Monday, August 18, 2014

Full Review: Alone in the Dark (DOS/PC)

So a few weeks back I gave Alone in the Dark a spin because 1) I bought during's winter sale earlier in the year and 2) I wanted to play something that I have never played before and 3) a game that I had through my account that I did not have access to on my Steam account.

First off, before beginning to play, you have the option to play the game as either private investigator Edward Carnby or the daughter of the recently late Jeremy Hartwood,  Emily Hartwood.  From what I can tell, the game does not change at all depending on whom you choose to play, but that may not actually be the case as I have only gone through the game once and with Edward Carnby.

Some background first though.

Alone in the Dark was released in 1992 by Infogrames originally using the DOS operating system, later ported to 3DO, Mac and RISC.  I played the DOS version of the game and upon opening the game (post installation), it automatically opened up DOSBox and I had no issues at all with the game running an it never onced crashed.  I had some issues with the controls, but I will get to that later on.  One thing that surprised me was that the game was already in a semi-wide screen mode, although I am not sure as to the specific aspect ratio, but it was wider than the standard 4:3.

If you are anything like me, you probably have not played Alone in the Dark, but are aware of its existence as a video game.  I also knew that it was a horror game of some sort and only right before purchasing the game did I learn that it was the progenitor to the Resident Evil series of video games (1 through Code Veronica X anyway).  Yes, I know that Sweet Home is the granddaddy of survival horror, but as far as a "haunted" house with a person locked inside full of creatures, puzzles, fixed camera angles and plenty of instant death events.

The first of many times you can die instantly.
Regardless of whom you choose to play as, your initial motivation for entering the massive house (named "Decerto") is to locate a piano that either has immense value or was a family heirloom, again depending on your choice of characters.  Once you find yourself locked inside the mansion, your sole objective is to escape by solving a number of puzzles involving found items throughout the mansion.  You know, like in Resident Evil.

The depth of the story however is found by reading/listening to journal and diary entries found throughout the mansion.  With the exception of only a couple of books, these journals are not required to further the actual game play, so you could hypothetically go through the entire game without knowing anything about any of the characters, monsters, villains or the motivation behind anything else that is going on.  Combined that with the fact that you have a limited inventory, there is a good chance that a book picked up will immediately be put back down to make room for an item that might be needed later on.

One thing that I picked up on was how much of the material was reminiscent or directly borrowed from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.  The "that book" that is brought up in the book (on the right) is later told to be the Necronomicon, a fictional demonic book created by Lovecraft.  Even the name "Abdul Al Azred" is a variation on the pseudonym that Lovecraft created when he was five years old after reading 1001 Arabian Nights.  Fellow weird author Arthur Machen (whose stories and autobiographies I love) is also referenced as the editor of one of the books in the game.  It is little details like this that I love to see in video games.


How to play the game is probably what took me the most getting used to.  Keeping in mind that the game was played through DOSBox meant that moving was with the arrow keys and the controls were not customizable.  It actually reminded me a lot of how the first Resident Evil played, if you were forced to use a keyboard instead of a controller.  I am not 100% sure when WASD became the mainstay for pc gaming, but Alone in the Dark used the "more traditional" arrow keys to move around (I know now).  Moving around is what I did for about 90% of the time.  

Running though is probably what caused me the most problems, with reference to a couple of specific areas.  In one particular stage, your character is required to run across a bridge that begins to crumble and fall once it is touched.  Thankfully there was a bit of space to start running on approach to the bridge.  In one instance it took me 2m45s (I used a timer) before I could start running.  Running is achieved by pressing up a second time after your character is already walking.  The problem (apparently from what I have read) is that modern computers run faster than those of 1992 so it is not as simple as pressing Up Arrow twice, but has to be timed correctly.

Actions in the game, such as picking up items, opening doors, searching objects was all done with the spacebar, but each action had to be selected separately via the ingame menu.  Later in the game, jumping became an available action which, again, had to be individually selected by going to the menu, highlighting actions then going down to "Jump," going back to the play screen and pressing the spacebar when you wanted to jump.  This aspect of the game took quite a bit to get used to, especially when faced with a killable monster.  Oh yes, some of the monsters were either impossible to kill with your conventional weapons (Saber, shotgun, revolver, dagger) and had to be killed via solving a puzzle, such as placing a mirror in front of a Gorgon-like demon.  

The biggest problem that the controls presented was that timing when attacking enemies was crucial.  When swinging a knife/sword, the character would bring the weapon back and somewhat slowly, swing the weapon in the facing direction.  A miss would often mean that the monster would get their attack in first and since the character staggers with each hit, will usually mean that escape is impossible as their attacks happen faster than you can recover from their initial attack.

Losing key story items, or placing an item down that I felt was not useful was something that I constantly feared.  Granted items that I placed on the ground could be retrieved later, but finding out which room that knife that I thought I no longer needed was something that I rather would not do.  


As you can tell from the the previous pictures, the graphics for the game are antiquated by the graphical standards of today.
But keeping in mind that Alone in the Dark was released in 1992 and that the file size for the entirety of the game is 253 MB in size.  That the game could fit on four hard floppies.  You know, a 3.5 floppy.  However, after a few minutes I was able to acclimate to the graphics pretty quickly and I was not bothered by the sharp angled pixeliness of the world I was playing.  

There were only a couple of screens where Mr. Carnby was so far away from the camera that he appeared to be only a colored mass of pixels with little resemblance to his actual body shape.


The music for Alone in the Dark was composed by French composer Philippe Vachey.  Unlike a lot of the previous survival horror games I have recently gone through (Outlast, Penumbra, Dead Space), the music here is somewhat more memorable, not that I could immediately recall a song without listening to the soundtrack, but after listening through the entirety of the 28 minute album, I can recall specific cases when the music was cued up.

There were a couple of purely atmospheric tracks such as "Growing Fear," "Terror" and "Watery," but that is to be expected, especially in a survival horror world.


I really enjoyed playing Alone in the Dark and from beginning to end I probably spent about three hours playing, even with the frequent instant deaths just from exploring.  I quickly learned that I needed to save after I did almost anything that required the use of an item.

I will confess that I used GameFAQs a bit while going through simply because I did not want to screw over myself by running out of lantern oil, of which there was a limited supply and at least three rooms/areas in the game that required you to have your lantern lit otherwise the game would not let you enter those rooms.  I did not feel like I was cheating, with the exception of looking at a four screen map that I had to navigate by lantern in an otherwise blacked out maze with the only lit area being a circle around you, Dragon Quest style.  There were additionally a few puzzles that I could not solve without ManiacMansionFan's help, but I still see it as asking another person, in-person, for help or advice, like what we used to do with NES and SNES games.  But in the end, I still feel good about myself, so it could not have been that big of a transgression.

In the end, I am glad that I played through Alone in the Dark despite its graphical and control limitations due to the time the game came out.  It is like going back and watching the first season of The Simpsons, you know it is that you are watching and even though it is still pretty rough around the edges, it is a fun game that helped create a genre that I absolutely love.  And soon I will get to Alone in the Dark 2.

Vengeance from the Grave

P.S.  I thought I would leave you with a screenshot of how I felt upon safely completing the game.
Yes, it's the classic 1980's jump of victory!


  1. I have never heard of this game, but I'm glad you told me about it! I had no idea there was a progenitor of Resident Evil! I thought they sprang, fully formed, out of nothing!

    Also... to be a stickler, if Floppy Disks only held 1.44 MB, how can this game fit on four of them?

  2. Regarding the size of the game, I think the 253 MB I got included all three of the Alone in the Dark games, the soundtracks and game manuals. I think I just used too many numbers in a single sentence and got confused.