Alone in the Dark – Shadows of Greatness

As I write this review, I am already thinking about the several thousand word-long feature article Alone in the Dark deserves instead. Not as a game released in 2024, but as a series that has gone through several iterations involving revamps, canonically-ambiguous sequels, and a film that seems only vaguely related to the games it takes inspiration from. The series is a survival horror pillar, which over time has innovated on the mechanics of not only itself, but of its genre, for which it deserves to be praised. Alone in the Dark (2024) does… none of those things. I played the remake with nothing but a curiosity about the original series, and a viewing of the film starring Christian Slater two or three years ago, decades after its release and devoid of context. A classic horror-puzzle mix, combined with the undeniable talent of Jodie Comer and David Harbour should have been entirely up my alley. But reader… I wish I had better news. 

The plot of Alone in the Dark takes inspiration from its predecessors, but features some notable changes that fans of the original will soon notice. It follows the two protagonists, each called to an estate known as Derceto in response to a mysterious and concerning note sent by one of the residents, Jeremy Hartwood. His niece, Emily Hartwood (Jodie Comer) is worried by the dark tone of his message, and hires private investigator Edward Carnby (David Harbour) to assist her in retrieving her uncle Jeremy from Derceto and returning to New Orleans where she can provide him with better care. Once they arrive at the estate, it’s clear that something is off – Jeremy is missing, and the residents who are about are acting rather strange.

Alone in the Dark screenshot

Before entering the mansion, you’re asked to choose whether you wish to play through Emily or Edward’s ‘story’, as the two split up almost immediately once you enter the mansion, with the other only appearing in occasional cutscenes. Both are reasonable options, and I was sure that no matter who I chose, I would at least be in for an enjoyable performance – and for the most part, that was true of the main characters. I first chose to play through as Emily due to an undying love for Jodie Comer, and wasn’t disappointed, but when I started a second run through as David Harbour, I was surprised to find myself Carnby’s character more. Whichever route you choose, you’ll soon find yourself moving through Derceto manor, unlocking rooms and finding clues in a way that’s familiar to survival horror fans. It’s very ‘find a key, unlock that door, find a new key in the new unlocked room, repeat’, but with a few more interesting puzzles mixed in for good measure. 

As you find out more about Jeremy’s whereabouts and his mental state prior to your arrival at Derceto, you’ll learn about the demons he was facing and their impact on the world. At least, I think they were supposed to be impacting the world. But therein lies my biggest issue with Alone in the Dark – I’m not entirely sure what story it was trying to tell. Or, rather, what allegory it was attempting to deliver. At times, it feels like the game is one big metaphor for depression, or at the very least an early 20th century understanding of mental illness. At others, it’s a story of a haunted house, whose residents are plagued by a very real supernatural threat. Without venturing into spoiler territory, I can only say that I think Alone in the Dark takes some big (particularly philosophical) swings, but I’m not sure it lands many of them. Maybe I’m reading too far into it, or maybe I wasn’t reading far enough, or maybe I just needed to be more comfortable with not asking those questions, but it felt like the game wanted me to ask them.

Alone in the Dark screenshot

Navigating the game’s puzzles can also feel more than a little confusing. If you explore the manor, as it seems you are encouraged to do, you’re likely to find items out of the order that the game seems to presume you’ll find them in. This leads to finding ‘aha’ clues that are supposed to point you in the direction of where to find the next key item, but instead they end up being annoyingly superfluous because you’ve already been carrying that item around for ages. At other times, trying to find where you’re supposed to go feels so obtuse that I genuinely started to question whether it was my own failing that was holding me up, or if it was the game. There were a few notable puzzles that led to some satisfying solves and moments of deduction that really made me flex those lateral thinking brain muscles, but at other times I felt like I wasn’t achieving goals simply because the game didn’t explain to me the mechanics of how to achieve them. It was a strange mix of old school lack of hand-holding and in-game bugs that at times led to a perfect storm of frustration. 

The combat, for the most part, is functional. The characters will obtain both ranged weapons and a constant stream of easily-breakable melee weapons as they progress through the game’s various worlds, and when coupled with the throwable items you’ll find scattered around the place, these mostly stave off death. There are a few frustrations, in that reloading is painfully slow and melee weapons often break after you’ve barely killed one enemy, leaving you vulnerable in a lot of tight situations, but these are also staples of the genre. It feels a little janky, but sometimes a little jank is what you want in your old school survival horror vibe. In my second playthrough, I mostly found myself avoiding encounters wherever I could, because fights became more of an annoyance – but you’ll find your own way of getting through them. 

Alone in the Dark screenshot

That second playthrough, though… is one I’m not sure I’ll be finishing. Part of the game’s draw is that Edward and Emily each have ‘unique’ stories to experience, and that seems to be sort of true. There are unique cutscenes for each character, unique NPC interactions, and unique items for them to collect. There are sequences which I’m sure will be fundamentally different for the two of them, but to get there, you’ll need to get through a whole lot of gameplay that is basically the same. Puzzles are the same, their solutions are the same, and there’s a lot of overlapping enemy encounters – so you’re retracing your steps a lot. Your second playthrough will be quicker, because you will have figured out those little things the game didn’t tell you the first time that would have made the whole experience more pleasant, but maybe not quick enough. Or maybe I was just a little jaded by some technical issues in my first playthrough that meant I had to replay the first section of the game multiple times to avoid a glitch that just turned every sound into a speaker feedback-style scream. 

I know I’m being negative here, and the game only partly deserves it. For the most part, it’s a perfectly acceptable survival horror game with some inconsistent puzzles, and a plot that doesn’t entirely make sense – which would normally be kind of fine, given how few horror plotlines do. There are enjoyable moments here, and Comer and Harbour both give perfectly fine performances – though they’re far from what both of them are capable of. The fictional version of New Orleans where the game is set is lovingly created, and the sound effects on the items and unlocks (when they aren’t screaming) are genuinely incredibly satisfying, giving exactly the right ‘click’. But the game is flawed. Enemies glitch into the environment, or once killed sometimes remain suspended in the air. Sometimes prompts for using items just won’t appear, or the sound will cut out entirely. The facial animations of the characters are a little weird in the way that early PS3-era games were, when they’d just figured out motion capture – even if they do look exceedingly like the performers they’re based on. 

Alone in the Dark screenshot

Playing this made me want to know more about the series. It made me want to appreciate what came before it, and to see whether its failures are due to the failures of its forefathers, or if they’re deviations from the original that ended up being to the game’s detriment. I have a lot of questions. Ultimately, I’m not sad I played this game, though I do wish I were playing it in a few months when the bugs have been ironed out. For some, I’m sure those bugs will add charm – they do help to feel like this game is from a certain point in time, as do many of its features. But it is what it is. And if you’re just interested in seeing David Harbour playing a 1920s era noir detective, or hearing the satisfying sound of a door unlocking with a solid key, or running through a bunch of vaguely spooky and somewhat different looking environments, there’s plenty to enjoy here. 

Player 2 reviewed Alone in the Dark on PlayStation 5, using a code kindly provided by the publisher. 

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