Imagine being a private detective in the early 20th century. Some guy comes around and aks you to find something in an old manor. And then, said manor ends up being full of monsters! Now, imagine also that all those monsters are made up of crude polygons. That’s the basic premise of Alone in the Dark.
Another adventure then, but this time we take a step up and add more than a few instances of combat. Carnby (or Emily in her only outing as a protagonist) can fight invading monsters with pistols, shotguns, arrows, or his amazing hand-to-hand fighting prowess. But never too often, mind: puzzles are still king, as one would expect of an adventure game, and many times you can avoid a difficult combat by using items in the right way. Sometimes it is even required to make a fight actually winnable.
As the first game in the fixed-camera survival horror genre, it still holds up remarkably well today. At least if you can get it to understand that stupid run command. What was wrong with a dedicated button? Oh well. But you don’t have to run that often. It’s a pretty slow paced adventure, though still not as puzzle-heavy as its spiritual sequel Shadow of the Comet (and much more than its official sequel, Alone in the Dark 2).
All cult classics tend to have great music. I have this theory that a game with mediocre music would have a far lower chance of being remembered, no matter how amazing the gameplay. AitD doesn’t disappoint then, with several recognizable tunes, especially if you are playing the older floppy version. Sound effects are relatively scarce throughout, but then they managed to put all of this in a mere 4 floppy disks. Can’t demand too much.
While most of the game takes place in the Derceto mansion, the last act will see Carnby entering a sort of demonic underground realm, not dissimilar from the ancient city in Eternal Darkness. And just like that, it’s the weakest part of the game. Think of it as a precursor to the good ol’ Xen. Still, it’s not enough to tarnish the entire experience. And compared to its sequels, Alone in the Dark is the best thing you’ll ever play. Shouldn’t that count for something?
Playing today: at a time when popular games and cult classics often get the remake or remaster treatment, AitD has strangely always remained anchored in the past. Perhaps it’s because Infogrames/Atari have kept trying to reboot the series (with little success) and didn’t want people to get confused with all the different Carnby’s flying around, like an army of clones. So the only chance of playing this title today comes in form of the Dos version, which can be emulated on Dosbox.
The game came out on floppy disks and eventually on CD-Rom, with arranged audio tracks and voices for all the books and texts. This final release is what you’ll find on GOG. While I prefer the original Midi music, the CD version still has a good sound to it, and the voices are surprisingly not horrible. As a bonus, GOG will also throw in AitD2 and Aitd3. Yes, they are treated as extras of the first game, they don’t get their own store pages. There is even a 3DO version out there, which isn’t too shabby from what I hear, and an iOS port if you just love virtual joysticks. Overall, even without an upgraded edition, you still have several ways to play it.