzles are a hoot; frequently deep, yet not difficult to stump me for more than a couple of minutes. Pro-tip: read all the stuff you pick up. If what you have in your inventory doesn't give you at least a hint, look around for more stuff to read.

There are also some fairly linear sections of the game that take place away from Derceto, which I enjoyed decidedly less. Most of the game's combat is centered in these field trip environments, and frankly I would have enjoyed Alone in the Dark more if it left the fighting on the cutting room floor.

Players have a few different weapons to choose from - a pistol, a shotgun, and a rat-a-tat 1920's sub-machine gun, as well as breakable melee weapons. None of them feel good against the dull-as-rocks enemies, and it's super easy for the camera to go nuts and bury itself in a wall or some other object while you are trying to aim. Alone in the Dark sometimes overwhelms you with too many enemies at once, expecting you to understand that you should run instead of fight, but it only happens a couple of times, so good luck figuring that one out. After a while, I just turned the combat down to "Easy", so it would only take a couple of shots to take down even the toughest enemies. I just wanted those parts of the game to be over as quickly as possible.

Graphically, Alone in the Dark is a bit of mixed bag. Parts of the game look jaw-droppingly good, with amazing lighting effects, real functioning mirrors, and fantastic details around every corner. And then suddenly you'll be having a conversation with a flapper who looks like she was lifted out of a PS2 game and dropped into Derceto's mezzanine by some belligerent videogame god. There is also one brief section where the game inexplicably reverts to 1990's survival horror tank controls, with very little reason to do so. It's jarring, and damn near uncontrollable. It's 80% great-looking, and 20% not-so-hot.

And of course, the big question is whether Alone in the Dark is scary. It definitely has a creeping vibe to it, but I found the proceedings to be more suspenseful than scary. The few times it half-heartedly engaged in jump scares didn't really work for me, and as I mentioned, I'm well-versed on cosmic horror, so that's a bit of a dead end. Still, even without the thrill of frights, the story is well told, and the performances are fantastic. So I would say to come for the stellar performances and puzzles, be lightly entertained by the story, and give the gas-face to the combat. There are worse ways to spend a couple of afternoons than role-playing as David Harbor as he wanders all alone in a pitch black mansion. 

While this modern take on the beloved classic is certainly beautiful to look at in places, it stumbles a bit with ill-advised combat and an uneven presentation. Still, the lore drops are incredible, the performances solid, and the Lovecraftian storyline is intriguing - and when it goes hard at the end, it is a sight to behold. Survival horror fans won't find huge scares here, but there is a fun feeling of creeping dread and anticipation that moves things along. 

Rating: 7.5 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS VR2, Quest 3, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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