Alone in the Dark Review: A Horrifying Reimagining of a Survival Horror Classic

Its deficiencies wouldn’t be so bad if it had much to offer in terms of setting, story, or puzzles.

Alone in the Dark
Photo: THQ Nordic

The new Alone in the Dark is meant to be an event—a revitalization of the 30-year-old franchise that created the blueprint for survival horror games. There is, after all, no Resident Evil without 1992’s Alone in the Dark, which sent polygonal characters through the gauntlet of fixed-camera angles in a sinister mansion. Now, the enduring success of Resident Evil, and especially its recent remakes, is a visible influence on this reimagining of the game.

Developer Pieces Interactive has reconceived Derceto Manor, the 1920s-era Louisiana estate at the center of the original Alone in the Dark, with modern graphics and an over-the-shoulder camera. They’ve even gone so far as to cast Jodie Comer and David Harbour as the two selectable protagonists: Emily Hartwood, a young woman searching for her troubled uncle, and Edward Carnby, a private investigator whose services she’s enlisted.

Where the Derceto Manor of the original game is a straightforward house of horrors full of death traps, puzzles, and monsters, the new Derceto Manor is meant to be a plausible stage for dramatic storytelling. It still features plenty of puzzles and ugly green wallpaper, but it’s now an inhabited space, having been converted into a mental institution. Emily’s missing uncle, Jeremy, is just one of several patients at the manor, which would appear to only be staffed by one snooty, suspicious doctor and a handful of equally shifty workers. While occult happenings are plainly afoot at Derceto Manor, there are no longer any ghouls stalking the halls or breaking in through the windows. Instead, the monsters are largely relegated to outside spaces, like a sunken temple or an oil rig, that the protagonists access with an otherworldly talisman.

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Occasionally, the realm of monsters will intrude upon Derceto Manor, morphing an ornate hallway into a vine-choked ruin in the blink of an eye. These moments are sadly under-realized, often dispersing quickly with minimal intervention on the player’s part. More depressing, they’re about as surprising and disorienting as the game ever gets.

The rest of Alone in the Dark is dedicated to aping the familiar rhythms of a “prestige” video game, with Emily or Carnby aiming for headshots, sneaking past monsters, searching drawers for supplies, and clambering over ledges helpfully smeared with red blood to mark their interactivity. This smooth, frictionless predictability all but squashes any hope of tension or dread, what with your path always littered with health items, replacement melee weapons, throwable bottles, and spare bullets so that combat is never more than a passing irritation.

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These deficiencies wouldn’t be so bad if Alone in the Dark had much to offer in terms of setting, story, or puzzles. But every world beyond Derceto Manor is a glorified video game corridor, and the manor itself is only slightly better for offering puzzles only slightly more complicated than the game’s favored structure of laying puzzle items right next to the objects that require them.

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It’s worth nothing that this Alone in the Dark offers a choice between a “modern” interface and an “old-school” one. The former more clearly signposts what you need to do, but even on the more restrained old-school setting, the puzzles are tuned for the absolute minimum of thought. With the exception of one particularly bad safe combination puzzle, most of the game’s difficulty emerges from interface quirks or its annoying tendency to place critical intel in rooms you’ve already searched. And no matter what setting you choose, you still have to listen to Comer or Harbour sleepily muse about exactly what they need to do next.

The choice between playing as Emily or Edward is more involved but no less unsatisfying. While each character receives different cutscenes, as well as an exclusive late-game level, the majority of Alone in the Dark remains the same, albeit slightly tilted in Carnby’s favor. His cutscenes are more plentiful, with more elaborate animations and in-depth explanation, and the overall story feels more naturally constructed around his role as an archetypal detective. By contrast, Emily’s campaign doesn’t distinguish itself from Carnby’s so much as it awkwardly crams her into a similar role. As such, there’s something oddly appropriate about how often it looks like she’s holding a pistol when you move the camera, even when she’s not actually holding one.

Yet irrespective of what character you choose to play as, Alone in the Dark’s storytelling is strange, often failing to flesh out many characters, concepts, and subplots. The game never exactly comes across as unfinished, but it does feel incoherent, particularly for how much of Emily’s backstory hinges on a husband character that she barely mentions.

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In a truly strange touch, the game attempts to paper over the holes in its plotting with summary text on the “objectives” menu screen. Read by a woman in a Southern accent as though she’s working at a typewriter, the text takes the form of manuscript pages that narrate preceding events and reiterate certain objectives, but it soon becomes clear that these pages are also meant to provide context beyond the scope of the cutscenes or the characters’ in-game voicework. The technique is similar to the collectible pages from Alan Wake II, except Alone in the Dark uses them to convey feelings and motivations that are otherwise totally absent from the game proper, in what feels more like an awkward alternative to the more involved process of having Comer and Harbour perform stilted material that must then be animated.

Coupled with the rest of the game’s failings, it becomes apparent that whatever more complex aspirations Alone in the Dark might have wanted to realize, it didn’t have the resources to achieve them. Its greatest achievement is that, rather than releasing in some broken and clearly unfinished state, it has managed to reach the level of being merely bad instead.

This game was reviewed with code provided by Dead Good PR.

Score: 
 Developer: Pieces Interactive  Publisher: THQ Nordic  Platform: Xbox Series X  Release Date: March 20, 2024  ESRB: M  ESRB Descriptions: Blood and Gore, Itense Violence, Language  Buy: Game

Steven Scaife

Steven Nguyen Scaife is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed News, Fanbyte, Polygon, The Awl, Rock Paper Shotgun, EGM, and others. He is reluctantly based in the Midwest.

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