STAFF REVIEW of Alone in the Dark (Xbox Series X)

Tuesday, March 19, 2024.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Alone in the Dark Box art Credited by many as the originator of the survival horror genre, 1992’s Alone in the Dark was a seminal release. Of course, that game went on to receive at least a few sequels, as well as a reboot in 2008. That one didn’t go so well, though.

Fast-forward sixteen years to this very month, and we’re seeing the release of yet another Alone in the Dark game. The difference here is that what we’re talking about is a modern reimagining, or a remake, of the original adventure from the early 90s. It’s not exactly a 1:1 remake, because things have been changed and the story is a bit different, but it’s in the ballpark for that descriptor. Like that very first game, it also features nothing in the way of a subtitle, so you can easily refer to it as Alone in the Dark (2024).

This spooky narrative begins as a man and a woman drive down a seldom-used road in rural Louisiana. The man is a private detective, and the young woman beside him is responsible for hiring him. She did this for aid in contacting her uncle, Jeremy, who’s dealing with mental health issues and resides in a mansion-turned-asylum of sorts. We’re talking about a story that is set in the later 1920s, but don’t worry – there’s nothing offensive as far as terminology, outside of talk about lobotomies.

If you’ve been following this one’s development, you’ll know that Detective Edward Carnby is portrayed by actor David Harbour (Stranger Things), and that Emily Hartwood – who’s searching for her uncle – is portrayed by actress Jodie Comer of Killing Eve fame. Both lend their appearances to the game, and it lends it an air of credibility that comes from Hollywood actors starring in interactive entertainment. It helps that neither one phoned their efforts in, though Jodie Comer is definitely the better of the two herein.

Once they arrive at the Derceto mansion, players get to choose their avatar for the rest of the game, and that choice does result in different experiences. Both struggle to get inside at first, but end up going through a storage area underneath the main home, before making their way into the kitchen and surprising the angry woman who’s working there. In fact, the two protagonists fail to get much of a warm welcome at all, and are quick to learn that Jeremy has simply disappeared. The folks at Derceto say that they’ve been searching for him and not to worry, but something seems to be wrong.

What follows is a very traditional survival horror game. Alone in the Dark (2024) does not reinvent the wheel in any way, and that’s just fine. It does, however, modernize some things. This includes full 3D movement, outside of a couple of rooms that pay homage to the days of yesteryear.

Those who purchase this game can expect to spend a lot of time exploring Derceto and its many rooms. There are multiple wings to venture through, a lot of bedrooms to search, and a number of keys to find. There are also safes, blocked passageways and the occasional resident to speak to, not to mention some doors that can only be opened by using a knife to move their door stoppers out of the way. It’s pretty standard survival horror fare, complete with a helpful map that sometimes even shows the location of puzzles and whether they can currently be solved or not.

Expect to pick up and read a lot of different books and papers, be they patient information, letters, quick notes or something scholarly. You’ll use your inventory quite a bit, and will need to rely on these things to give you things like safe combinations. Most letters also contain bolded clues, which give you hints if you stick with the modern setting. It won’t all be handed to you, though. You’ll have to do some detective work.

As large as Derceto is, it is not the only location one will explore in this modernized retelling of a classic. In fact, you’ll find yourself transported to strange locales using some sort of gadget, which requires you to input the right numbered coordinates. These are usually hidden in a note, shown on a clock or written around the environment, and are not too difficult to figure out. There is, however, a selection of symbols and a numerical key that helps you figure out which number each one corresponds to. It’s also helpful and very, very important.

These environments – which are essentially things that Jeremy has dreamt up – go from one extreme to another, but I won’t spoil them for you. Just know that the 6-10 hour campaign is not limited to one residence, no matter how large it may be.

Each place you’re transported to will have its own puzzles, much like Derceto, and they each differ. One has you moving light, while another has you using flares to get around. Meanwhile, there are also enemies to deal with, be they flying beasts, humanoid shadow monsters or something much more grotesque. You’ll mostly only deal with these things outside of Derceto, including in town and in the other regions you’re transported to in the blink of an eye. Also, be warned that the room you’re in can change at a moment’s notice.

Edward and Emily both have weapons at their disposal, and will find more as they progress through their campaigns. You start with a pistol, but will get a shotgun, and more, later on. Meanwhile, both can carry one melee weapon at a time, and can use it until it breaks. This is handled by pressing the Right shoulder button, and can be helpful if you’re trying to conserve ammo or want to avoid using a gun. Be warned, though, that some enemies can still get some cheap shots in while you’re smacking them, hits they shouldn’t be able to land.

Those aren’t the only forms of attack in Alone in the Dark. Fire also exists, and can be used via Molotov cocktails that are strewn throughout the game world. However, these flammable bottles cannot be picked up. Instead, you must use them exactly where they stand. Using the trigger buttons, you’ll be able to aim your toss and then execute it, resulting in flames engulfing the enemy you hit. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. A lot of the time I didn’t see any fire, and the bottles acted like they weren’t flammable. They’d break and then nothing would happen. There were a couple of times where it seemed like my bullets caused them to ignite, but that didn’t continue being true throughout most of the game.

Needless to say, I didn’t bother with the Molotovs much. I also didn’t run out of ammunition much at all, except for during battles against the two bosses, neither of which were very well designed. Both were more frustrating and mediocre than hoped, or expected. Then again, Alone in the Dark is a game that’s rough around the edges and isn’t without its flaws. Despite this, it remains fun and engaging, and manages to overcome its faults, for the most part.

Simply put, the combat is mediocre-at-best. It’s pretty standard stuff, being that you just aim and wait for a reticule to shrink for better accuracy. Well, that and pressing the shoulder button to swing something melee style. It’s pretty basic, but it’s both rudimentary mechanically and in execution. If you’re hoping for a survival horror game with great fighting mechanics, this isn’t it. Hell, there is often a delay between when you fire the pistol and when you actually hear it. The bullets had usually hit the enemy in question before I heard the sound effects. Well, when this issue occurred. The melee is also very basic, and it doesn’t work as well as it should. I mentioned why above, but I’ll quickly go over it again: some enemies can get good cheap shots in despite your best efforts. The animation is also very stiff.

You shouldn’t play Alone in the Dark 2024 for its combat, but you should play it for the rest of the package. It may not handle any of the combative arts terribly well, but it’s all serviceable. The game really shines during exploration and puzzle solving, and at times through its atmosphere. Despite beating it twice (once with each character), I didn’t get bored.

There are elements of the storytelling that really help make this game what it is, but there are still problems underneath. While a lot of the cutscenes, and both their writing and voice work, happen to be quite good, the story itself is very convoluted. You get the entirety of it by playing with both characters, as opposed to one, but it’s almost like there are three twist endings sandwiched into one game. None of these reveals really work well together, making this more than just a bit of a mindf*ck.

Before we move on, we should talk about how playing with both characters works. Is it just the same campaign all over again? Well, yes and no.

I first played as Edward Carnby and completed his campaign in between 8-10 hours. Then, once I finished that during a single session, I started a new campaign as Emily. I only made it to the second chapter (of several) before calling it a night, but was disappointed at that point because everything had been the same. Well, everything in terms of gameplay. Almost all of the cutscenes differ, and characters treat each of the protagonists differently. As such, you learn new things and see the other side of the coin, so to speak.

For the most part, though, Emily’s campaign was very much the same. It featured a lot of the same segments, almost all of the same (well designed) puzzles, and that kind of thing. I can only think of two gameplay sections where it differed from the male character’s adventure, to be frank, but one was pretty major. It featured an entirely new area, a new side story and a different puzzle that originally frustrated me. The developers say that you should play through Alone in the Dark (2024) twice in order to get the full experience, and I agree with them. I’d take a break in-between, though, because a lot of it is very much the same.

There are collectibles to find, though, and they do differ between playthroughs. It’s said that what you find in your first playthrough will carry over to the second, but I didn’t see them when I started a new game. Maybe I was supposed to continue some other way?

Regardless, these collectibles are called Lagniappes, and they are in sets. You can only complete some sets by playing as both characters, and certain Lagniappes (which can be something like a toy, or a mask, or really anything) can only be discovered by one of the two characters. I think I found most of them, but I didn’t find them all even as I scoured the environments very closely.

When it comes to presentation, this version of Alone in the Dark certainly looks better than its predecessors, but that’s a given. It’s a nice looking game, with some pretty detailed environments, but there are definitely rough edges. This is especially true when it comes to some of the animations. Furthermore, the frame rate rarely, but sometimes, goes down the crapper, so to speak. Some of the supporting character models also look a bit dated, but it’s not a big deal.

I didn’t have this issue during Edwards’ campaign, but there were a couple of moments where I got stuck on environmental items while playing as Emily and couldn’t move. A quick restart of my last checkpoint fixed that, though. Moving on from that, I also experienced one crash while playing as Emily. Then, there was that problem with the gunfire sound effect not erupting until after the bullet had founds its way home. This isn’t a perfect, or flawless, experience. It has glitches and it’s rough around the edges, but it’s fun and worth playing regardless. The developers also let us know that they’re hoping to fix the framerate and crashing issues with a day one patch, which wasn’t available to me at time of writing.

The writing, music, sound design and voice acting are real highlights, too. I was impressed by some of the performances; especially that of Jodie Comer. Her character had depth, and was just the right amount of sarcastic, and she stood out most during my 14-15 hours with this game.

If you’re a survival horror fan, you should check out Alone in the Dark. Although it’s a bit dated and a bit flawed, it remains a rather solid game; so much so that I enjoyed beating it twice within one week. Don’t play it for the combat, but do so for the story, sound and settings. It’s worth checking out for sure.

**This review is based on the Xbox Series X version of the game, which we were provided with**

Overall: 7.6 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.4 / 10


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