Review: Alone in the Dark [2024]

21 Mar 2024

Alone in the Dark is a series that needs no introduction to fans of horror games. Debuting in 1992 it began many of the survival horror tropes still in use today, a true pioneer of its time. Sadly the series has fallen a bit into obscurity since then as subsequent sequels and reboots have failed to capture the magic of the original. This latest reboot, simply titled Alone in the Dark, attempts to revisit where it all began and hopefully in doing so recapture some of that old dark magic.

Alone in the Dark released March 20, 2024 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and Steam. It was developed by Pieces Interactive and published by THQ Nordic. The PS5 version was played for this review.

Return to the Darkness

This version of Alone in the Dark returns to its roots by having Emily Hartwood and detective Edward Carnby exploring the manor of Derceto but things quickly diverge from the original. The original had them going there regarding a piano that had belonged to Emily’s uncle Jeremy before he hung himself in the attic. Here, though, Derceto is a home for the mentally unwell and the two are there after Jeremy sent a letter to Emily about how all the other guests and orderlies were out to get him, only to find Jeremy missing upon their arrival. In their quest to find him, they uncover a mysterious talisman that allows passage to far off lands, and a bargain that has been struck with dark forces beyond our comprehension.

There’s plenty of elements from Lovecraft’s works present in the game, though not the usual squid-faced Cthulhu or jaundiced Innsmouth resident. Instead we have dreamscapes, the stars, the crawling chaos, and the black goat of the woods with a thousand young. Madness is also a recurring theme, both from the residents and also the player character struggling to understand what’s going on. Also prominent are themes of voodoo, fitting with the Louisiana setting, though admittedly I don’t know enough to say what’s a reference and what was invented for the game.

Of course, it’s not just about what’s being told, it’s also important how it’s told. The devs managed to do some interesting things with your two playable characters. Whoever you pick to play as, the other is still doing their own exploration around the manor, but without stumbling across the weird circumstances that you do they’re blissfully unaware. Every time you come across them again during your investigation you try to catch them up to speed and get their help and their reaction helps cement that you are coming across as completely insane. You as the player know all of these matters are important, but to the other character they just asked you to look around a bit and now you’re completely obsessed with something that sounds completely irrelevant and can’t be convinced to get back to the matter at hand.

Another nice touch is the way the story differs for each character. Edward Carnby is an outsider, a stranger to everyone who doesn’t believe in this nonsense, while Emily Hartwood is quite familiar with her uncle’s ramblings, knows most of the staff, and even has some passing knowledge of voodoo. As the truth is unveiled to them, they each have a differing madness, one born from bewilderment and the other from knowing all too well. It’s definitely one of those games where a second playthrough is downright required to have the full experience.

Horrors Beyond our Understanding

Much as I had to rave about the story, the gameplay sadly doesn’t shape up quite as much. For the most part it’s a fairly typical survival horror game: You run around creepy environments collecting things you need to progress and either shooting or running away from monsters. While there are some light puzzles they’re mostly just some variant of “Did you notice the string of numbers nearby.” Nothing exactly groundbreaking, but nothing to complain about either.

Unfortunately, that’s it at its best. When it comes to combat, Alone in the Dark does the usual trend of extremely limited ammo, sluggish aiming, and breakable melee weapons to encourage avoiding or running away from enemies. So far so good on paper. When it comes to avoiding, there are some sections where the game straight-up encourages stealth by reminding you of the stealth button and enemies are basically blind, but then there’s the rest of the game where stealth appears to do little other than make you hunch over and walk slower. As for running, locations are rather open and the enemies are quite tenacious, and the few times I gave running away a shot it just resulted in making a train of every enemy in the zone. At least it’s nostalgic. So the end result is needing to basically shoot everything you come across anyway, even if it feels like you’re constantly on the verge of running out of ammo.

Of course, all the above may well be intentional. Struggling with combat might not feel great but it does serve to keep you dreading enemies even after you’ve bashed a dozen in the head with a lead pipe. What’s definitely NOT intended are the bugs. There’s the occasional visual bug like objects clearly popping in or the inventory icons not appearing or some slight texture issues. But then there are also more noticeable and game-breaking bugs such as important items disappearing and reappearing, and even one time I came out of a cutscene only to find it was apparently time for me to return to my home planet and I was floating up and away from the map (Though given the themes of madness it took me a little while to realize that one wasn’t intentional).

Whether game breaking or not, all of these combine to make the game feel quite unfinished. This is a quantity of bugs that I would expect from an indie studio, and the fact that I’m seeing this in the latest game from a long running franchise from an established studio just feels absolutely wild.

The Stars Aren’t Right

For better or worse, no expense was spared for the aesthetics. The main characters are played by award-winning Hollywood actors (not just in voice, but also lending their likeness), and the voicework is for the most part excellent across the entire cast. They even went to the effort of giving each item a narration you can listen to, either of what’s written or some context about the item, even if that required having a new voiced character solely for that one optional scene. There’s a wide range of realistic environments that manage to feel wholly distinct from each other with an attitude all their own. The soundtrack lends a jazzy noir element to the setting and the sound design is nothing to complain about.

Ordinarily I’d call this a good thing, exemplary even, but in the grand context it feels like the development priorities might have been off. The choice for live action stars in particular. I can’t help but wonder how much that must have cost. Especially given how unfinished other aspects of the game are, and how most voice actors could have delivered a similar performance, it feels almost wrong. Like a gilded car with no wheels, the extravagance elsewhere doesn’t serve to compensate for problems elsewhere, but rather to shine a spotlight on them.

A Fine Film

It’s rare that I say this, but this video game probably should have been a movie instead. Honestly that’s the biggest thing I felt during this whole experience, between the live action stars, the way the cutscenes are shot and paced, the way the gameplay felt almost like an afterthought, it truly feels like they were basically trying to make a movie but decided it must be a game instead.

Now, that’s not to say there’s nothing to enjoy, far from it! I really enjoyed the writing and performances, but it likely says something that I had a lot more fun just rushing through on a second playthrough on easy to see the story differences than I did on my initial go on normal where I actually had to explore.

~ Final Score: 6/10 ~

Review copy provided by THQ Nordic for PS5. Screenshots taken by reviewer.