When it comes to hallowed names within the survival horror genre, Alone in the Dark remains one of the most revered.
Considered revolutionary when it hit the scene in 1992, the first entry in the series has continued to be held in high regard in the decades since. Its pioneering of 3D world design in horror games, and its blending of cosmic horror themes with dread-filled exploration elements served as an inspiration for many of the big names that would define survival horror in the years to come. Alone in the Dark truly felt ahead of its time.
It's no surprise, then, that there's quite a bit of buzz around THQ Nordic and Pieces Interactive's remake of the hallowed title. Ever since it was first revealed last year, horror game fans have been dying to see how they'll capture the magic of the original title and how more modern conventions might be applied to the series. I was definitely among that crowd, and thanks to an exclusive preview showcase, I'm now more interested than ever to see what the final product will offer.
Acting as an overview of the game and those working on it, the showcase offered a quick glimpse at some of the new interpretation's story, characters, and gameplay. All the while, developers offered insight on how they sought to recreate the story and aesthetic of the original game for more modern audiences.
On the surface, the game is largely set up in the same way as the game it is based upon. In the early 20th century Emily Hartwood and Edward Carnby are drawn to Derceto Manor, a property with a sordid history and a reputation for housing those that are on the brink of madness; or, have already succumbed to it. One such inhabitant, Emily's uncle Jeremy, seems keenly aware of a dark figure lurking within the manor's depths, and the only hope of helping him lies in investigating whether or not this figure is a product of his madness or something much more sinister.
While this may sound largely the same as the original game there are plenty of elements from all three of the titles in the original trilogy. Each of the protagonists' motivations have been enhanced to become far more intertwined in the remake versus the original. Whereas only Emily was brought to Derceto to help Jeremy in the original, Edward is now directly hired by Emily to help her discover what happened to her uncle and how he can be saved. Emily has also been written to have a more active role in the story and be less of a supporting character to Edward. Her story and struggles now feel just as integral to the progression of the wider story.
Edward likewise has his own ties to the manor, which he becomes aware of fairly immediately thanks to cryptic clues from its residents and odd encounters during his exploration segments.
This was a result of not only writer Mikael Hedberg's efforts to update the writing of the game but also developed in response to the performances given by both characters' actors. David Harbour of Stranger Things lends his talents to Edward while Jodie Comer of Free Guy plays the part of Emily, each creating more room for exploration of the characters through their portrayals.
The protagonists even resemble both actors thanks to the modern graphics and motion capturing. While it could look a bit dated in areas due to some rough textures or stiff body modeling, it was still impressively accurate in showing subtle movements and expressions done by the actors' faces during cutscenes. More than once, I felt like I was watching footage from a horror film starring the two actors and couldn't wait to see how they'd bounce off of each other in the larger narrative.
Another draw was the revamped setting and aesthetic. While it still maintains the haunted manor setting of the original, new design elements have been brought in to fully utilize the era and setting the title takes place in. Visually, the outfits and environments are more reminiscent of a '20s noir thriller. Carnby looks the part of a stereotypical detective right down to his rougher business attire, and the characters can be seen exploring new environments that appear to be set within a lively yet dangerous New Orleans.
Sound-wise, the remake boasts just as much innovation. Alongside the spooky sound effects and ambiance found within the manor, players will also be treated to a Doom Jazz soundtrack created by Jason Kohnen. The result is an oddly oppressive yet lively experience, where the music adds just as much to the tension as the minute-to-minute gameplay.
Speaking of which: The active gameplay presented during the showcase, while somewhat brief, did provide just enough to have me interested. Both playable characters seemed to have different segments to progress through, and the developers were happy to report that the story can change drastically based on which character one chooses to play as. Certain side characters will react differently based on which protagonist they meet, and entirely different parts of Derceto will be explorable depending on whether Emily or Edward is in the spotlight.
There was also footage of both characters fighting off some supernatural threats. While they mainly used firearms, the developers explained that players can also utilize melee weapons and throwable objects to fend off threats to their lives. Regardless, each encounter is designed to feel dire and uneven, with the player scrambling to come out on top through whatever means necessary.
Though it may still be a bit early to give a clear verdict on the full game, what I saw of Alone in the Dark has me hopeful. Its embrace of the horror elements that put it on the map could lead to some genuinely terrifying storytelling and environmental design, and the passion of the team behind the project seeps out of every new element they're bringing to the table. I'll be counting the days until I can get my hands on the full product come Oct. 25, 2023.
TechRaptor was able to preview Alone in the Dark via an exclusive digital showcase put on by THQ Nordic for press outlets. A publicly available version of a portion of the showcase can be viewed via YouTube.