Friday, October 18, 2019

Alone in the Dark: Attic

I've already played a good chunk of games from the '90s. I'd wager I've already played a hundred fifty or so games that fall into my list shooting. Of the ones that I'm adding new that I didn't look out for before, I've probably played another fifty. Alone in the Dark is not one of those games. Technically. I've played the demo years ago. Why? Well...
When I was younger, I had a Game Informer magazine with an article* on old horror games. It talked at length about horror's journey to Resident Evil, going through Sweet Home, Phantasmagoria, and yes, Alone in the Dark. There were also some side mentions of a few games, the ones I remember I think I'll review, whether they're shooters or not. So, keep in mind that Alone in the Dark is not a game that passed me by. I've been aware of it for years.
This game has always felt very unique to me. Its something I look at and think: "If this game is bad, I'm going to be really sad there's nothing good like it. If this game is good, the same thing." I already have a good idea of what the game's like. A spooky mansion horror story heavily inspired by Lovecraft. I already know that the sequels take a sharp turn and don't feature the same plot as before. Learned men will tell me that the designer Frederick Raynal did another horror game recently called 2Dark, but that's a different style of horror and visuals. It looks like a crappy modern indie game too. Alone in the Dark is lightning in a bottle that if it sucks, will forever be a stain on the genre in my mind.
I however, would say, going in, that Alone in the Dark is probably the most influential game of the '90s. Not just in gameplay style, which would be ripped off by Resident Evil and then to an entire genre. But the general style of 3D characters in front of a 2D background. Yes, this would become pre-rendered 3D quickly, but even then, it owes it to this game. I'd argue that a preset camera angle wouldn't show up in video games for quite some time. Who knows when some film school reject would try to do this later on, and probably poorly at that.
So, that said, I have built this up for ten years as a unique experience that is either really amazing or really terrible. That's not something I enjoy. The only other games I have built-up that much are the remaining Cyan Worlds games, but those I have absolute faith in.
Now, I should point out at this point, that I do have some degree of knowledge about this game going in. I am aware of a handful of puzzles, but not necessarily their solutions, and of a few items that will screw me over. I have a book with the solutions to several classic adventure games, of which I have abused in the past for The 11th Hour** and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis***. It has a walkthrough for this game, which I use if something baffles me for more than thirty minutes or if I encounter something that I wonder if it mentions. I should also point out that it doesn't technically call itself an adventure game guide, but every game it covers except for Wing Commander 3 falls into that category. I question why one needs a guide for Wing Commander 3, unless I'm in for some serious crap a few years from now.
The game starts with Infogrames's logo, replaced by a fancy 3D logo. Fancy for '93. Very impressive considering this came out in '92. The credits scroll by with various names. The least French name in the credits is H.P. Lovecraft.
There are two characters to play as, Emily Hartwood and Edward Carnby. I'll be playing as the chick, because she gets shafted later. Carnby mentions having a '38, but is a smart enough man to not bring it with him to the mansion. He does have a rocking mustache. Emily just looks weird. That's early 3D for ya.
I suddenly understand why they shafted her, awful Southern accent. While she goes on about her uncle Jeremy hanging himself in the loft I can't say I blame him. Story is, Jeremy Hartwood translated books, mysterious books. If you don't know why that's interesting, I suggest reading Lovecraft.
Uh, who's this in the attic? As we discover quickly enough, there's no one there. Emily journeys through the house all the way up to the attic. Because there's something in the piano in the attic, according to both Emily and Edward's intros. The game unceremoniously dumps me into the attic after Emily's journey.
Note the chest and cabinet, not at their original positions
Painted backgrounds with 3d characters. I wonder why no one has ever imitated this. Crap, the peak of pixel art really was 1993 France.
Okay, I admit, I do know how to avoid the monsters on the first screen. I push a chest over a trap door and a cabinet in front of a window. Weren't they more, I think to myself as the monsters try to get through the aforementioned two places. There's also the place I came in. Nothing comes in there. I'm in the attic, how is something trying to get in through the window? This isn't that big a house. Scary, but it doesn't make any sense. Where's that trap door lead?
Instead of something relevant, take a look at this funny pushing animation
Inside the chest is a rifle. I was under the impression I wouldn't get that for quite some time. Loaded too. There are various other items all around, including a lamp. An empty lamp.
You can select various actions in the menu. We have fight, (with hands) open/search, push and close. Close is necessary since rooms don't automatically close like in a normal game. Closing can only be done inside a room too.
I should also point out the controls, you have the arrow keys, which involve tank controls. That's not terrible, tank controls are fine unless you suck a video games or something. The problem, I feel with movement is that you have to release the up arrow and hold it again to run. Its not really a double tap, it feels more contrived than that. The space bar does an action, if its not a weapon you continuously do that action. If it is, you either can select what kind of attack you want (with a melee weapon) or adjust your aim and fire (with a gun) with the arrow keys.
Enter is the action menu/inventory and Esc is the traditional save/load/options menu.
Picture related
Checking the manual for the useful keys, I find that this might as well have been developed for the CD-i for how many keys I can use. Menu, other menu, action, arrows. Yeah, keys to pause, toggle the sound and music sure are useful over a dedicated run button. Thanks Raynal. Couldn't make a key let you switch actions either. Quality work, quality work.
There's also a book up here. The book is literally just the story of Peresus fighting Medusa, narrated. Not by Emily. Foreshadowing, or merely flavor? Enough of this, the attic is useless, there's not even anything in the piano.
A suspicious metal groaning occurs as I walk down the steps. That's nice. Resident Evil shaped my strategy in horror games. Anything suspicious that happens will come back to bite me later. The room beneath the attic seems to be a storage closet. There's a can of oil and a bow here. Okay, a door out, further into the interior. Better steel myself for battle. Emily opens the door in such a way as no one can see if a monster is hiding there until its too late and looks like she's seen something horrific.
PREPARE TO...nevermind
Past the creaking of the wood boards, a howl from a wolf-like thing rings out. I'm chilled. There are four doors here, I figure I should start with the left one first. Well, after trying and failing to close the door behind me. While another howl happens. I enter the room and once again try to close the door behind me. After some prodding, it works. Thanks, Raynal. There's a locked chest, an empty cabinet and a desk with a key. I wonder how I can fit these items together. I try to force open the chest, but that turns out to be a wash. I guess I should try this key?
I find an old cavalry saber. Uh, I know what this thing does too for a puzzle and as a weapon. I know that if I use it it'll break on me. I can't remember if I need glue for it later or not. That means I can get brutally murdered by horrors or I can spend two hours trying to figure out where the hot glue gun is.
NO REGRETS! NO REGRETS! With a sword, the zombie falls like a snap of my fingers. He disappears in a tuft of purple smoke. The music that started up when the zombie popped in is still going strong though. Even loops once. I exit to the other side, but not before trying and failing to close the door behind me.
Meanwhile, the other door is easy to close.
The first room has a cabinet that proves empty. Its some kind of sitting room, connecting to a master bedroom.
Another cabinet that proves to contain nothing, which only furthers the point that one of them will have something valuable in them. A desk of drawers that's locked, and a vase on the side of the bed. I'll have to investigate this vase, but first, what about that beauty desk?
I GOT A SWORD! No, no, don't do that! You cheap bastard! No, it broke? How did it break already? Combat with this...thing, is more difficult than the zombie. He backs me into a corner and takes a goodly amount of cuts before ceasing to exist. Brings me down to 9 health points, out of 20.
Now, the puzzle here is that the vase has the key to the drawers. Unlike a normal human being, you can't just move the thing upside down and shake it until the key falls out. No, you have to throw it like a manchild. Or a womanchild in Emily's case. The key brings us to a duo of mirrors. A light puzzle. I thought this was Alone in the DARK. Hyukyukyukyuk. Better check out the door in this here hallway. Quicker than going the other way.
Well, I have a sword that's now effectively a knife. Take that! And that! And-
This is some stuff
Oh, this. You. That is some classic adventure game trick. On the other hand, it is clearly telegraphed, so its only my own fault. Still, how did the zombie get there? Did they kick off the chest? Are there an infinite number of zombies spawning out of that trap door and the chest is gone? If I go back there was Raynal and friends smart enough to adjust that?
Let me redo the intro as Carnby and get some good screenshots. And you know, find out how screwed I'd be if I fought the two intro monsters.
What I've learned is that the rifle is not an effective ranged weapon and that I should make the zombies my bitch the old-fashioned way. I also check my book to see if he mentions the floor, he does, lamely. I also sneak a peek and find out there are only five relatively short floors. Resident Evil, of which I am familiar with, takes about three hours if you know what you're doing and do it right. I think you could win this in under one.
I also have to wonder if anyone on the development team knew how guns worked, because pump-action rifles are rare. Of course, so are pump-action shotguns these days. Apparently no one wants to manhandle a gun. At least that's what I read in a magazine once. They could be full of it.
Let's return to our regularly scheduled girl power video game.
What's the French for incompetent?
I see, so Carnby is good at fighting and Emily sucks. At least, that's how I see it. Another shot, hey, I'm sure if I need something to glue this sword back together, I'll find it eventually.
Its almost like this is a really crappy weapon
Now it breaks when I find the zombie. Thanks, Raynal. I'm starting to think they were wise in replacing you. I didn't even connect. Swords aren't supposed to break like that. I'm sure there's some real-world physics that could explain that kind of trash, but it still feels cheap. Oh, I'm still good fighting with the saber. This thing rocks and is much better than trying to beat something to death with Emily's fists. Anyway, I go through the rest of the 2nd floor as previous, minus the loss of the saber, plus a chair in front of the door back to the attic. That leaves the zombies the only path down through the easily broken floor...where they will no doubt fall on me and kill me. What's French for Deathtrap Dungeon?
Emily looks like she's looking at something worrying every time I look at her face or she opens a door. That's rather terrifying. I don't know if something will register on her face or not. I don't know if they put that it. Its early yet.
The final room on this floor is a bathroom, complete with a first aid kit. I notice something else. All the mirrors are broken. I think this is because its hard to do reflections.

I leave this game at the end of the hallway.

*I couldn't put it in the description proper, but the way Game Informer did it, at least for a long time, was have about four pages at the back of the magazine called Retro Informer, which also had a review of Final Fantasy 7 or 8 where the reviewer criticized it for having visible pixels.
**Hey, some of those "find the object" puzzles are seriously annoying.
***Specifically, the submarine section. I couldn't figure out how to get past the end section of it. To this day I still haven't finished that game because of it.

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