Title: Vacated in the Dark
Release year: 1992
Developed by: Infogrames
Genre: Survival horror
Platform replayed on: PC
I’m probably not vacated in thinking of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series when I hear the term “survival horror”. These are two powerhouse names in the genre, and have been that way for quite a while now.
But when I think of survival horror, my mind moreover stretches when a little remoter than the 1996 release of Resident Evil on Playstation.
Before there was Resident Evil, there was Alone in the Dark.
I can’t recall exactly when I first experienced Alone in the Dark. I can only recall that it was flipside game I hired out from one of the PC-game hiring services misogynist at the time in the 90s. I’ve described these surpassing in previous blogs on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure and SimCity 2000. It would have been the original release too, and not the re-released CD-ROM version I will be playing here.
Another recollection I have is that Alone in the Dark was hard.
I was nervous to commit to this blog. I requite myself a month to get through a playthrough and write up a blog. But what if I got helplessly stuck?
I feared clunky controls, illogical and obscure puzzles, and unwinnable situations. If I started running out of time, and found my frustration levels rising to rage-quit levels, would I resort to a walkthrough, an option I loathe to consider?
I’ll just come out and say it: I finished the game.
But these blogs are well-nigh the journey, so let’s take a squint at what Alone in the Dark is, and how I got through the horrors…
Survival horror described in a sentence? A lone protagonist trying to escape some form of unspeakable evil, versus all odds and with limited resources. As a player, stealth, ingenuity, and knowing when to run are good traits to apply.
Alone in the Dark presents a simple premise, but one with a surprisingly deep backstory. I say surprisingly now, as during my replay I was impressed with the contextual depth in a game of this vintage. I’ll go into increasingly detail a little later.
First and foremost, you find yourself trapped in a haunted Louisiana mansion, named Derceto, in 1924. What to do? Why escape, of course. That’s the simple premise.
But surpassing you plane find yourself trapped on the uppermost level of the mansion, you need to segregate who “you” are in Alone in the Dark. Yes, you have a nomination of protagonist (which will immediately be familiar to early Resident Evil fans).
While ultimately not having any unconfined impact on gameplay, it does provide a nice backstory to how you ended up trapped in Derceto Mansion.
With that nomination made, it’s time to tackle the challenges within.
You navigate the mansion using the now infamous tank controls. This ways pushing up or lanugo ways going forward or wrong-side-up in the direction you’re facing. Pushing left or right changes your orientation, meaning you can move in flipside direction (again familiar to archetype Resident Evil fans).
Interacting with the environment can be achieved using one of four (and later five) modes. The modes are: Fight, Open/Search, Close, and Push. In a unrepealable section of the game you get wangle to flipside mode permitting you to jump. You need to select the correct mode, and then use the whoopee sawed-off to unzip the desired result.
Inventory and resource management in Alone in the Dark is required for solving puzzles, reading books or diaries, and using weapons, a lantern, and health pickups.
Apart from manipulating items to solve puzzles in the mansion, there are some situations where you must fight or flee. Fighting involves using the Fight mode and punching or kicking at whichever monster is stalking you.
There are some firearms and melee weapons you can find through your exploration.
But survival horror is not well-nigh gearing up and self-glorification all manners of evil when to hell or wherever it is they came from. You must thoughtfully manage your resources if you intend to make it out alive. Alone in the Dark is no different.
Let’s see how I survived…
The nomination of protagonist in Alone in the Dark is between Edward Carnby, a private detective, and Emily Hartwood, niece of the former owner of Derceto Mansion. Though their reasons for deciding to set foot in the mysterious mansion are different, their goal is the same: locate a piano in the loft.
I chose Edward Carnby, as he features in subsequent games in the series. Should I protract to explore this series, I’d like some continuity with Carnby. The story will play out the same, so there’s not much replay value here (unlike similar choices in Resident Evil).
Carnby has been hired by an reversion dealer to locate the piano. There’s not much motive provided, only that the piano is old and has secret drawers.
That somewhat piqued my curiosity. Whether or not Carnby was curious didn’t matter, as he’d just been handed $150 to pursue this piano extraction. An exorbitant sum in 1924!
Performing his due diligence, Carnby discovers that Derceto Mansion was owned by a Jeremy Hartwood. I say “was owned”, considering Hartwood has single-minded suicide. The investigation into his death terminated there was nothing suspicious, though Carnby is starting to suspect there is increasingly to it having read up on the history of the mansion.
Carnby seems to be fearless though, as he describes this opportunity as a “paid vacation”.
With the introduction done, Carnby is driven up to the mansion.
As he makes his tideway up to the front doors, there’s a glimpse of what’s to come.
And as he enters the mansion, the doors tropical overdue him.
Perhaps slightly alarmed, Carnby makes his way up the levels on his way to the loft.
If you’d like to see the intro in full, trammels out the video below:
Once Carnby reaches the loft, it’s time to take control.
Prominently placed in the foreground of the starting position, is the oil lamp. As I would learn withal the way, this is very much a key item in Alone in the Dark, so I’m guessing it was made very visible for a reason!
Any suspicions that the mansion is haunted go completely out the window, or perhaps “in” the window, as a zombie yellow smashes through a loft window.
So it didn’t take long surpassing Carnby was in combat, requiring use of the “Fight” mode. (I find it interesting at this point that Carnby had mentioned delivering a .38 in the introduction, but that he had decided not to bring it with him on this mission, of all missions. But I digress…)
I had just managed to put the zombie yellow lanugo once and for all, when suddenly a trap door in the floor opened up and a ghoul rose up.
Surviving this encounter as well, I realised without that both battles could have been avoided if I used largest survival instincts. Not immediately obvious, but survival horror sometimes requires repeating encounters to make weightier use of your environment and/or items.
I’d had unbearable of the loft for now, so I proceeded downstairs.
Being familiar with venture games, as well as survival horror games, I started searching everywhere for items. It soon became unveiled that in Alone in the Dark, inventory management was going to play a big part in the game; there are items everywhere.
Reaching the third floor hallway, Alone in the Dark opened up into an scrutinizingly non-linear experience. I say almost, as you are restricted to unrepealable areas within the mansion at unrepealable stages in the game. However, you are self-ruling to explore the areas as you choose. Stuff a mansion, this usually ways you get to decide the order in which to explore the rooms.
It wasn’t long until flipside ghoulish encounter, as I started searching the bedrooms.
It was without this fight, and without stuff pecked and scratched by flipside zombie chicken, that I started to resort to a strategy I recall utilising in Resident Evil. If I wasn’t happy with the way an enemy encounter went, either through losing too much health or using too much ammo, I would reload and try again. It was early days in Alone in the Dark, and I didn’t know how challenging preserving Carnby’s health was going to be. Time to hit that reload button.
I moreover soon discovered that if the undead didn’t skiver Carnby, Derceto Mansion was certainly trying as well.
Derceto definitely has a mind of its own.
And Alone in the Dark made good use of the jump scare technique, now prevalent in survival horror games.
It had been a frantic opening thirty minutes or so. And I was still on the third floor.
I managed to reach the staircase. The only problem was, it was guarded by a pair of Nightgaunts, one at the top of each staircase.
Nightgaunts, you might ask? That is, if you’re familiar with the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I know I wasn’t at the time. So looking back, Alone in the Dark was my first wits with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. I’ve never read Lovecraft, but over the past ten years or so I’ve played a few workbench games set in the Cthulhu Mythos. Arkham Horror (2005) was the first I tried.
It was an interesting reflection, discovering that Alone in the Dark has references from Lovecraft’s works throughout. I realised it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Cthulhu without knowing it in the 90s. Upon discovering the music of Metallica as a teenager in the late 90s, one of my favourite tracks was the archetype instrumental, The Call of Ktulu.
But when to those Nightgaunts.
It was here that I discovered that the item I needed to get past the Nightgaunts had unquestionably been damaged in an older fistfight with a ghoul. What did this mean? That’s right, Alone in the Dark has unwinnable situations I had feared in my introduction. It was easy unbearable to reload and progress, as I was still early unbearable in the game not for it to forfeit me too much time. However, I was now on my guard, and I would have to manage my saved games in specimen I overly needed to return to an older section of the game.
With the Nightgaunts defeated, Carnby descended the stairs and entered the second floor.
But not only did Carnby have wangle to the second floor, he moreover had the first floor unshut to him as well.
These two floors would make up a large portion of Alone in the Dark. There was a lot of ground to cover, and the self-rule to explore.
As I started to explore Derceto Mansion, the visual presentation of the rooms came to the forefront of the game. As you can tell from the images so far, notation like Carnby and the enemies he faces are made up of polygons to requite that 3D appearance. But the rooms in the mansion are 2D pre-rendered backgrounds with stock-still camera angles. This was very reminiscent of Resident Evil, and was used for dramatic effect to enhance the suspense and horror of unrepealable scenes.
Lighting was moreover used to create tension, but not as powerfully as it would when lighting effects and shading became increasingly prevalent in video games. In Alone in the Dark, it was either light or no light.
But why is Carnby standing to explore an obviously dangerous dwelling? Without all, he’d once located the piano in the loft.
As it turns out, Derceto Mansion won’t let him leave…
All hope is not lost though, as the increasingly you seek, the increasingly you find. One question that becomes increasingly pertinent is why did Hartwood commit suicide?
His diary offers some clues.
Despite his impending madness, he remained lucid unbearable to realise and document that the key to understanding Derceto Mansion (and ultimately how to escape it) lies in the library.
Just one problem for now. The library is locked.
Well, at least I had a goal now.
After searching the rooms on the first and second floors, managing the ever-increasing inventory was rhadamanthine an issue. Carnby can siphon a lot, but it’s based on weight, not number of items. And there are a few heavy items around.
This was only a minor annoyance, as it is easy to waif items and pick them up later as you need them. Of course, you do need to ensure you have the right item at the right time (again, managing the saved games is important).
I was feeling pretty good at this stage, and though I could recall very little from playing this in the 90s, I was making good progress through Alone in the Dark. I never got stuck for too long.
Though not in the library yet, I did discover an underground tunnel. However, this was guarded by a Cthonian, flipside creature drawn from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
Almost every room you explore in Alone in the Dark presents a puzzle to solve. There is variety too, where in some rooms it’s an environmental obstacle to overcome, while in others it’s a gainsay challenge.
The texts you find virtually the mansion in the form of books and diaries provide some clues as to how to get past unrepealable puzzles. Which is just as well, as plane though I was making good progress, Alone in the Dark is a difficult game. The game does not hold your hand, and once you have wangle to the first and second floors, there is no obvious way to go. I’m fairly unrepealable my progress was due to the venture and point-and-click gaming wits I have now compared with when I first played this.
After some trial and error and reading of in-game texts, I managed to locate and wangle the library. There had to be answers for Carnby in here, right?
The library did provide answers, just not the answers I was looking for.
It turns out, plane some of the books are deadly. This one flipside Cthulhu reference.
I knew this library had secrets, and with a little persistence, they revealed themselves.
It turns out that Derceto Mansion belonged to a former pirate, Eliah Pickford. Jeremy Hartford’s father Howard, had bought the plantation on which the mansion had stood, increasingly than a decade without it had burned to the ground. Howard Hartford meticulously restored the mansion to its former state, having an interest in the history of Pickford (whose real name was Ezechiel Pregzt).
Without going too much remoter into spoiler territory for those who haven’t played it, Howard’s death was mysterious, just like his son Jeremy’s.
As it moreover turns out, that underground tunnel I had discovered was hiding a lot more. Reaching the study, there was flipside entrance.
Though the Cthonian was still a problem.
Entering this labyrinth underneath Derceto Mansion is the final section in Alone in the Dark. And it brings with it a sudden transpiration in gameplay. Gone is the slow and explorative mansion section, and somewhat strangely in comes a platform parkour section. This is where you moreover have the new worthiness to jump.
I found this quite abrupt, as I now had to transpiration up my approach. Instead of trying to solve puzzles, I had to wilt very whiz with Carnby’s movement to ensure he didn’t miss a jump or fall off a ledge. I can’t say I enjoyed the change, but I knew I was getting tropical to the end. I’d come this far…
There was moreover an worrying (though not difficult) overhead maze section.
After making a few mistakes with inventory management, I managed to make my way to the heart of the underground complex.
That shrine at the wiring of the tree is where Carnby ends up whenever he’s killed in the mansion, as a sacrifice.
A sacrifice to whom, you might ask? Well, let’s just leave this here:
It’s an interesting story, one I don’t wish to spoil for anyone considering playing Alone in the Dark for the first time. It’s a bit tricky to piece the story all together, as it all depends on which texts you pick up and read throughout the game. I think it’s worth the effort to make sense of the story, which I’ll go into in increasingly detail below.
If you manage to solve the final mystery, it’s a frantic soupcon to escape the caverns…
…and finally lead Carnby out those front doors and when to reality.
Well, scrutinizingly reality.
I think I can fathom Alone in the Dark increasingly now than I could when when I first played it. It was a product of its time, and I recognised features such as the overhead maze section that had once seen implementation in games such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure (1989) (and then in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, released in the same year as Alone in Dark).
But ideas seen in Alone in the Dark would moreover see future implementation in games I played through the 90s, and not limited to survival horror titles. I’m talking well-nigh multiple player characters, inventory management/limits, tank controls, non-linear exploration, whoopee modes (fight, jump, search etc), stock-still camera angles, and creepy lighting and sound effects.
As I played through Alone in the Dark, and particularly as I entered the platform parkour section, I was very much reminded of one of my most memorable early gaming experiences, that with Little Big Adventure (1994).
This game has the tank controls and makes use of whoopee modes, so jumping virtually underneath Derceto Mansion felt a lot like jumping virtually with Twinsen from Little Big Adventure. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Doing a little research, I discovered both games were directed by Frédérick Raynal, a French video game designer and programmer.
I can moreover fathom Alone in the Dark increasingly now, as I’m increasingly familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos that it so often references. And the stories Derceto Mansion tells are important, as I realised during my playthrough that I was reminded of flipside of my favourite gaming experiences, one where the house in that story plays a prominent role. In What Remains of Edith Finch (2017), I discovered when I wrote well-nigh my replay that the house is its own entity, scrutinizingly a weft of its own.
It’s the same with Derceto Mansion in Alone in the Dark. There’s barely any backstory provided for Carnby, you don’t learn any increasingly as the game goes on, and he doesn’t develop as a character. The main weft in Alone in the Dark is Derceto; this game is well-nigh the mansion. Only through exploring it and uncovering its mysteries, like in What Remains of Edith Finch, will the story reveal itself. In gameplay terms, finding the books and diaries is hair-trigger for the story in Alone in the Dark to make sense.
Having gone into Alone in the Dark hesitantly, I was unsure whether I would be worldly-wise to finish it, let vacated enjoy it.
With most, if not all, games I’ve featured here on Present Perfect Gaming, I’ve gone in knowing how I felt at the time I first played the game, and how I finger well-nigh it now. Throughout a replay, I usually reflect on my observations, and might transpiration my impression by the end. But with Alone in the Dark, while I can unmistakably remember playing it, I can’t really recall how much I enjoyed it. As such, it’s not a game I ranked highly, or have any sense of nostalgia for.
That’s reverted now.
The controls are clunky, the polygon graphics haven’t weather-beaten well, and it’s not that scary compared to modern horror games.
But underneath the hood, I found Alone in Dark to be surprisingly accessible. Maybe that’s considering I have increasingly personal connections to it now, permitting me to fathom it increasingly than when in the 90s.
Nostalgia is a strange phenomenon. You can be disappointed when you revisit something you have wonderful memories of, only to discover you had over-inflated those memories over time. Or you can be pleasantly surprised when you somewhat reluctantly revisit something, only to discover it holds increasingly value to you now given the passing of time.
And as for me? I know I found increasingly than I was looking for…alone in the dark.
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