Inside ‘Alone in the Dark’: THQ’s Re-Imagining of the ‘90s Lovecraftian Survival Horror Game
Before Resident Evil, there was Alone in the Dark — a Lovecraftian survival horror game from Frédéric Raynal, that relied on fixed, pre-rendered backdrops upon which 3D characters would scurry about. The game design impressed creator Shinji Mikami to adapt it into RE’s early model, prior to which it was planned as a first-person shooter. Arriving on the scene in 1992, Alone in the Dark spawned an entire series of compelling titles, before eventually fading into obscurity over the next decade. That is, until Swedish developer Pieces Interactive took it upon itself to dig the franchise back from its haunting grave through a modernised re-imagining — one that ironically now draws inspiration from the recent Resident Evil remakes. It forms a complete circle.
Best described as a love letter to the original, Alone in the Dark — out October 25 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X — brings back lead characters Detective Edward Carnby and Emily Hartwood to the moody Derceto Mansion, in response to a disturbing letter from the latter’s uncle Jeremy Hartwood. Unlike the original, wherein Jeremy was haunted by the ‘Dark Man’ and killed himself, this re-imaging stretches his arc further so he seeks therapy at the countryside hospital, creating a lingering fear of whether history is doomed to repeat itself.
Such minor changes and callbacks are peppered throughout the game, with writer-director Mikael Hedberg likening the development to ‘cultivating a seed that was planted 30 years ago’. For the uninitiated, Hedberg also wrote Amnesia: The Dark Descent and the deep-sea horror game Soma, and promises an atmospheric experience that’s ‘more than just jumpscares’. He believes that the scare merely releases the tension and that the anticipation of what’s about to happen is what keeps players on their toes.
“I remember that with the first Alone in the Dark I made in 1992, we were basically doing something that nobody had done before,” creator Raynal said during the preview event. “It was the first time that we could explore a big mansion, fight monsters, and solve difficult puzzles — all in real-time 3D.” He then went on to praise Pieces Interactive for doing a great job in preserving the core feeling of the game, while adding that the closed confines of the Derceto Mansion always served as an additional, important character that really tightened up the story. At its core though, Alone in the Dark will have you play as either niece Emily Hartwood or the brooding detective Edward Carnby — whom she hired in response to being spooked by her uncle’s letter — and investigate its long passageways, tunnels, and a nearby town teeming with cosmic monstrosities.
“We knew early on that we had a character-driven story, so we needed to find some really good actors to make those characters come to life,” director Hedberg said. David Harbour of Stranger Things-fame headlines the cast as our detective character, who himself has never shied away from displaying his affection for the world of video games — specifically World of Warcraft and the horror genre. “He’s kind of a gruff detective and he’s searching for something and, you know, he’s hard-boiled, but he’s got some humour to him and stuff like that,” Harbour explained, adding that the character is a ‘bit of a trope.’ Your playthrough as Detective Carnby will vary significantly from that of Emily’s, who has a more personal, familial connection to the mystery. As the hired gun, you will learn step-by-step how the Derceto mystery is connected to you and why you keep seeing weird memories of this place.
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Meanwhile, Emily is played by Jodie Comer — best known for Killing Eve and Free Guy — who also suffers from the strange affliction known as the ‘Hartwood Curse.’ No further explanation for the curse was provided, but judging by the original game, we can assume it has to do with some dark rituals of an occultist pirate, whose spirit wanders around looking for a suitable host.
“Yes, there is the kind of scary element, but then she still has to go on a journey and discover different things,” Comer describes her character’s traits. “There should still be room to breathe and have a funny moment or a sarcastic moment or a moment of discovery.” Both Comer and Harbour provided full voice acting and motion capture for their roles, whose ‘spellbinding performances’ were instrumental to Alone in the Dark’s psychological horror angle — one that leans into the grounded narrative aspects rather than the physical terror.
Further in the preview event, Hedberg explained that Alone in the Dark will offer a different take on the same story, depending on who you play as. Most of these will be reflected in cutscenes through differing interactions with NPCs and slight changes in the way your character navigates situations. For instance, there’s a spiteful maid in the game, who reacts more ‘nicely’ to Emily’s snooping, compared to Detective Carnby who is greeted with a kitchen knife pointed at his face. Same situations and dialogue, but different outcomes that incentivise you to play the game more than once.
“The player will get to see exclusive levels and parts of the mansion depending on your chosen protagonist,” Andreas Schmiedecker, Associate Producer, THQ Nordic told Gadgets 360. “If you go for a second playthrough with the other characters, there will be slight influences in your game depending on which items you found in your first playthrough.” Since both Emily and Carnby conduct their separate investigations, they also will often run into each other during cutscenes and offer glimpses at what they’ve been up to.
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Gameplay largely revolves around exploration from an over-the-shoulder perspective — much like Resident Evil 4 — where you gun down bizarre zombie-like creatures and giant roaches akin to Fallout 4. The developer describes the combat as ‘intense’, where you’ll need to conserve and make every bullet count, though there’s no word on general resource management such as healing items or a proper inventory system that needs to be planned well beforehand. I’m of course comparing it to the suitcase in Resident Evil 4, where you need to perfectly align and prioritise items you need to carry until you reach the next save point. “Careful resource management is a staple of the survival-horror-adventure genre and this game is no different. Especially on higher difficulties,” Schmiedecker said.
Alone in the Dark also comes with a backup plan in case you run out of bullets — melee attacks, which can be performed using rusty pipes and planks, or you could chuck Molotov cocktails from afar. The latter was a jarring occurrence during the preview, where you could see Emily just picking a random bottle of alcohol and hurling it towards a humanoid creature, resulting in an explosion of flames. There was no crafting menu or animation that showed her lighting a fuse to ignite it, which not only breaks immersion but reduces tension buildup when hordes charge toward you.
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Regardless of who you choose, the goal is to figure out what happened to Jeremy Hartwood, and in pursuit of that, you’ll need to visit some unexpected places. Getting to those areas will have you rely on your wits and puzzle-solving skills, involving cyphers, odd patterns, and light switches to activate. The preview also mentioned that players will be able to choose how much help they receive with puzzles, which is ideal for those not willing or unable to do some non-linear thinking and memorising their route around the Derceto Mansion. The idea is for puzzles to not be a dead-end that discourages players from experiencing Alone in the Dark’s larger story.
As a taste of the full game, THQ Nordic has also planned a prologue demo, which is set a few weeks prior to the events of Alone in the Dark, as a segue into the narrative. In it, you step into the shoes of Grace Saunders, a young girl who is tasked with posting a letter — presumably the eerie one from Jeremy Hartwood — and in the process, explore the mansion. Dubbed ‘Grace in the Dark,’ the prologue is now available to download on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X, and does not include any combat segments. It is described as an ‘atmospheric experience’ that’s largely exploration-based and includes some rather basic puzzles.
Alone in the Dark is slated to release October 25 on the aforementioned platforms, with a pre-order bonus that grants the 1992 costume pack — the goofy, pixelated 3D model skins from the original game that can be used against modern-day HD backgrounds. The developers claimed that there’s still a lot of work ahead, therefore marking a busy summer for the team. I’m assuming a lot of this has to do with optimisation, which I hope is up to par for the PC version at launch, which has typically received the short end of the stick in recent titles. There’s a Digital Deluxe Edition as well, which comes with a digital artbook, a director’s commentary mode, and a vintage horror filter pack that lets you experience the game in Sepia, black-and-white, and other colour tones.
Alone in the Dark releases October 25 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X. A prologue demo called Grace in the Dark is now available for download on the said platforms.