Alone in the Dark – 3DO
Platform: 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
Release Date (NA): 1993
Developers: Infogrames / Krisalis Software
Rating: 6 out of 10
Alone in the Dark gathers its strong reputation amongst video game nerds everywhere because of two main factors. First of all, its one of the grandfathers of the survival horror genre (the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series), focusing less on combat than on exploration and problem solving. Secondly, it was one of the few noteworthy games released for the 3DO, which was an immensely powerful machine in its time. This was also the only version of Alone in the Dark available outside of the PC/Mac market. Should you buy a 3DO just for this game? Probably not, as they’re comparatively expensive when it comes to other used consoles and there aren’t exactly a ton of 3DO games floating around on the secondary market. What’s left is either damaged or preserved well enough to fetch a decent price. (It is a simple feat to burn 3DO games, however.)
Anyway, one can think of Alone in the Dark as performing a series of ordered tasks. The game takes place inside of a house (and underneath it), and although most of the house can be returned to at any point in the game, certain actions need to be taken in each area to ensure further progress. So while most people will want to explore everything at first and return to figure out what needs to be done later, it’s more practical to ascertain the significance of each room/area in the order encountered. The last third or fourth of the game is a bit more open ended but by then one will have a more complete understanding of the game at hand.
Most of the charm in Alone in the Dark lies in the fear, dread, and genuine uneasiness elicited from the spooky atmosphere. As I mentioned above, the game takes place inside of a house where a somewhat suspicious suicide has taken place. The player can choose either a male or female protagonist; in both cases the characters are looking for a particular piano. Picking either character results in no gameplay differences, only the storyline is slighty altered to match the characters’ motivations. The piano is found in the attic which has been reached without incident, but suddenly the expedition takes a turn towards the bizarre and supernatural.
Combat plays a secondary role to puzzle solving, but fighting monsters along the way can prove to be a little difficult. I would advise saving often, particularly before a confrontation if possible. Some of the creepiest moments happen in the very first room (the attic), such as the flying demon-like creature crashing through the window and the slow thudding of the zombie attempting to enter through a hatch in the floor. The player can acquire new weapons throughout the journey but the most useful, the gun, can only be used sparingly as only a finite amount of ammunition is distributed through the whole of the mansion. Hence another good reason to save often.
For all its atmosphere, Alone in the Dark suffers horribly from its attempt at rendering a 3-D environment. It’s true that the game was actually made back in 1992 and almost any stab at a 3-D game was considered wonderful, but the 3DO has a much greater capacity for graphics than those of Alone in the Dark. While smaller objects are generally passable and backgrounds range from so-so to awesome (especially the caverns), the characters and creatures look like a series of triangles stuck together. Quite often parts of the screen will flash in and out of visibility much like a lot of early 3-D games. Maybe this was great in 1993, but I’d rather have a good looking 2-D game than an absurdly rendered 3-D title. Enough colors are used (unlike later 3-D games that take place in a world of grays and browns) so that it’s still easy to discern what objects are, it’s just that it looks like some poorly drawn alien cartoon working on its 4th generation of a video cassette recording.
The other equally atrocious feature of Alone in the Dark is the interference caused by camera angles. The computer automatically controls all camera angles based on where the character is standing. Absolutely no way to adjust the camera is provided leading to some extremely frustrating situations. Two that come to mind specifically pertain to enemy encounters and difficult sequences of jumping. With the camera angle positioned wrong, it is easy for an enemy to come at the character from behind and begin reigning down blows. Anyone who’s played this knows that it’s very hard to break free from a wailing enemy and very easy to get cornered and very hard to deal any damage. Yet again, save often. Near the end of the game where one’s time is spent in the caverns, there are two or three areas requiring some difficult jumps. Alone in the Dark isn’t a game based on fluid jumping mechanics, so traversing pillars of rock and crumbling bridges is already a process full of hardship. Add to this the inability of the camera to give one a proper perspective and it requires several disheartening attempts to move to subsequent areas. Save the damn game, often.
Controls are fairly awkward and choppy and necessitate some getting used to. Between toggling between performing “actions” (opening a box, reading a book, moving a barrel, etc.) and fighting and learning how to select certain objects in the menu, its very difficult to pull off anything all that fast. Even walking is numbingly slow during the entire game. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game was solely about exploration, but with all the random combat coming with little or no warning it’s almost impossible to win a fight the first time. Preparation is key; the problem is that it’s impossible to know when an adversary is going to expose itself the first time around. Save, save, save. Find yourself asking “do I really need to save here?” at any point during the game? The answer is YES. Save, save, and SAVE SOME MORE.
Yes, Alone in the Dark is played at a plodding pace. This does help to amp up the dread a great deal but really does a disservice to the player when caught off-guard by the bathroom monster or the zombie dinner party. The sooner one learns to accept the lethargic flow of this title the sooner one can start getting into the moody setting. Redoing large portions of the game after dying is admittedly the single greatest reason to give up in disgust, but SAVING CONSTANTLY will ensure a smoother experience. There’s a good bit of original fun locked away in Alone in the Dark, the package is just a little off-kilter. The flaws of gameplay begin to manifest heavily in the last bit of the game spent underground below the house and really diminishes the enjoyable aspects of exploring the house. Had this last section been shortened the overall feel of the game would be much more satisfactory, but once more reflex-based play is combined with the unimaginably slow control system, things start to unravel.
I like Alone in the Dark, but it’s not a game I’m dying to play again once finished. There’s a helpful little guide over at GameFAQs explaining what to do, unless you want to spend countless hours figuring it all out alone. This game ought to be recognized for its influence on future titles, but its shortcomings must also be acknowledged. Highly flawed, but definitely worth a look for all its innovations.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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