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Alone in the Dark: The Final Preview

The original Alone in the Dark was revolutionary, for the time. Skeptical as I am about attempts to play on classic stories and high-profile names, I recently spent time with Pieces Interactive and THQ Nordic's upcoming reboot of the series, one that revisits the setting of the 1992 game that practically invented survival horror. To my pleasure, I found that, true to their word, it wasn't an attempt to recreate or reboot the first game. Instead, it's something different. It's a new and fascinating story drawing on the same elements that I love: cosmic horror, detective fiction, psychological horror, and the good old Southern Gothic.

With big-name actors David Harbour and Jodie Comer lending their talents to the experience, there was no doubt that the production value was going to be high—but it's never clear how well that actually translates to how Alone in the Dark will sound, move, and look. Playing as Harbour's detective Edward Carnby for a few hours of preview time, I'm pleased to say that, as suspected, he was born to play a hard-bitten, scarred noir detective. I think his performance and especially his and Comer's facial capture is going to give life to this revival in a big way.

Edward Carnby and Emily Hartwood's trip to the plantation house at Derceto has one goal: To find Emily's uncle Jeremy, a painter and—from society's view—a madman. The backdrop of mental health treatment is obviously a goldmine for easy atmosphere and spooky setups, but the mansion itself was pretty enjoyable to move through. Alone in the Dark's cosmic horror comes in part from the journey to and through dreamscapes conjured from Jeremy's memories. The mansion itself seems to have a kind of memory as well, as at any point the subtlest action on your part can plunge you into a temporary nightmare version of Derceto—a landscape of rot and decay, or one rife with monsters, or one seemingly drawn from the plantation burning during the Civil War.

Alone in the Dark's cosmic horror comes in part from the journey to and through dreamscapes conjured from Jeremy's memories.

It draws on the Southern Gothic tradition, because this place has a history that's as unsettling as its current events. Notes and trinkets you find inform you of that history, helping you to guess at what came before. Some of that you don't have to guess at, though. Solving bits of occult puzzle around the mansion lets you use a talisman, Jeremy's handiwork, to travel into dreamworlds as diverse as French Quarter New Orleans street, a swamp oil derrick, or a sprawling chunk of a mausoleum-riddled cemetery.

These places are where most of the action takes place. Those fights felt fine, not too smooth and not too restrictive, but the combat isn't the primary draw of survival horror. I felt challenged enough, but I don't think this is the main appeal here. You're coming for the characters and stories and to get scared by the monsters—not to fight them—so I was glad to see the option for stealth presented as a primary choice several times.

The other thing giving life to this new Alone in the Dark? The clear work that has gone into environment design, the flow of the plot, and the interaction between the two.

The other thing giving life to this new Alone in the Dark? The clear work that has gone into environment design, the flow of the plot, and the interaction between the two. Exploring the manor house at Derceto is a goldmine for incidental pieces of set dressing, from statues and clocks to paintings, stacks of books, telescopes. I deeply enjoyed just looking around, checking out the trappings of the 1920s estate, and spooking cockroaches by turning on my flashlight. That was intensified by the option to toggle an old-school mode, forcing you to figure out what clues go to which puzzles, and where, on your own. That was all quite optional, too—a suite of choices let you turn on and off things like puzzle hints, text highlighting, map icons, dynamic objective markers, and interactable objects in the world. Only some of that for me, though.

No just picking up notes and having a quest log update, I had to properly read them—or, I was delighted to find, have them read to me by the voice actor behind the character that wrote it.

Which is a pleasure, because Alone in the Dark was, in my preview, a treasure trove of good game writing. The direction of veteran game horror writer Mikael Hedberg is keenly felt here. What's most remarkable is that the style was quite consistent, something rare in video games: The 1920s setting and the writing genres of both detective noir and cosmic horror bleed from the text, the voiceover, and the plotting.

I would of course be remiss to close this out without mentioning the soundtrack. The wild and atmospheric surprises of the dark ambient doomjazz suffuse this game. The compositions of wildly talented musician Jason Köhnen suffuse Alone in the Dark top to bottom, and I think this kind of dark, ambient soundscape is going to inspire a ton of creators in the future, regardless of Alone in the Dark's success.

Overall, I've got a good feeling about Alone in the Dark, and after a few hours of play this hands-on guaranteed my time and attention for the release. If only to soak up the vibes.

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