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Alone in the Dark (PS5) review

The classic Alone in the Dark series returns for a reboot that both keeps with the original’s themes, and offers a needed updating.

Precursor

Way back in the year 1992, Infogrames was about to unleash a new kind of adventure for the PC and 3DO. That, as you can probably figure, was Alone in the Dark, and it was really the first game that fits in what would become the ‘survival horror’ genre.

Of course, it didn’t exactly look like today’s survival horror experiences, or for that matter even ones that saw release just a few years later. Yes, AitD featured fixed-camera angles and polygonal characters, but it looked fairly primitive when compared even to a game that would see launch just four years later, with 1996’s Resident Evil.

That rough look though, didn’t stop this writer from eating it up. I had a copy for Panasonic’s 3DO and loved every minute of it, guiding mustachioed detective Edward Carnby as he explored the dark and forbidding mansion called Derceto, and tried with all his might not to bump into too many walls.

Though I played a few of the reboots over the decades since that original title, none of them have really done it for me. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been looking forward to this new Alone in the Dark so much, from THQ Nordic and Pieces Interactive.

If you have too, then read on to see why it hit the spot… for the most part anyway.

Derceto, but not how you remember it

This isn’t your father’s Alone in the Dark. Well, not completely anyway. This new AitD is a firm reimagining of the original, and as such it does carry over many of the elements featured there. There’s a haunted manor, some high-strangeness, reality-bending monsters to fight, and plenty of exploration. The core mission for both Edward Carnby and his employer Emely Hartwood is also the same, in that they’re looking for Emily’s uncle, Jeremy Hartwood. But all of that said, this time around almost all of those elements are wildly shaken up.

For one thing, Derceto isn’t the home of Jeremy Hartwood, but is instead a kind of sanitarium. Hartwood interred himself there (though maybe not completely of his own volition) to try and cure himself of what he thinks is his family’s curse. This ‘curse’ is a being called the Dark Man, a cloaked figure who plagues him in both his sleeping and waking hours.

All of that is alright enough, until Hartwood goes missing from the mansion. It’s then that Emily hires Edward, and the two venture into the creepy manor to locate him and find out what the uncooperative staff is covering up. A good chunk of the slowly building and twisting plot line that comes after that point is quite good by the way, so we don’t want to spoil too much here.

Who is the Dark Man?

That said, it’s no spoiler to say that the game features a cosmic horror tale that builds and improves on the original. Yes, this is Lovecraftian stuff (some of it very), but fans will find themselves in plenty of other places than the mansion. Edward and Emily will skip across realities while battling those shapeless beasts and hideous monstrosities I mentioned, and at times even question their own sanity.

As you’ve probably noticed too, there’s also the option to play as either Edward or Emily, but that almost feels like a pretty big missed opportunity. Although who you’re playing as does change certain situations in the game’s story, theirs are not really twin campaigns. And there’s so much happening in Alone in the Dark, it easily could have been spilt up into two shorter missions, one for each character.

Necessary? A big knock on the title? No, not really, two campaigns are just something that I’d have preferred.

Updated controls, in the modern style

Alone in the Dark, and I mean the original, had a lumbering control scheme. As with the current Resident Evil games though, that’s history for this new adventure. Almost. There’s an awesome throwback section that should scratch the nostalgia itch for long time fans, but the vast majority of the game plays like a modern survival horror title should.

Movement is easy, and so is the action. Players can wield a small but cool selection of guns that includes a pistol, shotgun, and Tommy gun, as well as melee weaponry. Ammo can be scarce though, and that pipe that you just found will break. Yep, things like hammers and pickaxes will be effective for a while, but then crack under the stress and leave you hunting to find another thing to wack interdimensional uglies with.

Emily and Edward arrive at the gate of madness

Also worth mentioning though, is that you don’t have to fight your way through every encounter. Stealth is a very real option in a good number of the game’s enemy encounters, and on top of that Alone in the Dark has much more of an overall emphasis on puzzle solving and exploration than action. Not that potential fights are scarce, but they’re clearly not the focus.

What’s a little puzzling (ahem) however, is the lack of an ‘insanity’ mechanic. Though you can see plainly that the main characters are not having the best time of their lives in Derceto, there’s no meter or anything that will lead to their cracking if left unattended. In a way this is kind of nice, since those sorts of add-on gimmicks can easily become annoying, but it’s also markedly odd that there isn’t one. Bottom line, if you’re looking for something of that ilk, you won’t find it here.

A Hollywood presentation

Various stabs taken over the years at rebooting Alone in the Dark have been iffy for sure, but some of them have looked darn good (at the time anyway). Pieces Interactive’s particular stab though, is easily the best. The game has a triple-A feel to it, even with some issues here and there.

You won’t find pre-rendered backgrounds , and there’s no fixed-camera system (again, for the most part), what there is a game that’s very comparable to the look and feel of the modern Resident Evil games. Pieces has created a deep set of worlds with Alone in the Dark, that extends way beyond the mansion.

Instead of exploring Derceto alone, players will head to various locales, some of which are radically different. Everything look terrific too, with the outdoor sets being particularly neat. While I really don’t want to give too much away, there’s an ancient area set in the desert sands, and one that takes the action to the frigid north, and both are absolutely phenomenal.

The halls of Derceto have seen better days…

Both Edward and Emily look terrific as well, although they’re facial animation does fall just short at times. And with actors David Harbour and Jodie Comer playing those parts, both sound terrific as well. Unlike in the classic game, this new AitD also has a pretty big cast of supporting characters, and all of them are well realized in both look and sound.

Unfortunately, the enemies that plague the game’s world don’t fair as well. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with the bestiary, it’s just not all that imaginative. The bulk of the foes are some kinda… viney… plant… things, and those are joined by undead shamblers. There’s more fortunately, and some of those are way cooler, but I overall would have liked to have seen a little more imagination.

Overall

As a long time fan of the property, it’s killer to see it make a comeback like this. After multiple delays, I was a little worried that this new Alone the Dark would end up being a mess, but it’s the exact opposite of that. Yes, I had a few issues with some of the choices that Pieces Interactive made, and there are a few minor bugs here and there as well (I got stuck once or twice, though was able to free myself), but overall this is a quality rebirth for the legendary title.

Now… how about that sequel?

A copy of Alone in the Dark was supplied to BG for this review

Alone in the Dark
Release Date:
March 20th, 2024
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PC
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Pieces Interactive
MSRP: $59.99 USD

Home sweet asylum

Premise - 87%
Gameplay - 80%
Presentation - 80%

82%

Good

THQ Nordic and Pieces Interactive's re-imagining of classic cosmic-horror game Alone in the Dark is one of the rare cases where the reboot is both warranted and actually works. The game is not without its issues (a few bugs and puzzling choices like leaving out an insanity gimmick), but overall it manages to both be faithful to the original and bring it into the modern gaming era.

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About Jason Micciche

Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.

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