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Written by  :  Alan Chan (3618)
Written on  :  Feb 01, 2000
Platform  :  DOS

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The grand-daddy of survival horror

The Good

This is a great game, better than it's two sequels and still comparable to the many 3D adventure games it has inspired.

Firstly, the graphics are great considering the time it was made. The hand-drawn backgrounds are very atmospheric, and although skins and true color palette didn't exist back then the polygon characters still look good. The movement (animation) is also very fluid although the gameplay itself has a few quarks (mentioned later).

The "horror" atmosphere is done very well, with a dark, muted graphics palette and suitably chilling music (as well as classic horror movie jump music whenever a monster pops into view). The monsters themselves are a nice variety ranging from classic zombies and hellhound-rats, to more surreal Lovecraftian horrors such as a 100 foot worm that fills the entire screen. Some monsters can even move through walls to chase you to your death.

The combat is implemented splendidly in this game, much better than in its sequels. The swings, punchs, and kicks performed by the main characters actually look real and connect with the various monsters quite satisfactory, unlike the sequels where the main character made dainty little jabs which made it difficult to see if you were hitting the monsters or not. There's also quite a nice variety of weapons lying around, ranging from swords, rifles, and even a bow & arrow set.

One of the best aspects of this game is that it's very much open-ended. You can explore all three floors of the house from almost the very beginning , and if you are having trouble with one puzzle you can always move on to another one without feeling blocked. In fact most of the puzzles aren't neccesary to finish the game, but can help you tremendously (for example if you figure out how to defeat the suit of armor, you get a nice sword which doesn't break like the old cutlass you start out with).

One final thing which must be mentioned is the large amount of text in this game, in the form of various books lying around the house. These books are great to read, providing much background information about the story and also providing some vital hints to solving various puzzles. Unfortunately in the CD-ROM version of the game the voice-overs are dry and uninteresting (with the exception of the deceased owner's suicide note and diary, which are laugh-out-loud over-the-top cheesy).

The ending to the game is short but nice and fitting, and does kind of surprise you. However because of it's nature it might leave you wondering if you've forgotten to do something and that there's a better ending somewhere (there isn't).

The Bad

One major grip I have about this game was the trouble I had getting it to run. It was buggy on my 486 (Music switched on and off, I had to re-install the game every time I wanted to play it) and doesn't run on my Pentium.

I had some rather large issues with a few aspects of the controls. For example, in order to run you have to tap the forward key twice. Unfortunately it's hard to tap the key in such a way that the program recognizes it, making it difficult to get your character to run(this was especially a problem when being chased by something nasty). It would have been simpler had they made you run by holding down a key (like shift).

Another problem is that it's very difficult to aim your weapons such as the pistol and the rifle, because the 3D third person perspective makes it difficult to see if you're aiming at the monsters or to their left/right. This results in many misses while you readjust your aim (ammo is also scarce). Fortunately, this isn't a major problem since many of the monsters are relatively slow moving, and close combat (especially with something sharp in your hand) is well implemented enough to make guns not necessary for survival.

Most of the puzzles are generally intuitive, and while they might take some thinking (or browsing the books for hints) none of them are totally obscure, and can be solved without too much frustration. I must mention that one exception to this is the very last puzzle. In order to defeat the mummified sorceror Pregzt two actions are required, one of which is fairly obvious (and specifically explained in several books) and the other one is totally obscure. In fact I quit playing several times over it, and only solved it by lugging every item in the game down to the last room and messing around with each and every one of them. Of course once I did perform the necessary action, I did realize it was somewhat logical (if a bit obscure and never mentioned anywhere else in the game).

The Bottom Line

Alone in the Dark is essentially the game which inspired the 3D adventure/survival horror genre. If you enjoyed Resident Evil, Nocturne, Ecstatica, or Bioforge, you might want to play this game to see where it all started. And its a damn good game in its own right, too.

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