To ring in Halloween, we revisited the roots of the survival-horror genre. Although Capcom introduced gamers to this concept with 1989's Sweet Home and popularised it with the Resident Evil series, Infogrames brought in many of its hallmarks with the original Alone in the Dark.
The game was designed by Frederick Raynal and Franck de Girolami and released for PC in 1992. Alone in the Dark drew heavily from the work of legendary horror writers HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, taking place in an eerie mansion called Derceto, haunted by an ancient evil.
Players investigated the apparent suicide of the manor's owner, Jeremy Hartwood, who hanged himself in the loft. It was a choice between gruff private eye Edward Carnby and Hartwood's niece Emily. The premise is gradually moulded into a compelling mystery through the various books and manuscripts that the player uncovers throughout the game.
Alone in the Dark combined three-dimensional character models with two-dimensional backdrops and multiple camera angles to create what was a unique aesthetic in its day. It looks like an awkward mess of polygons now, but this was groundbreaking in the early '90s.
Most of the enemy character models were lifted directly from the pages of Lovecraft, with the player going up against Deep Ones, Nightgaunts and a Chthonian (which was actually the creation of the author's contemporary Brian Lumley).
Gameplay took place from the third-person perspective and involved a mixture of combat, puzzle-solving and adventure elements. Players were required to explore Derceto, from the attic where Hartwood ended his life to the system of caverns beneath the house. Your inventory grew vast throughout the game as you searched every nook and cranny for clues, weapons, ammo and other useful items.
Any object you picked up could double as a weapon since you had the option to throw things. Low-level enemies such as zombies and what looked like demonic chickens could be taken out with bullets or melee attacks, but other foes required item-based problem solving to better. For example, the player had to plant mirrors beside a pair of demons early on in the game, to distract then with their reflections, in order to pass by unnoticed.
As well as pushing the boundaries graphically, Alone in the Dark set new standards in atmospheric effect. It relied on sound effects and chilling narratives found in the literature you gathered to unnerve the player. Creaking floorboards, dramatic camera angles and eerie tales of Derceto's past were all used to great effect here, and the result was the kind of game only the brave dared tackled with the lights down.
Alone in the Dark was ported to 3DO and Mac in 1994, one year after Alone in the Dark 2 had hit the PC. The sequel redesigned Carnby as more of an action hero, and had him go up against zombie pirates. The final game in the original trilogy, launched the following year, was a Western ghost story.
The follow-ups built on the concept in scope and gameplay, but the original is by far the most influential, credited by the Guinness Book of Records as the first 3D survival horror. The Resident Evil series pillaged Alone in the Dark, borrowing everything from its zombies to its camera angles. It's just a shame that the original series has gone off the rails while its imitator has gone from strength to strength.
Seven years after Alone in The Dark 3 debuted, the franchise was revived with 2001's Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. It was a series reboot, featuring a younger incarnation of Carnby, that received mixed reviews in the press. It was by no means a bad game, but sadly it wasn't quite up to the standards of it's the games it inspired, such as Silent Hill or Resident Evil.
New Nightmare inspired a movie adaptation directed by Uwe Boll (which should tell you everything you need to know about its quality). The film ignored the original trilogy and was panned by critics. A fifth instalment in the gaming series simply titled Alone in the Dark (on most platforms) was released during the current hardware generation to largely negative reviews.
As the first 3D survival-horror title, Alone in the Dark is a landmark release that should not be forgotten. It might look rough around the edges today, but it's still a compelling mystery coupled with decent gameplay. This one's worth dusting off this Halloween, even though its ability to deliver a good scare has diminished with age.