Alone in the Dark

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 02 November 1997. Last updated on 09 August 2009.
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Alone in the Dark
You play as Edward or Emily.
Alone in the Dark
An oil lamp is an essential tool when you are alone in the dark!
Alone in the Dark
Watch your steps!
Alone in the Dark
Every room in this haunted mansion hides a different danger.
Alone in the Dark
Even the outdoor environment is beautifully rendered!

The game Alone in the Dark is considered to be the grandfather of all action adventure games. Released in 1993, little do developer Infogrames and publisher I-Motion know that this title will someday inspire a whole new breed of computer games that combines action with adventure elements in a real-time generated 3D game world. Using a revolutionary polygon based graphic engine, the game unfolds through the artistic use of multiple camera angles to create dramatic cinematic shots that play in a movie style. Together with a horror epic story inspired by the work of H P Lovecraft, Alone in the Dark gives a chilling new face in the genre of graphic adventure gaming.

Jeremy Hartwood, the owner of the legendary Louisiana mansion Derceto, has committed suicide. His death appears suspicious. Yet, it seems to be no surprise to anyone, for Derceto is known to be haunted by an evil power. The case is quickly dealt with by the police and soon forgotten by the public. Now, a local antique dealer has hired you to enter Derceto and make a list of all the valuables within. Against your better judgment, you agree to seek out the mansion's precious antiques. Unfortunately, moments after you enter Derceto, you are thrown into a nightmare that has been Jeremy's daily life. Hideous hidden monsters around the mansion, creepy catacombs down underneath, shadowy corridors foreshadow a great evil that fills the atmosphere and the very house itself. You, as detective Edward Carnby or Jeremy's niece Emily, must uncover the truth behind Jeremy's mysterious death and survive through the night by escaping from mansion through a maze in the cavern.

The Alone in the Dark series spots a pioneering graphic engine. Developed by Infogrames (Infogrames is a software developer based in France, whereas I-Motion is based in Santa Monica, California), it uses simplistic two-dimensional polygons to render, in real time, 3D characters and objects. To preserve the performance of the engine, each polygon is colored rather than texture mapped. While they do not appear very realistic when compared to pre-rendered static images, this design allows for incredibly fluid and fast rendering in real time of the characters and objects in response to the player's control. It also has the advantage that multiple camera angles can easily be taken without redrawing the animations fitting to each angle. This feature is effectively exploited in the game with camera angles switching suddenly from a vertigo inducing height to an ant's eye view. The real-time animations are then placed against beautifully pre-rendered background shots to complete the effect. The game engine allows for a refreshing perspective in use of animations for storytelling. It is clearly ahead of its time when it first debuts, for which it has won numerous awards for its technical achievement.

Gameplay consists of both puzzles and substantial amount of arcade sequences. The puzzles are mostly inventory based or environmentally rooted. The arcade sequences take place in the form of combat. Fighting can be either armed or unarmed. Objects are available for use as weapons. Life points are used to keep track of the health in both the protagonist and the enemies. Cursor keys are used to control the movements of the characters. To carry out certain actions or use any objects, an Option screen is available to display the inventory, life points, and a list of actions available to be taken. Despite the origami feel of the graphics, the fluid responses to the player's control are outstanding. One can move forward or backward, turn left or right, run, punch and thrust with ease. The varying camera angles, a trademark of the series, provide a truly movie like oppressive atmosphere where every corner may yet hide another danger!

Although combat is a significant component of the game, Alone in the Dark still includes a significant adventure element by the inclusion of many puzzles. These puzzles are mostly well integrated into the game and are moderate in difficulty. Multiple solutions exist for most environmental puzzles. While multiple game saves are allowed, there are only a limited number of save slots.

Despite the many technological achievements of the game engine, the polygonal look of the characters cannot in any way compare to the lifelike quality offered by the traditional bitmap imagery. The real-time generated characters do not blend well with the static computer generated pre-rendered backdrops. There is no control of the camera angles. They are predetermined for each scene. As such, character movement appears awkward at times when viewing from an unfamiliar perspective, especially when fine aiming is necessary to manipulate objects in the environment, such as aiming a gun or throwing an object in a certain direction. This can be frustrating because certain objects can only be found or actions be taken if the protagonist is positioned in exactly the right place onscreen. An option to control the camera angles is preferable. A perspective may then be chosen more for cinematic effect rather than effective gameplay. More freedom to freely explore will also be an attractive detour. For an adventure gamer, there are just too many combat sequences. Frequent game save is necessary as the player can die easily and rather unexpectedly should the player encounters a deadly enemy suddenly around a hidden corner.

The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM versions. The latter includes many enhancements to the original. The enhanced CD-ROM version contains voiceovers and a soundtrack not found in the original. The CD-ROM version still requires installment of the entire game onto the hard disk (5MB) to play. This is because the CD-ROM drive is used continuously to stream off the audio soundtrack during gameplay. In addition, Jack in the Dark is a small bonus standalone adventure game that is included with the re-releases of this game and serves as an introduction to some of the characters and theme in the sequel Alone in the Dark 2. Overall, Alone in the Dark is a breakthrough title that uses a revolutionary engine to deliver real-time polygon based animation and an unique blend of action adventure gaming.

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