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Alone In The Dark Review (PS5) – Genre Royalty Re-Emerges From The Shadows

Alone in the Dark PS5 Review. Seen by many as the progenitor of a genre, the Alone in the Dark series is somewhat of a mixed bag – relative to its overall impact, that is.

The 1992 original was revelatory in its day, ushering in an era of survival horror that would later lead to Capcom’s Resident Evil series. Since then, however, things haven’t been quite as rosy. In truth, none of the series’ subsequent releases have ever quite managed to capture the magic of the original and instead have ranged from passable to questionable.

Alone In The Dark PS5 Review

Nine Years Since Illumination, The Once-Venerated Series Returns

We’re in different times now, mind. And with the continued success of the Resident Evil remakes and a similar treatment for Silent Hill 2 on the horizon, perhaps it’s high time for Alone in the Dark to stake its claim for inclusion into the current survival horror discourse.

Indeed, developer Pieces Interactive has solicited some high-calibre talent to do just that in the form of Soma writer Mikael Hedberg, as well as the focal point of the game’s narrative push, actors David Harbour and Jodie Comer. So, despite releasing just prior to the likes of Rise of the Rōnin and Dragon’s Dogma 2, there is an air of confidence with what’s in store. And it’s not entirely unfounded.

As with the original game, Alone in the Dark takes place in 1920s Louisiana, complete with patented French affectation. It centres around Emily Hartwood, who has received word that her uncle, Jeremy – who has been holed up in an asylum in the form of Derceto Manor – has gone missing.

Sensing something more ominous is afoot, Hartwood hires a private detective in the form of Edward Carnby to help her investigate the disappearance within the walls of the manor. Following a short sequence leading up to the grounds of Derceto itself, you’ll be tasking with choosing between both characters with the promise that each will represent significant change from the another.

Once you’ve made your selection, Alone in the Dark quickly sets into its rhythm whereby you navigate the Derceto mansion, scouring available rooms for clues or other such points of interest. If you’re familiar with the aforementioned remakes of recent Resident Evil titles, this will be a well-trodden path, and a welcome one at that.

It can be a little hand-holding at times, but this can be addressed by selecting ‘old-school’ mode from the outset, which is one of two gameplay options alongside ‘modern.’ This removes hint prompts and word highlighting within clues, harkening back to the halcyon days of cryptic puzzles which would have you tearing your hair out in quick fashion. Well, not exactly, as thankfully there’s nothing particularly obtuse here, such is modern design sensibility.

Graphically the game has its moments, the lighting is particularly strong and complements the setting well, and so too does some of the facial capture on display. Unsurprisingly, the cast of characters are a notable visual downgrade when compared to that of Carnby and Hartwood but they are nonetheless functional in delivering on the game’s narrative promise. The performance is also steady with no significant drops of note, and as you’d expect you can choose between either performance or resolution mode.

As you make your way through Derceto, you’ll encounter a number of the inhabitants, who, though seemingly well meaning, contribute to what is an air of unease. Though never overtly scary, everything is a touch off kilter, as if there is something more sinister lurking beneath.

Through the course of the interactions, Carnby will jot down some notes – amounting to a summation of sorts – which can then be read or listened to within the game’s menu. Another facet of the gameplay involves the completion of Lagniappe sets, which are Alone in the Dark’s collectables that grant you access to additional lore or even a weapon in the case of Carnby’s playthrough.

Each set comprises of three trinkets that are found throughout both Derceto and the wider locales. It’s thematically consistent more so with Carnby rather than Hartwood given that he is a private investigator, but nonetheless these elements compliment the focus of the game’s opening hours, which is primarily about piecing together the narrative through exploration.

This is where Alone in the Dark is at its strongest. Distilling some of the classic elements of the series and wrapping them in the narrative intrigue of Jeremy’s whereabouts. Throw in the performance of the protagonists and it all lends to what is an accomplished opening act. Though it can feel a little pedestrian at times, unravelling the mystery organically through each of Derceto’s rooms is certainly the highlight here.

While there is no inventory management component or key item manipulation to speak of, basic fetch quests and puzzles are in abundance. You’ll encounter a number of safes where you’ll need to find the three-digit code, puzzles where you’ll have to match the pattern, as well as perhaps one too many tile-sliding puzzles.

Such is its focus on psychosis and mental health deterioration, Alone in the Dark also utilizes a dual-world mechanic which sees you transported to various locales outside of the immediate confines of Derceto Manor.

Accessed via a talisman at set intervals, the majority of the game’s combat takes place within these sections, and typically involves batting away mold-type enemies, not too dissimilar to those found frequenting in the Baker estate in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. There’s even one later on which seems as if it’s an ode to the pesky Bandersnatch found in Resident Evil – Code: Veronica.

Dispatching these enemies comes by way of your standard third-person shooting mechanics, alongside a decent helping of melee-focused combat. Each environment is strewn with objects that you can use if you so choose, should you wish to batter something with an ore or perhaps a crucifix. Of course, you do.

Moreover, you can fling a variety of projectiles – such as a brick or Molotov cocktail – at enemies with a tap or hold of R2, however their placement is sometimes suspect where there are no enemies in the vicinity and thus no obvious use for them. Manoeuvring while holding one can also feel quite cumbersome.

Fundamentally, save for one or two variations, Alone in the Dark’s enemy set is not particularly inspired, and though the music often does its best to complement the atmosphere, there is a distinct lack of tension in most of the minute-to-minute encounters, which contradicts what developer Pieces Interactive is seemingly going for. Comparing it with that of the original, there’s not a zombie chicken in sight.

Worse still, the melee combat feels a little clunky, the enemies lack personality, and rarely, if ever, feel like a threat; as a result they contribute to what are the weaker of the game’s moments. These sections are serviceable, and they still contain some interesting puzzles, just not to the same degree as Derceto and the way in which it manages to feel more cohesive in its delivery.

As each story progresses, the worlds begin to bleed into one another as both Carnby and Hartwood begin to question their own sanity. Some of the areas explored beyond the walls of Derceto – manifestations of Jeremy’s mind and the pact he has made with The Dark Man – begin to appear at a moment’s notice, reinforcing each character’s descent into madness.

This arch is applicable to both characters as they follow very similar paths. Aside from one section in particular later in the game, the script does not deviate beyond the dialogue and order and location in which you meet the other inhabitants of the manor. Most gameplay facets, including that of the puzzles, remains the same.

As a result, the playthrough that you’ll prefer will be near-solely reliant on the strength of the protagonist’s performance, and that will undoubtedly be Harbour’s effort. The manner in which he is able to convey a sense of seasoned pragmatism befitting of a 1920s private detective before then succumbing to an increasing level of distress is impressive.

Jodie Comer’s performance is by no means poor but when the game begins to wane at different intervals it is Harbour’s performance that holds it together. Both characters have slightly different traits with Hartwood being quicker on her feet but more susceptible to damage. Given the similarities on both runs and her improved speed, my second playthrough clocked in at less than four hours.

There are also a number of design choices and small bugs that have a culminative effect on the experience, such as tip prompts staying on the screen for too long, key item placement where what is required is oddly close to the puzzle itself, the sound bugging out at times, (particularly in chapter three) getting stuck in scenery seldomly, as well as the ability to appear as if you are picking up a melee weapon an infinite number of times despite only being able to hold one at any given time.

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Some of these may appear a touch nit-picky, and others amusing – such as Carnby’s exhaustion sound, which normally plays once you stop running, but instead can be sometimes heard upon exiting a puzzle menu if you move too quickly. It’s as if the mental gymnastics required to solve it were particularly taxing.

Rough edges aside, there is a lot to like here, and though it might not stick its landing – both narratively and in some of its composite parts – its world-building and narrative pacing are the best the series has seen in some years.

As a result, Alone in the Dark is a success in more ways than it’s not. There are notable issues preventing it from reaching that upper echelon but nonetheless developer Pieces Interactive has crafted an engaging experience with enough charm that fans of the series, or indeed the genre, will no doubt lap up.

Alone in the Dark releases on March 20 on PS5.

Review code kindly provided by PR.



The Final Word

Alone in the Dark is a success in more ways than it's not. There are notable issues preventing it from reaching that upper echelon but nonetheless developer Pieces Interactive has crafted an engaging experience with enough charm that fans of the series, or indeed the genre, will no doubt lap up.