Alone in the Dark review

Welcome ghouls, ghosts and other things that go bump in the night, to our Halloween special review. And this evening, we’re going to take a look at one of the games that built the foundations of the survival horror genre: Alone in the Dark.

Alone in the Dark is an action-adventure game made by Infogrames and originally released in 1992 for DOS. It was re-released the following year in CD-ROM format and ported to the FM Towns and PC-98 computers. It was also ported in 1994 to Macintosh and 3DO and the following year to the Acorn 32-bit computer. And in 2014 it was released for iOS.

Alone in the Dark came to life when French developer Infogrames decided to do an horror-themed game using the new 3D graphics and animation of the time. Unfortunately, animating an entire mansion in 3D wasn’t possible, so the designers decided to just animate the characters and the objects in a pre rendered 2D background, which forced the use of fixed camera positions. The team also decided to use the haunted mansion trope as their horror setting since it’s a well established classic horror trope, but combined with Lovecraftian elements.

But before we continue with the game itself, let’s look at these horrible visages, shall we?

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This is the most well-known cover of the game and I have to confess, it’s quite good, giving a proper eerie atmosphere.

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This an alternate cover, released only in Europe. It’s less colourful and detailed than the previous one, but it’s still quite eerie.

But time has come, children of the night, to boot this horror into our systems:

But before playing the game, I recommend reading the newspaper that comes with it which not only presents you the background story, but it also helps you immerse in the 1920s atmosphere, although the text presented in the character selection might be enough as a background story. Basically the story is that Jeremy Hartwood, an artist living in Louisiana, was found hanged in the loft of his mansion Derceto. The police consider the cause of death to be suicide and of course, we all know there’s more than meets the eye.

You can choose between two characters: Emily Hartwood, Jeremy’s niece, who doesn’t believe her uncle committed suicide but believes he left a note for her in his old piano or Edward Carnby, a down-in-his-luck private detective who was hired by an antique dealer to find the aforementioned piano. The intro shows either character arriving at Derceto and heading to the loft, where then the game properly starts. I recommend acting fast when you start because if you take too long, two monsters will enter the loft to confront you and although they’re easy to defeat, it’s best to block their way in.

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“Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring.”

The game uses tank controls to control the character, which I personally don’t like and although they’re somewhat responsive, the animation is too slow. Luckily, the monsters also move slowly (and some even slower), so you’ll never be outrun by any of them. Also, the game’s mechanics and controls are quite intuitive, so you’ll have no time getting used to them (it depends on your experience with tank controls, though). And as far as I can tell, there’s no gameplay difference between both characters.

Another aspect that becomes immediately apparent is the fixed camera views, which range from adequate to horrible. The perspective changes from one screen to another which can mess up the gameplay (especially if your character is running). Also, some camera angles are weird and although it might improve the atmosphere, it makes the game unnecessarily harder, like getting stuck behind a wall or fighting enemies that are just outside the camera view, among others.

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Who do you choose to face the horrors of the night?

The inventory screen shows your health, the actions you can perform and your inventory. However, unlike graphic adventures, you have limited inventory space in which you can only carry objects until reaching a weight limit. Unless specified otherwise, usually the bigger the object, the heavier it is. Luckily, you can drop objects and pick them up later and apart from weapons, most objects only have one use, so after using them in a specific puzzle, you can just drop them to pick up other objects. And if for some reason, you need to pick up an object you dropped earlier, you can always backtrack for it. It makes the gameplay harder and more confusing but more realistic.

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Inside the loft.

There are four type of objects you can pick up and use: weapons (and ammo for the ranged ones), objects to be used in puzzles, books and parchments that contain the game’s plot and hints to solve the puzzles or how to defeat certain monsters and health objects (potions or food). However, there are also some red-herrings (objects that have no use whatsoever or are dangerous to use). There’s also a reduced number of ammo and health potions throughout the mansion, so you need to know when to use them for maximum effectiveness.

The puzzles are somewhat hard to solve due to the small amount of hints and you’ll be forced to resort to a trial-and-error method in order to solve them. Some of them are typical adventure puzzles (using objects to get other objects or to gain access to new areas) while others are used to bypass or defeat a special monster (because not all monsters can be easily defeated by fighting them). However, the first half of the game is more puzzle-driven, while the second half is more action-oriented (which I’ll talk about later on).

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The inventory and status screen.

The game presents great sound effects, especially the screams when your character is hit by a monster or every step you take and every creak when you open a door, which contributes to the eerie atmosphere of the game. But the voice-over acting it’s average at best, although some over-the-top delivery can be quite entertaining. However, the soundtrack by Philippe Vachey is superb but it only appears in certain moments, which is a good point, because the silence works in favor of the overall atmosphere. In fact, the music is the only hint you have when a monster suddenly appears.

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Fighting a weird looking monster. Honestly, it looks like a featherless giant chicken.

But unfortunately for me, the worst part of the game are the graphics. Yes, I know this is a 1992 game, but early 3D polygons have aged terribly. Although the backgrounds and the colours look good (especially in the latter areas), the texture of the characters and the monsters look terrible. All the monsters look more funny than scary (especially the bird-like monsters at the beginning). And the lack of shadows doesn’t help either although I do love the game-over screen.

But to properly continue the review, one has to peel back the nice cover to reveal the ugly truth behind it. In other words:

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Like I mentioned before, the first half of the games has more puzzles while the second half (after gaining access to the underground caves) is more action-oriented with some platforming. You even get a new action (jump) for said platforming. However, the moment you enter the caves you can’t go back the same way, so I recommend making sure you have all the objects, weapons and ammo necessary to finish the game.

And talking about the platforming, the camera perspectives make it very difficult to properly land the jumps and although you won’t die if you miss a jump, it won’t be easy getting back to where you were initially. Also another small hint: avoid the water as long as possible. And to finish the spoilers, don’t think for a second that the game ends the moment you defeat the bad guy.

OK, spoilers over. Back to the proper review.

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The gruesome game-over screen.

So in conclusion, if you can get past the tank controls, the camera angles and the outdated graphics, Alone in the Dark can be an enjoyable experience for Halloween (and for the rest of the year). And despite its flaws, the designers did their best in delivering a proper horror atmosphere that will invoke tension and fear in opening a single door because you never know what awaits in every new room or area. So give it a shot, you won’t be sorry.

Unfortunately, I can’t make a comparison with the other versions because I haven’t played them. Neither have I played the modern rebooted series (that started with Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare), which inspired the infamous Uwe Boll movie (which unfortunately I did see).

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There aren’t many, but you’ll need every one of these…

Alone in the Dark had a tremendous success and was planned to be the first game of the Virtual Dreams series, but Infogrames decided instead to make its own franchise. However, it did unofficially became part of the Call of Cthulhu series, whose titles are referenced in the game (although they’re all graphic adventures instead). But the biggest contribution of Alone in the Dark was its game mechanics (scarcity of ammo, health items and hints) and scary atmosphere, which inspired Capcom’s Resident Evil and the survival horror genre.

So, where can you get your hands or claws or whatever on it? You can buy the entire original trilogy here on Steam or on GOG.com.

So, children of the night, did you enjoyed this review or Halloween in general? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook and Twitter. Join me again next time and remember, keep on playing, whatever you are BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Daughter of Serpents/The Scroll review

If you read the title, you must be wondering: am I reviewing two games at once again? Not exactly. Actually I’m reviewing two versions of the same game: a floppy disk version (Daughter of Serpents) and a CD-ROM version (The Scroll), which contains extra scenes and alters the gameplay significantly from the floppy version.

Daughter of Serpents is a graphic adventure developed by Eldritch Games and published by Millennium Interactive. It was originally released in 1992 for DOS and re-released in 1995 as The Scroll by Nova Spring and Psygnosis in CD-ROM format.

Eldritch Games was a small company based in the UK, that began making role-playing tabletop and board games based on the Cthulhu Mythos. But later, they decided to move to videogames and in 1989 released The Hound of Shadow, a text-adventure game that was well received by gamers and critics alike.

But back to Daughter of Serpents/The Scroll, let’s look at the covers, shall we?

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No, I assure you, this isn’t Cleopatra.

As you can see, it features an Egyptian-style queen surrounded by Ancient Egyptian imagery, but featuring prominently serpents, including two at her feet. Although the game isn’t set in Ancient Egypt, it still gives a mysterious aura about it.

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OK, who brought the snake to the Egypt exhibition?

This one’s more simple, but still as effective. It simply shows some hieroglyphs surrounded by a snake.

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Now this one has a more ominous look, with the smoke rising and the figures on the side. While with the other two covers, one might get the impression of the game being set in Ancient Egypt, this cover has a more archaeological aspect to it, like you’re about to discover Tutankhamun’s tomb.

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

Sorry for only showing The Scroll intro here, but I had some issues with the floppy version, and besides, both versions have very similar intros. As you can see, a boat arrives at Alexandria, Egypt in 1925 and one of the passengers, when exiting the boat, is killed by a man, who’s then promptly shot by the police, but then the killer turns into a man-serpent hybrid just before dying. And it’s with this mystery that the game starts, hooking the player’s attention.

But before starting the game, Daughter of Serpents gives you the innovative option to choose between 9 established characters or create your own. This character creation option harkens back to the company’s past as a RPG developer and was also featured in The Hound of Shadow.

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In creating your character, you can choose his/her gender, nationality (UK or US only) and profession, where you can choose between 9: Egyptologist, Traveler, Sleuth, Private Eye, Mystic or Occultist. Then you have to spend your remaining points in several skills, including some outside your chosen profession. To get a better understanding of the character creation, I recommend reading The Alchemist of Istanbul, a pen and paper RPG which also serves as an introduction to the game’s story and came included with the game itself.

So how does the different characters impact the story and the gameplay, if it’s an adventure game? Well, depending on your chosen profession, you can play through three different playthroughs, although the basic story remains the same and the different skills change the dialogue significantly. It increases the replay value drastically by encouraging you to try different variations of professions and skills.

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Exploring the museum.

I just wish the rest of the game was equally impressive. The game has a first person perspective with still images, featuring average quality graphics and minimal animation. The gameplay consists in a point and click interface with your mouse icon changing between its several functions. While the mouse interface can be more or less intuitive (except when giving objects to other characters, which requires some pixel-hunting), the inventory system is very cumbersome, as you simply put objects freely in the inventory screen and it’s quite easy for a big object to obscure a smaller one. Not to mention, that to operate a specific object, you need to move it to a different screen (by clicking down the floor) and then use it there (unless it’s to interact with another object and/or character).

In the inventory screen, you can find at the start of the game a map (for traveling) and two books, a guide explaining all the Ancient Egypt mythology relevant to the game’s story (couldn’t this be in the manual?) which includes an option called Essentials, which is basically the game’s option screen. Yes, to access the game’s options (including the save and load options), you need to use your left-mouse button 3 times in 3 different places. This is very counter-intuitive and time wasting for any game. The other book is a diary describing your progress (couldn’t this be the options screen instead?).

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Why, hello there, gorgeous!

But at least the story, characters and dialogues aren’t bad. The story has some Lovecraftian elements seamlessly intertwined with Egyptian mythology, although I considered it more supernatural suspense than horror, but it’s still quite enjoyable. The game doesn’t have many characters to interact with but it has a lot of dialogue which is displayed in speech bubbles like in a comic, with certain words in red for dialogue options.

Of all the three playthroughs, the Occultist/Mystic one seems the most satisfying to play and explores more of the story, while the Egyptologist/Traveler one seems the smallest and the least enjoyable. The same goes for the endings. But whatever playthrough you’re playing, the game isn’t hard for experienced players but the gameplay is very linear, especially towards the end.

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Exploring the catacombs.

The music is adequate and provides proper atmosphere but the sound effects are a bit lacking. Also, there isn’t a proper tension during the final part of the game, which is something a game based on the Cthulhu Mythos should provide. You know, the tension, isolation and vulnerability against the supernatural and the unknown that are common Lovecraftian themes.

But in The Scroll, some big changes were made. It isn’t a remake by any means, but more of a remastered version in which the animation, sound and music are vastly improved. It also contains voice acting throughout the game (with the same speech bubbles for dialogue options), which is quite good for the time, but the dialogue itself remains more or less the same.

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Messing with the wrong Out……….. *starts foaming from mouth*

It also expands the locations, including a bazaar that wasn’t in the floppy version and some new characters. But the biggest change is the lack of a character creation option. Instead you choose between two pre-established characters: an English Egyptologist or an American Mystic. Yes, now you only have two playthroughs to play and although they’re expanded from the previous version, it severely limits the replay value. And the Egyptologist playthrough is still very short in comparison with the Mystic one.

The emission of the character creation option also denotes another thing: in Daughter of Serpents, you could create a female character and although it didn’t have any impact in  the gameplay or story, there weren’t many games with female protagonists back in the 90s and the fact that The Scroll only has male protagonists doesn’t help. It should have been one male and the other female to choose in my opinion.

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Is that Teela’s cobra hood?

So in general, although both versions have a good story and atmosphere with some very interesting ideas (especially the character creation) that elevates it somewhat above the rest, its execution is less than stellar. Like I said before, the inventory system is a mess and the gameplay is very easy and linear. The lack of a character creation in The Scroll turns it into just another average adventure game. I can’t recommend The Scroll, but you might want to give Daughter of Serpents a shot. Still, if you want to try it then click here to play in your own browser.

Well, do you like games based on the Cthulhu Mythos? If so tell me which are your favourites in the comments below. I’ll see you guys around and till then………………..PH’NGLUI MGLW’NAFH CTHULHU R’LYEH WGAH’NAGL FHTAGN