Part 2 of our Hallowe’en spooktacular centres on a title widely regarded as one of the forefathers of 3D survival horror. It was one of the best looking games around when it was released, and won many awards to prove it.
The title introduced a number of what would become staples in later instalments of its series, as well as establishing a character we would still be playing as almost twenty years later….
Alone In The Dark (MS-DOS 1992, Panasonic 3DO 1994, Mac 1994)
To say Alone in the Dark was ahead of its time was an understatement. Visually – the game looked amazing. Bearing in mind this this was 1992, the title featured fully 3D characters and props – rendering them onto a two-dimensional fixed background. Mixing the two meant that the developers had to use fixed-perspective camera angles, however for a game of this grandeur this proved to provide a perfect dramatic fit (it would take until the release of Capcom’s Resident Evil in 1996 before another game used this type of camera placing in a mainstream title). This type of camerawork worked perfectly for the horror titles of the ‘90s, and helped keep areas looking fresh and different. Although our hero moved kind of slow and sluggish it was okay, because it suited the layout of the rooms and other areas presented to us. They were laid out in such a way that although they looked large and intimidating, the camera changed as we passed through so it didn’t seem like we were moving particularly slowly at all.
You play as either Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood, and you are sent to investigate the Derceto Mansion after an apparent suicide. As the mansion is reputed to be haunted, not many people are surprised by this and interest dies down pretty quickly. Your interest lies in an old antique piano located in the mansion’s attic (if you play as Emily, the piano is supposed to have a secret compartment containing the suicide note) and you enter at the request of an antiques dealer. Upon venturing inside, the door slams shut behind you – and you are immediately attacked by monsters. And so begins your descent into the mansion (mansions seem to play a recurring role in these games – remind me never to invest in one).
The main thing that keeps Alone In The Dark above the horde is the fact that from the get-go you can explore pretty much the entire mansion (save for a few key areas). There’s no ‘find this key to open this area to find this other key’ type puzzles, and you can visit and return to any area as you see fit. This means puzzles can be completed in any order, and this helps to create an early sense of game-based freedom commonly found in today’s open-world type games. Sure there were certain puzzles and events that had to be triggered before others, but we still had the choice of when we wanted to do that. The story is presented to the player through a series of files, notes and books, meaning that there aren’t even any intersecting story segments that need to be triggered. That’s not to say that there aren’t any scripted events, but you get the drift.
Another point of note is the enemies of which these are few and far between. There are literally only a handful of enemies in the entire game (there are only twelve of the zombie enemies in total) – however the title never puts any emphasis on actually fighting them. In fact, I wouldn’t advise fighting them at all. To start with, you are equipped with only your fists and feet. Of course you could find other, more effective implements later on – but the fact that more than a few of your enemies were actually indestructible meant it was almost never a good idea to try using them. Instead you are encouraged to solve the game’s many puzzles, as many of them actually result in defeating enemies for you.
A survival horror title that actually encouraged you to avoid your enemies is something rarely seen before or indeed since, which is a shame as it is a totally different take on a tired genre. Alone In The Dark offered something new for gamers on the 1990s – a sense of freedom. And in doing so, an early taste of things to come…
Alone in the Dark Gameplay Video
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