Alone in the dark (Infogrames, 1992)

alone in the dark box

I am a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft, so when (back in the day) I read about a new game from Infogrames inspired by his works, I knew I had to play it. No question about it.

Alone in the Dark may be considered the forefather of survival horrors. Plot-wise, the premises are pretty standard: 1924, Jeremy Hartwood is a famous artist who committed suicide in his mansion. You may choose to play as Hartwood's niece investigating his death, or a private investigator. Either way, you are stuck in Hartwood's creepy mansion, which is obviously inhabited by various kinds of monsters. You have to escape the mansion, possibly trying to shed light on what led Hartwood to commit suicide. We're talking about a Lovecraftian tale here, and there's a guy who killed himself, so I believe you can see where this is going...

I remember perfectly my first minutes of play. I'm in my room in Derceto, Hartwood's mansion, looking around for clues. I suddenly hear a scraping sound behind me. There's a trapdoor opening and some kind of zombie-like creature raising its ugly head. That was some real spook. I believe I missed a few heartbeats right there. All I could do was run around the room helplessly. Needless to say, I was dead a few moments later.

That's probably the reason I am not very fond of the survival horror genre. I don't like being constantly on my toes. I play games to relax after work, not to be scared shitless. But I understand that a good scare may have its appeal. And a good plot is well worth a few scares, anyway.

So, you slowly make your way around Derceto, piecing together the story of what really happened to Hartwood. And with that cosmic horror (® H.P. Lovecraft) feeling constantly building in your mind and chest. The knowledge that something exists, some kind of entity compared to which mankind is meaningless. But wait, why bother explaining what cosmic horror is when Lovecraft already managed that very eloquently?

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

A slightly pessimistic view, you may think. But a terribly fascinating one nonetheless.

But back to Alone in the Dark. The game was pretty groundbreaking (and I like groundbreaking). In order to survive, you couldn't shoot everything that moved, simply because ammo was very scarce. Limited resources. This was the stroke of genius that defined the survival horror genre. This is what keeps you constantly on your toes. You have to outsmart your opponents and plan carefully how to use those limited resources.

The game used 3D polygonal graphics to animate the main character and monsters, and a static camera view that switched automatically based on the position of the main character inside the room.
That's probably the main reason why this retrogame hasn't aged too well. Plot, sound and game mechanics are still solid, but those 3D polygons look and feel obsolete. Game controls also don't help.

alone in the dark box content

The mystery examiner, extract Let's talk about the box contents. Here's the list:

  • Game manual

  • Four 3,5" floppy disks

  • A copy of The mistery examiner, fictitious newspaper from the 1924. Now we're talking. This really sets the mood. It even contains a short Lovecraft biography.

  • Copy-protection mini-book.

I decided to have this in my collection because of the impact it had on the gaming industry and because of its Lovecraftian setting. The retrogame in itself was never one of my favorites (the same goes for every other survival horror, to be honest), and I will probably never play it again. But this retrogame definitely deserves a nice spot on my retro-shelf.