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Alone in the Dark (2008)
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by Thomas Ribault and Sam Derboo - October 30, 2012

If Infogrames lore is to be believed, Alone in the Dark first sparked from an idea of company founder Bruno Bonnell, about a game taking place mostly in dark surroundings, forcing players to navigate by sounds and sparse light sources. Nonetheless the actual game started as an independent, non-funded side project inside Infogrames, conceived by tech wiz Frédéric Raynal. A big horror movie fan who had just earned his 3D programming spurs with the PC version of Infogrames' Continuum, he decided to combine his passion and his skills into a new kind of video game.

Even before the series was revived from its long sleep with the 2008 reboot, there were few gamers who never heard of Alone in the Dark. Whenever the history of Resident Evil was recounted, the games media rarely failed to point out that Capcom's zombie shocker was deeply inspired by an old French computer game that first introduced fixed camera angles and the struggle with limited resources against an overwhelming opposition of monsters, often making retreat a better option than all-out fighting. But regardless of these defining attributes, Alone in the Dark has been a surprisingly heterogeneous series, both in its settings and in gameplay focus - series hero Edward Carnby has fought his way through two eras, sometimes sneaking around ancient mansions, sometimes gunning down zombie mobsters and pirates by the dozens, sometimes fighting his way through an apocalypse.

Alone in the Dark is also one of the handful Western franchises that made it big in Japan (the Japanese spelling for the title is アローン・イン・ザ・ダーク). All the games were released over there, which explains how it could have such a big impact on the Resident Evil designers. But not only Japan - in Korea the original Alone in the Dark was one of the very first Western PC games that were fully localized, titled Eodumsok-e Nahollo (어둠속에 나홀로), and in China the series is known as Guiwu Moying (鬼屋魔影, "Spookhouse Spectres").

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)


Alone in the Dark - IBM PC, PC-98, FM Towns, Macintosh, 3DO, Acorn Archimedes (1992)

French Cover

American Cover

Raynal's concept for the game was a simple set of ideas: He wanted to create an action adventure game with zombies and monsters, evolving the technology used in Continuum to create articulate 3D characters. The player had to be alone (mainly to save Raynal the headache of dealing with character interaction and dialog) and the game was to be set in an old manor during the early 20th century, a time when electronics and communication weren't as advanced. His first scenario was only three words long, but perfectly captured the spirit of survival horror: "Get out alive!" With the help of lead animator Didier Chanfray, Raynal created a tech demo of a 3D sphere walking around an attic. The plan initially was to digitize photos from real life locations for the backgrounds, but it proved impossible to reverse-engineer the corresponding wireframes for collisions. So an artist was needed, and through an internal contest Yaël Barroz, who had graduated from a proper art school (and who later married Raynal), was determined as the 2D artist for the backgrounds. Philippe Vachey was recruited for the audio department. Once a first prototype was created, Bonnell gave the green light to produce "In the Dark", the first of the many working titles for the project. The game was conceived as the first title in a series called "Virtual Dreams," standalone games that would all use the same engine. The label is even featured on the original French cover, but contrary to the Alone in the Dark franchise, it never took off.

The title slideshow still shows Carnby with a mockup head that was drawn for marketing purposes.

It's Louisiana, 1924. Famous painter Jeremy Hartwood is found dead in his gigantic mansion Derceto. Most of his recent paintings show grotesque monsters and unspeakable horrors. It appears someone or something slowly drove him insane. Eventually, he hanged himself in his own attic. Two persons have a strong interest for the late Mr. Hartwoord's mansion: the iconic series hero Edward Carnby, hard-bitten private eye, and Emily Hartwood, gentle soul and the niece of the poor sod. As soon as they enter the mansion, both quickly realize that something is wrong with Derceto and that Hartwood was actually haunted by real nightmares. Will they find out the truth, or die at the hands of the unspeakable horrors?

Although it is a bit thread-bare, Alone in the Dark's story still manages to be coherent and immersive. Most of the narrative is entirely optional and can be discovered by reading ancient books & various correspondences, long before Bioshock or even its predecessor in spirit System Shock. The writing reeks of Cthulhu influence: Carnby is named after the protagonist in Clark Ashton Smith's short story "The Return of the Sorcerer," which is considered the first Cthulhu Mythos work by another author than H.P Lovecraft, and many typical Lovecraftian monsters such as Deep Ones and Cthonians are present. Hubert Chardot, the main writer for the game, was a huge fan of the Cthulhu mythos, which should explain the heavy similarities of the pitch. Infogrames was actually in talks with Chaosium to apply the Call of Cthulhu license for the game as well. Raynal welcomed the rich mythology the franchise offered, but was worried management would impose RPG elements like character sheets on the game. In the end Alone in the Dark was judged not faithful enough to the pen&paper RPG to make the cut. (Chardot got to work on "proper" Cthulhu games eventually - he was on the writing team for both Shadow of the Comet and Prisoner of Ice.)

As the grandfather of what we know today as the survival horror genre, Alone in the Dark shares many characteristics with Capcom's clone Resident Evil. At the beginning, the player gets to pick between two characters, each with their own background story, but the quest remains identical regardless of the choice. Carnby and Emily navigate freely as 3D characters through pre-rendered rooms, introducing the infamous tank-controls to the genre. They're even weirder than in most other games, since the camera changes are often not quite as well thought-out as one would wish, and running requires a very awkward double-tap motion that only seems to work when it feels like it, while the standard walking speed is excruciatingly slow.

But Alone in the Dark also possesses some quirks that didn't make the transition to its imitators. The first big difference resides in the action screen, a menu where one can glance through the equipment, check the hero's health and select one of several actions. The basic ones are Search, Fight and Push; only during the last passage of the game, Jump is activated. The commands also apply to the inventory, for items such as weapons, health-kits, books, etc. possess different functions. Inventory space is limited, and items can be thrown and dropped anywhere a feature that the Resident Evil series only took ten more years to adapt with Resident Evil 0. Jokes aside, the difference between putting items in certain places and simply "using" them is also relevant to many of the puzzles. Light and darkness didn't play quite as big a role as in Bonnell's inspiring idea, but there were still pitch dark rooms that had to be illuminated by a light source, like in Maniac Mansion or many older adventure games.

One of many documents scattered over the mansion.

Zombies, rats, ghouls and ghosts are among the various creeps that await you in Derceto. Don't be fooled by their rather goofy appearance, though. They all can be pretty dangerous if you don't pay attention. In hand-to-hand combat, different attacks can be executed by holding Space and pressing any of the four directions, resulting in a head butt, quick jab, fierce punch or high kick. Each move has a certain reach, speed and power; the main goal is to stun lock enemies so they can't stun lock you. As simple as it sounds, combat can get infuriating when the enemy locks you in an infinite combo. In addition to various melee weapons, a pistol, a shotgun and a bow can also be found in the mansion, but ammo is scarce: Six shells, twelve bullets and three arrows (one of which is required to disarm a trap) are all there is for the whole game. Unlike many later survival horror games, Alone in the Dark isn't simply a horror-themed action game with quirky camera angles; most of the enemies must be scattered through wits, and direct confrontation is often not the best option most of the time. In the first room, for example, the player gets subsequently attacked by a werewolf jumping in through the window and a zombie rising from a trapdoor; both can be kept in check by moving pieces of furniture in the way.

After escaping from the rather linear second floor, Derceto allows players to choose their own demise. There's no way out before dealing with the evil that lurks under the mansion, but otherwise you're free to explore. There are items indispensable to proceed to certain rooms, like magic protection, a lantern or keys, but many can be reached in any order. The puzzles are fairly easy, and usually clearly hinted at through in-game references and books. In some cases mistakes can result in dead ends and make the game unwinnable, though. There are also a lot of mean instant-kill traps. That isn't too much of a problem, though, as the game is fairly short and built around learning through failures for the next attempt rather than just guiding players through the adventure in one linear session.

Attacked by Lovecraft's creations.

The new technology allowed for an adaption of cinematic techniques unprecedented in video games, which provided the ideal means to shock the player. Monsters suddenly appeared from off-camera corners of the room, often intentionally placed in angles that would compromise the player's sense of direction. The uncertainty of what unspeakable horrors may lie around the next corner terrorized players more than any other game before. There's even an almost POV-shot from an attacking monster, as well as the introduction of a series trademark: Almost all Alone in the Dark episodes (only the 2008 reboot would dispose of this tradition) feature an early view out of a window, implying a frightening onlooker as the hero approaches the danger zone. The character models with their crazy eyes, clamshell hands and pointy breasts may look like a joke nowadays, but no one can deny the craftiness in setting the game in scene.

But camera tricks only accounted for half the horror. Philippe Vachey is one the most famous composers in French video game industry. Using water-phone and various instruments, he delivers an uncanny mood that fits perfectly to the whole haunted house stereotype. The sound effects are of course as creepy as expected; the wooden floor creaks under every step, and unsettling jingles announce that something wrong happened nearby. Some sound effects were also put randomly at certain places to further add to the player's feeling of uncertainty.

A CD-ROM version soon followed, which introduced a Redbook audio version of the soundtrack and voice over for the character descriptions and all written documents found in the game. The quality of the voice acting is what one would expect from a game in the early 1990s - at least in the English version. For once, the original French voice acting is excellent, as most of the voice actors come from the theatre scene. Because it's slower than average reading speed, it's really more of a distraction than anything, though.

The game was a critical and financial success, with Infogrames founder Bruno Bonnell reaping most of the praise. Raynal and his team didn't intend to put up with that. Chardot stayed with Infogrames for many years, but the rest of the core team went off to found Adeline, where they created Little Big Adventure and Time Commando, which used an engine similar to Alone in the Dark.

Even the tobacco smoke is out to kill the intruders.

Despite its success on the IBM PC, Alone in the Dark wasn't ported to that many other platforms. The timing certainly played a role here - the game arrived too late for an Amiga or Atari ST version to be worth the trouble, and too early for the mainstream next gen consoles. The game did make it onto Acorn's obscure 1980s high-end computer Archimedes and to various Japanese 16-bit computers, who suffer a bit in the audio department, but otherwise look and play identical to the IBM version. The only version that features "improved" graphics was for Macintosh computers, which uses double resolution, with a visual filter applied to the 2D backgrounds.

The only console port was made for the 3DO. It had to make some compromises with the character models and used a noticeably lower resolution for the main view, but brings one important improvement: There's now a separate running button, making the controls much more sufferable. It also has the questionable benefit of the voice acting from the CD-ROM version, alongside the not at all questionable redbook soundtrack.


Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Very first concept art by Didier Chanfray

Proof of concept (September 1991)

Work in progress (December 1991)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark (IBM PC)



Comparison Screenshots


Window Lookout Shots


Jack in the Dark - IBM PC (1993)

Jack In The Dark is a neat little promo game that kinda functions as a demo for Alone in the Dark 2. It was packed in golden wrapping with the face of a jack-in-the-box on the unique floppy disk, and also included with CD-ROM versions of the main games.

Rather than containing a portion of the actual sequel, Jack in the Dark introduces a nice little Christmas tale. Grace Saunders, a small child wandering in the streets, ends up locked in a toy store. But she's not alone Santa Claus has been locked inside there too, by an evil Jack-in-the-box (who bears the likeness of the villain from the second game). Of course, as a child Grace can't really fight her way out and so she has to solve a few puzzles to put the living toys at rest and restore the spirit of Christmas. It ends with grace being captured for the events of the second full game.

While it takes only about fifteen minutes to complete, this little escapade is still fairly enjoyable, if only for the cheerful and nostalgic atmosphere.

Jack in the Dark (IBM PC)


Alone in the Dark 2 / Alone in the Dark: One-Eyed Jack's Revenge / Alone in the Dark: Jack is Back - IBM PC, PC-98, FM Towns, Macintosh, 3DO, PlayStation, Saturn (1993)

IBM PC Cover

European Saturn Cover

Surfing on the success of the first game, Infogrames wanted to take a new direction with the franchise. Looking at the success of Wolfenstein 3D and the hype for Doom, the company decided to put the focus on action this time. The sequel runs on the same engine and still features Edward Carnby as the main character, but the setting and gameplay are quite different. Since the majority of the original team was gone, the sequel was put into the hands of Raynal's assistant programmer from the first game, Franck de Girolami, who found himself pressed to assemble a new team and deliver a sequel, all within no more than seven months.

A few months after solving the mystery of Derceto, Carnby is now called a "Supernatural Private Eye" by the press, and investigates all sorts of strange cases. His mentor, Ted Stryker, mysteriously disappears after looking for Grace Saunders, an eight year old girl who went missing on Christmas Eve. Stryker was nosing around a mysterious bootlegger called One-Eyed Jack, who lives in a gigantic domain called Hell's Kitchen. Immediately smelling something fishy, Carnby eventually blows up the main gate of the mansion to "investigate" the case. A far cry from the creepy, subtle introduction of Derceto, that's for sure.

Once again, Chardot was in charge of the screenplay, but things obviously got out of control. The Lovecraftian touch has been completely disposed of in favor of a more dramatic turn. The plot starts as a simple rescue mission in a mansion full of shady frankenmobsters. Soon it turns out that they are actually undead pirates, and they intend to sacrifice Grace in order to prolong their immortality. Naturally, the quest ends as a dazzling swashbuckling adventure on a ghost ship.

As usual, the plot is distilled through various books and manuscripts that give hints about the pirates' background and the ways to dispose of them. The writing is actually pretty good, but the wacky execution of the game completely erases the efforts of the screenplay, making the game a downright comedy at places. Some key points of the storyline like the tale of One-Eyed Jack are presented with gorgeous bande dessinée cutscenes. This idea was to be kept for later productions like Alone in the Dark 3 and Prisoner of Ice.

The original artwork that served as base for one of the flashback images.

While the mechanics are exactly the same as in the first game, now the focus lies much more on combat. Finding the action menu trimmed down to just Fight and Push should be the first indicator that something's changed. Even worse, much of it is ranged combat. The first part of the game takes place in the garden maze of Hell's Kitchen, where you need to fight your way through hordes of Thompson-wearing goons. The controls are clumsy at best, terribly unsuited for the task at hand, and force you to corner every enemy to avoid being stun locked by the automatic firearms. This whole section is tedious and having to cope with it from the get go is probably the worst game design decision in the whole original trilogy. As De Girolami told Retro Gamer, the team was well aware of these issues at the end, but Infogrames wasn't really concerned about tweaking the game: "The focus back then was to capitalize on the success of the first game as soon as possible, not to maintain its quality level."

The rest of the game is much more enjoyable, and more puzzles make a welcome return in the second half. But the image most remember from the game would probably be Carnby dressed as Santa Claus murdering zombie dwarf cooks with frying pans. For whatever reason, Carnby needs to use this Christmas disguise to run around the mansion undetected... for a few seconds only, after that the murdering of the undead resumes. On the plus side, the double-tap for running now works properly.

Around the mid-point of the game, Carnby gets captured by the pirates' voodoo witch, and little Grace Saunders has to bust him out. Grace is cute as a button, but as an innocent kid unable to threaten the centuries-old zombie pirates. Only her wits help her to dispose of the guards, often in a very funny way. It's a nice touch that Resident Evil 2 would use a few years later with Sherry Birkin, and a refreshing change of pace from all the killing done as Carnby. The puzzles themselves are pretty easy after finding the hints that usually come right before they're applied. But no worries, after that Carnby gets to slaughter more pirates for the endgame. The adventure is also much more linear than before, exponentially increasing the possibilities to screw up your game because of missed items.

Strangely enough, the soundtrack of Alone in the Dark 2 is the only known composing work of Jean-Luc Escalant, actually an expert in bio-technology. The music is a fairly enjoyable mix of catchy, old-fashioned pirate tunes and Christmas-y songs. The sound effects, especially the digitalized voices of the goons are awkwardly funny, too.

Technical improvements were subtle, but powerful: The 2D backgrounds now could be animated, resulting in many fleeting critters flitting across the screens, and whereas the first game never put more than two or three monsters in once scene, Carnby and Grace now have to face whole bunches of pirates at once. Enemies announce their presence by shouting at the player, further stressing the action before horror approach.

In the end, Alone in the Dark 2 isn't a bad game, but has hardly any real links with the first game. The feeling of constant absurdity and wackiness prevents any horror atmosphere or sense of mystery, and AitD 2 is much more funny than it is scary. The endless fighting and botched balancing, however, remain the real drawbacks of the whole experience.

This time around, the 3DO version caught up with the computers and displays the graphics in their original resolution, only minor models like weapons and items are still slightly simplified. The real attraction are the PlayStation and Saturn versions, though. The backgrounds remain the same as the original, but all characters are fully textured, making them look much less abstract. Some characters are also somewhat redesigned in the process; especially Edward Carnby is barely recognizable, lacking his trademark moustache. Some FMV rides have been added as transitions between sections, like a landslip that makes Carnby dive under the ocean, past sunken treasures and dead explorers... only for him to end up in the mansion's catacombs. They're entirely pointless, but apparently you'd just had to have some if you wanted to port a PC game to the PlayStation in 1996. For inexplicable reasons, some of the perfectly fine in-engine cutscenes are also replaced by pre-recorded FMVs, leaving them with ugly fragments and - most hilariously - often with the flat shaded character models from the PC version. The 32-bit versions also finally offer three difficulty levels for the combat, and on the lowest one the opening part is actually manageable without saving and reloading a hundred times.

Quick Info:

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  • Franck de Girolami

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Alone in the Dark 2 (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark 2 (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark 2 (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark 2 (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark 2 (IBM PC)

Alone in the Dark 2 (PlayStation)

Alone in the Dark 2 (PlayStation)

Alone in the Dark 2 (PlayStation)



Comparison Screenshots


PlayStation FMV Screenshots


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Time Gate: Knight's Chase
The New Nightmare

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Alone in the Dark (2008)
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