Alone in the Dark Review

March 27, 2024


Also on:
Xbox One
Xbox Series

My goodness, it seems that we can’t move for remakes or “reimaginings” of games at present. After last month’s remake of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, we’re now back in horror territory with an update of a game that’s 32 (yes!) years old. Alone in the Dark was a crucial precursor to the survival horror genre. Simply put, we wouldn’t have Resident Evil without it. And given how well the Resident Evil remakes have been received, the adventures of Edward Carnby and Emily Hartwood seem like an excellent opportunity to bring their progenitor into the modern era. At least, it would do if the game wasn’t dreadful.

The plot sees you wandering around Decerto Manor in search of Emily’s uncle Jeremy and it feels like the location could have been pulled from one of the Resident Evil remakes. In that respect, the game is a modest success. Tension builds slowly as the duo meet the manor’s residents and try to make sense of events. That’s where the similarities end, though. Whereas Leon and Claire had to navigate genuinely scary environments filled with an assortment of monstrosities lurking in atmospherically lit rooms, Alone in the Dark offers up a selection of similar looking locales in muted colours. There are brownish reds, reddish browns, and all manner of copper, ochre and rust hues on the colour palette. It’s a brown game from the very beginning, basically. 

No, really, this is a comfortable position to sit in.

Gameplay beats are a combination of puzzle-solving and combat. As you explore the manor, you’ll encounter locked doors, chests and safes. These are opened sequentially, and while some require you to backtrack, with many puzzles the item you need is often found in the same vicinity. In one example around halfway through the game, a plate required to open a door can be found literally next to it — pivoting the camera to the left will land you on the object. In the unlikely event that you struggle to land on a solution, you are offered progressively helpful clues to help you forward, and the map helpfully highlights solvable puzzles and unlockable doors. Some of the puzzles are well thought out, such as one which uses a combination of pictures and drawings in your notebook. However, the game repeats variations on the same theme all the way through; if you love sliding brainteasers, you’ll be in your element. But in that case, I would highly recommend ditching this and checking out Boxes: Lost Fragments instead. 

Slide to the left! Slide to the right! Repeat for half a dozen puzzles!

When combat finally occurs, you’ll face a mere handful of different enemy models repeated throughout the game: a couple of shambling blob things, a mummy-like thing, and a crawly, jumpy insect thing. Gunplay has a fraction of the panache, accuracy and visual interest of its over-the-shoulder peers, and melee combat is a wild swingfest where the real enemy ends up being the camera. I died more from technical glitches and an inability to see where or what I was shooting than a lack of player skill. The guns — all three of them — feel and sound meaty and are satisfying to use when you have the opportunity to do so outside of close quarters, which is rare. In fact, the sound design is one of the highlights of the game; the incidental music is solid and effects are deployed with excellence.

Definitely not dead behind the eyes.

Jodie Comer and David Harbour play Emily and Edward respectively, in the kind of Hollywood stunt casting that is likely to draw in a broad section of gamers. Harbour is notable for his most recent role in Stranger Things, while Comer can be found in everything from Killing Eve to Prima Facie. In other words, on paper the game should have two stellar actors. Here though, they are not so much phoning in their performance as typing it in and letting text-to-speech handle the rest. Remarkably, Harbour actually comes out of this debacle better since he sounds the least bored of the pair, perhaps helped by his uncanny vocal similarity to Broken Sword’s George Stobbart. However, it’s hard to really blame either of them, as the writing veers from mediocre to woeful. If I’d been given this script — which includes both characters repeating "I need the key" every time they reach a locked door — I would probably have had one eye on the pay cheque as well. 

Depends how many doors I have to open.

There are two playthroughs available if you want to get the full story. You’re incentivised (in theory, at least) by lagniappes: sets of three collectible items which uncover lore when you complete them, and carry over from game to game. Some of them can be found in your first playthrough while others need you to complete the story as both Edward and Emily. The problem is that once you finish the first run, there is little incentive to retread the same ground as the other character. Other than a couple of slightly different scenes and puzzles, the gameplay is identical. 

Clearly been to a seance parlour more times than normal

Even if Alone in the Dark was a compelling experience, going through the motions twice would be a hard sell. Sadly, the game is riddled with bugs and poor design. For a remake of a three-decades-old game, you’d expect some less obvious tropes; if you come across a room filled with throwable objects and no enemies, you can bet your filthy braces that you’ll soon be returning to a horde of shambling corpses. Worse still, doors take an eternity to open, ladders and walkways are traversed with the speed of an all-inclusive holidaymaker perusing a buffet, and puzzles lock up at whim, forcing you to restart. You will be killed by enemies when caught on scenery, when stuck trying to reload your gun, or when trying to navigate innocuous paths which block you for no discernible reason. Don’t even get me started on the stealth sections, where throwable objects abound (if you’re happy to crawl at an even slower pace to use them), yet you’ll end up having to kill most enemies anyway. There’s enough ammo to ensure you’ll never run out, but by then the purpose is well and truly defeated.


More damningly, this is a horror game without the horror. A door shutting after you is simply not scary. Annoying, yes, but it’s not going to send shivers down your spine, unless those shivers are caused by the thought of you having to go through the painful animation of opening it over and over again. Monsters feel like they’ve been imported from the PS3 era and the character models for Carnby and Hartwood don’t fare any better; Emily’s blank stare is likely to give you more nightmares than anything else in the game. The plot is nonsensical and you’ll care little for anyone involved. Even Emily doesn’t seem to want to be there, and as a bodyguard Edward does practically no guarding and audibly sighs after the smallest amount of exertion. It’s something you’ll soon sympathise with. The action and gore ramp up in the final couple of chapters to unintentionally hilarious effect, but by then it's too late. Your investment in the side characters is practically zero, because they have so little personality or backstory.

I'm also sorry about all this.

If the bugs were fixed and the performance improved, Alone in the Dark would still be a hard game to recommend. Everything that Capcom did right with its reimagining of Raccoon City appears to have gone under the radar at Pieces Interactive. The rare moments of enjoyment — some interesting puzzles, occasionally fun shooting sections — are marred by subpar design, dreary story consigned mainly to narrated logs, and an underdeveloped cast of characters. The granddaddy of survival horror deserved more than this.

You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:

Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!

Alone in the Dark is a scare-free horror experience, rife with technical issues, a nonsensical plot, and lacklustre performances from its two notable stars.
Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.