(This is part of my journey going playing through 1992’s Alone in the Dark. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
I’m 42 years old. I shouldn’t still be scared — or at least intimidated by — a scary video game that I played back in 1992 but I am. I really am. I think it’s because Alone in the Dark was the first real horror game I ever experienced, and while it was pretty cool to go through, it also ended up scarring my psyche.
Similar to how I dealt with my lingering fear of System Shock 2, I figured the best way to get this out of my system (and generate a new retro gaming series) was just to play it. Anyone miss these playthroughs? Probably not, but that’s OK! They entertain me!
I don’t really know much of the video horror games prior to 1992, but I do know that Alone in the Dark marked a big step in the direction of what would become known as the “survival horror” genre. Essentially, this was a style of game where you were put in a frightening situation and made to feel vulnerable by being given a character that wasn’t especially fast, maneuverable, or a good fighter. In short, you were monster bait in the middle of Monster Central.
It was surprisingly effective.
Games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Amnesia all followed in this vein, but Alone in the Dark really pioneered a lot of the design elements. Yes, it has laughably crude and early polygon graphics (which were revolutionary on computers in 1992), but if you can get past it, you know what? Still downright creepy.
Even the introduction, which has my character investigating the suicide of a relative in the attic of his mansion, instantly put me back on edge. The sound design and music gets a lot of credit for this, as does the angles and that shot of a monster’s point-of-view looking out of a window at me as I approached.
Here’s where the fun begins. I start in the attic of this place, so already I’m in the thick of the house and can’t get out. Not easily, that is. To make matters more interesting, two monsters are coming into the room very shortly, so I had to move quickly… well, immediately to block their entrance.
Alone in the Dark functions as an adventure game with light fighting and stealth elements. So while your normal adventure game has you taking your time exploring every pixel of every room, these kinds of games have you doing so frantically, hoping that you won’t be caught and killed by the bad guy.
Wardrobe and chest moved, monsters blocked. Score one for Syp!
Should probably mention how hard it is to do anything in this game. It’s intentional, but moving and performing actions with this character is annoying. She turns and operates like a tank, and you have to go to a separate screen to activate commands and see your health. Fighting is even worse and I don’t want to try to describe it. Just trust me, it’s slow and awkward. It’s almost always better in this game if you can avoid fights.
Jeremy, the guy who killed himself, left his suicide in the attic. Now, what needs to be mentioned is that while the sound design is good, the voice acting is… what’s the term? Hilariously abysmal. I don’t recall there being voice acting in the version that I played back in the day, but man, they should not have added it. This guy reading the letter is so over-the-top, so bizarrely dramatic, that it had me laughing my head off. Seriously, go to 11:20 in this video and listen to this guy’s “acting.” Let me know what you think.
Down one floor and it’s time for room searching and item thieving! Because of the graphical style and limitations, there are no shadows or dark areas, so a bulk of the atmosphere is carried by the sound effects and the environment acting wonky (floors collapsing, doors closing mysteriously).
Oh, and I’m attacked by the POLYGONAL ZOMBIE FROM HELL! Always thought this guy looked like an anthropomorphic frog in a lounge suit, which is slightly less scary. Slightly more scary is the game’s combat system which is so very awkward to use. It took me a while, but I figured out how to win: You have to wait until the zombie starts its attack animation and take one tiny step back, then step forward and kick. Rinse and repeat.
By the way, when I died, the zombie was considerate enough to drag me all the way to an altar in the basement before the Game Over screen flashed.
Monsters abound on the second floor here. One goofy-looking bird thing jumps through a window in a neat POV moment. Then these purple scorpion dudes have to be defeated via mirrors. I think that the fact you can see so little of their details works well with this game, because your imagination fills in the gaps.
Alone in the Dark is very old school in its adventure game roots, which means that there are a LOT of “do one thing wrong and you’ll die instantly.” Like get too near to this ghost sitting in the chair here. She doesn’t like me much.
And yeah, it is weirdly creepy that this ghost lady is just sitting here looking at nothing.
Strange and unsettling angles are another survival horror staple and very much in effect here. And by the way, if you see anything with polygons, chances are it’s going to attack or kill you in some way.
Oh hai, bathtub jellyfish monster!
I actually felt a little bad taking out this haunted suit of armor by chucking a statuette at it. Poor guy was just standing his post, you know?
This is definitely the nicest room I’ve visited yet. Very peaceful and serene. Probably going to kill me ten ways from Sunday. Nearby, the kitchen has a pot of HUMAN REMAINS dun dun dunnn. This place really goes the extra effort to hit all of those horror tropes.
Now that I got the sword from the suit of armor, I’m a terror to the zombies. They can’t even get close before I cut them down. HI-KEEBA!
Remember that human flesh soup I picked up? Well it’s got a really funny use in the dining room. I put it on the table here and all five zombies in the room politely refrain from chowing down on me to sit in their chairs instead. The chairs are all pulled really far back from the table and no one is eating (most likely a restriction of the graphics and spacing here), but it’s still kind of humorous to watch.