#18. Alone in the Dark
Publisher: Interplay Productions
Systems Released On: DOS, 3DO, MAC, PC
Release Date: 1992
Before anyone even thinks it, let’s put the awful, AWFUL, Uwe Boll film out of our heads as best we can and focus on the game, okay?
I’m sure there will be some people that will be aghast that AitD isn’t in the top ten, and I can understand that viewpoint. After all, AitD is the cornerstone of what we now call “Survival Horror.” Sure there were games before it that involved monsters and spooky situations, but Alone in the Dark was the inspiration for Capcom to make Resident Evil, from the zombie filled mansion down to the horrible control setup. And as Resident Evil is sadly the measuring stick we use for horror or terror games, many consider AitD to be the first Survival Horror game as well. This is erroneous however, as Capcom’s Sweet Home a Famicon/NES game released in 1989 (Japan only) is truly the first Survival Horror game. It is this obscure game that RE actually takes it name from as the term “Residing Evil” plays a big part in SH. But now I’m going off on a tangent, so let me sum it up here: AitD is a good game, but it is neither the first Survival Horror title, nor is it the best.
Alone in the Dark offers you a choice of two main characters: private detective Edward Carnby, or dilettante Emily Hartwood. Regardless of who you play as, the plot and gameplay remains exactly the same, save for your reason for playing.
Alone in the Dark is the story of many beings, both alive and dead, but in the end it is truly the story of Derceto. Derceto is a Louisiana Mansion, believed to be haunted by all who know of it. Its current owner, one Jeremy Hartwood has recently committed suicide. The local constables, clear up the matter quickly, and rule it a shut case. As Carnby, you are hired by an antique dealer to make a list of the valuables in the house. As Emily, you go to visit your family’s estate as something doesn’t sit right with you about your uncle killing himself.
Regardless of why your character of choice has journeyed to Derceto, your find yourself trapped in the mansion attic, and must fight your way back out, dealing with zombies, Lovecraftian beasties and worse. As you progress through the game you learn that the curse that befell both Derceto and Jeremy Hartwood is the word of the long since dead Ezejial Pregzt, a pirate who became a foul worshiper of Cthulhu. Yes, THAT Cthulhu. In return for serving him, Cthulhu gave Pregzt occult powers and halted his aging process. Pregzt changed him name to Elijah Pickford and used his illgotten wealth to build Derceto and a vast series of underground caverns in which to conduct his unholy rituals. Pregzt was shot and killed by soldiers during the civil war who tried to bunk at Decreto while Pregzt was attemptting to awaken Cthulhu. Oops. Of course in textbook fashion, evil never dies, and Pregzt soul and corpse merged with a tree. Although formless and tied to the house, Derceto found he could still exert influence over those that dwelt within it. Indeed, the reason Jeremy Hartwood killed himself was because he felt Pregzt trying to possess his body and thus died in an attempt to save the world for an undead evil pirate ghost.
In the end the character you play as must defeat the pirate ghost and his fireball throwing tree corpse who is protected by an army of Deep Ones (Think Fish People).
Convoluted? Yes indeed. But it still made for a great story. Especially at the time. Solving the mystery of Decreto almost made the rest of the game seem anticlimatic by comparison. The fact that the game used the Necronomicon, De Vermiis Mysteriis, and the insane rantings of a mad astronomer named Lord Boleskine who will show up in the next game on the countdown in a much more important role…
Alone in the Dark was also the first video game ever made to use “Interpolated Animation.” This meant that the game would adapt to each individual computer’s specs, and also require less memory to be used to run the game. It was also the first video game to use polygonal characters on top of pre-rendered backgrounds. This explains to the more modern gamer why the character models were are so bloody ugly compared to the elaborate backgrounds of the game. This double punch of new breakthroughs in video game technology was huge in its day and won AitD a LOT of technical awards.
AitD, like almost all horror games up to that point, focused far more on adventure style point and click, item usage, and puzzle solving than anything else. However, this game was the first to really feature a degree of combat and violence to get you through the game as well. For it’s day, Alone in the Dark was considered very action heavy. Today though? Probably not. Throughout the game the amount of zombies you encounter are barely at the double digit mark. Many of the other monsters you encounter are far easier beaten by brains than by brawn. It is amusing to note that Carnby can punch out a zombie though. That’s something you’ll never see Jill Valentine attempt.
And since we’re on the topic of the action, I do have to bring up that yes, this is the game that gave us the Resident Evil control scheme. Those horrid controls that make you wonder what kind of crazy drugs the developers were on when they came up with them. It’s AitD’s fault, and had it not been for having some of the worst controls in the entire horror/terror genre, this game would most likely be ranked a lot higher. Thankfully, due to the small amount of combat in AitD, the controls are far less a problem here than say, when they would re-emerge on my Sega Saturn half a decade later. Ick ick ick.
You think camera angles are bad now? Imagine when you’re the first game to ever implement them and you have items and actions that can only be done when the camera is in an exact spot. Combine this with the fact the player had no control over the camera angles and that the way AitD was laid out was to concentrate on giving a gamer more of a Cinematic feel rather than angles conducive to actual gameplay, and you can see why we lament Capcom’s imitation of the controls here.
The original AitD on floppy disk had no voice acting or soundtrack. This would not be added until the CD-Rom version of the game debuted. The CD version also game with puzzle game Jack in the Dark, which bridged (kind of) the story between the first and second AitD. I have to admit though, I prefer the game without the soundtrack and voice overs. They take away from the overall feeling of dread the music-less version had. The added score from the CD-ROM version is quite nice, but I just prefer my monster games with less music and more spooky.
Alone in the Dark has an amazingly deep and complicated plot, some revolutionary new advances in gaming that are still felt today, and managed to be the first game to combine adventure and action games in a format that made fans of both genres happy enough to come back for more. Alas, AitD was to be the first of a trilogy of official Call of Cthulhu games bearing the Chaosium logo. Chaosium however, did not feel AitD was truly a Lovecraftian game and refused to have the CoC logo added to the AitD box, even with a huge royalties offer from Infogrames. The second game in the series would impress Chaosium far more than Alone in the Dark did, and thus the second game in the series would go on to be now the first of a two part epic. It’s called Shadow of the Comet and it’s the next game on our list. AITD however, went on to spin off several sequels, even though 75% of the development team left Infogrames due to several creative disputes, founded their own company…and went bankrupt soon after. Such is the wackiness and drama of the realm of video gaming though.
I decided that since today covered two Lovecraft influenced games, the last thing you needed was for me to talk even more about HPL. So let’s talk about one of the most haunted towns in New England. In fact, no one left in the town is alive…
A small ghost town in CT that has been abandonded for over 100 years, Dudleytown is a place haunted by ghosts and curses for 5 centuries.
In 1510, Edmund Dudley was part of a plot to overthrow King Henry VIII. He was caught, beheaded and his entire family was subject to a curse that all his descendents would be shrouded in horror and death. The curse continued for 2.5 centuries which brings us to the mid 1700’s where three Dudleys (No, not D-Von, Bubba, and Spike) founded Dudleytown along with Thomas Griffis. it was a rocky place, shrouded by trees, creating an eerie twlight.
As the town grew, the curse seemed to spread to all the inhabitants, as disease, poverty, and madness saturated the town. Even people who moved from the town found the curse followed them. By the late 1800’s Dudleytown was free of humans, for all who stayed either left or died. However the curse has remained, for the owners of the land or those that stay there seem to develop the same delusions that strange creatures live in the forest near Dudleytown and try to attack them. Interestingly enough is that people who live near by the ghost town maintain there are strange happenings that dwell near Dudleytown, even to this day, waiting for tourists or thrill seekers to rouse them from their slumber.
Please note as of 1999, visiting Dudleytown is considered illegal by State Authorities. Perhaps because of the ghost rumours and belief that Things That Should Not Be lurk nearby, or perhaps simply because the place has become too much of a nuisance. Please remember if visiting Dudleytown, you are in greater chance of encountering an angry officer than a ghost or spooky thingie.
To learn more about Dudleytown, visit:
#17. Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet
Publisher: Infogrames (Europe), I*Motion (USA)
Release Date: 1993
Systems Released For: DOS
Shadow of the Comet remains the greatest licensed version of the Cthulhu Mythos is video game format. Unlike a certain pretty but fundamentally piece of crap/slap in the face to the works of Lovecraft that is Dark Corners of the Earth, SotC got nearly everything right. Plus, it’s the only video game I can think of that has Vincent Price, Glenn Shadix, Jack Nicholson and others making cameos in it. Although there are other video games further up the countdown that use CoC characters, either in homages or rip-offs, Shadow of the Comet, after 12 years, remains the measuring stick for all licensed Call of Cthulhu games.
In 1834, a British scientist named Lord Boleskine traveled to the small New England Village of Illsmouth (no, not Innsmouth) to observe the passing of Haley’s Comet. However, something happened the night of the comet’s passing and Lord Boleskine went completely and utterly mad. Boleskine left writings and rantings of strange horrific evils and ill portents of things to come. Now it is 1910, and the character you play as, John Parker, has come to Illsmouth to see the comet and to try to make sense of the ramblings that Boleskine wrote while he spent the rest of his life in an Asylum.
Once Parker arrives, he discovers that in true Lovecraftian fashion, things are not as they appear to be. Beneath the surface of the town lurks an unspeakable evil that rises in time with the passing of the comet. Over three days, Parker will discover, unravel, and hopefully (if you’re good enough) solve the mystery that threatens reality as we know it.
What I really can’t convey to you with mere words is how excellent the Shadow of the Comet is in setting the mood and theme of ominous things about to occur. The game really enforces the xenophobic and claustrophobic nature of the village. Parker is nearly smothered by the setting, and it’s wonderful. So often the game sets you up and then gives you a massive swerve. Take the spooky old woods in the game for example. While playing the game, you are sitting there the entire time going “Oh shit. Oh shit. Something like a Shoggoth is going to come out and do me in real good!” When you first find the Necronomicon on day two of the game, you half expect Parker to go mad from merely opening the text. From the introduction of the game (although I should point out that the disk and CD versions have very different openings indeed) you know that you are in for the freakiest game the early 1990’s had to offer. And Shadow of the Comet does not disappoint.
Shadow of the Comet is a wonderful tribute to three great Call of Cthulhu stories: Shadow over Innsmouth, Call of Cthulhu, and the Dunwich Horror. Elements of all three stories appear in the game, but it is not meant to be a direct correlation or a representative of those three works.
The voice acting of SotC is quite excellent, especially for it’s time. the original floppy disk version that came out in 1993 had only a little, but the souped up version released in 1994 has full voice acting, all of which impressed me when I first played through the game. It still holds up 13 years later BTW.
The music too reinforces the mood that you are play a game filled with Eldritch horrors and terrifying things man was never meant to know. The music is spooky and spine tingling, even though it is nowhere as complex of a score as we would hear today.
The graphics are the hit or miss part of the game. The character models that show up when you are engaging in dialogue are fantastic. Some of the best graphics possible for the time period. Same too can be said for the cut scenes and the backgrounds of the game. But the in-game character models are simply atrocious. Mr. Parker is little better than a blob meandering across your screen to and fro. Compared to the rest of the games graphics, this is jarring and can take you out of the mood. Thankfully the rest of the game’s sound and feel more than makes up for this.
The gameplay returns us once again to the Adventure Format. It seems the largest portion of games on this countdown have fallen under that format. Perhaps because Adventure Gaming generally allows for easy to follow gameplay and a strong focus on story. Shadow of the Comet is no exception. You’ve got the typical walking around, using items in your inventory, and puzzle solving you find throughout this genre.
I should point out though that this game is not for the beginning gamer, or even someone who is a casual adventure gamer. SotC is designed for the veteran adventure gamer. The puzzles can be quite hard, and some have time limits that will no doubt frustrate gamers used to using button smashing or brute force in order to beat games. SotC requires a higher level thinking and logistic skills than 95% of the games out there. All the puzzles make sense and are strongly connected to the plot, but they still remain a challenge, no matter what you believe your skill level to be. Unlike a lot of adventure games, you can die in SotC. And you will. trust me on this. You will die a lot. A few dozen times at least. It’s considered to be one of the most challenging adventure games ever made, and it has truly earned that reputation. This is a game you have to commit to. If you’re looking for some light entertainment or a game from yesteryear to breeze through, you should look elsewhere. Let’s leave it at this. If I was asked which game was harder to beat, Battletoads or Shadow of the Comet, I would say SotC hands down. So when we crotchety old gamers talk about how you young ones don’t have any idea how hard games were back when we were your age, this is one of the best examples of what makes us retrogamers so grumpy. Plus, I got to mention Battletoads yet again in something utterly non-related to it, so my work here is done.
Alas, there is one negative aspect of the game that will surely make the game anticlimactic for the ardent Cthulhu Mythos fan. You may remember me bitching about the fact the Xbox first person shooter, Dark Corners of the Earth allowed you to defeat Father Dagon with a mere four bullets. Well, SotC has you deal with FOUR of the biggest names in the Mythos: Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, and Father Dagon. Of course, Cthulhu and Dagon are Great Old Ones and Yog and Nyar are Outer Gods, so they would never have anything to do with each other, but that’s me being an anal literary critic. Although it may ruin the game for some who play it, compared to the overall excellent product given to us by Infogrames, and especially when compared to the other crap that has used the Call of Cthulhu license, I think we can overlook this one flub.
There are two extras that really add to SotC without actually being part of the game. The first is that the game is actually in Alone in the Dark continuity. This also by default places Prisoner of Ice, which was featured earlier on the countdown, in with the same series. When you pick up some of the books in AitD, you’ll find references to the story and plot of SotC and the events that unfolded. It was something that I had never noticed until I played Alone in the Dark once again to refresh myself for this countdown. Great, great touch.
The second aspect is that the 1994 edition of SotC featured a “Lovecraft Museum.” You could guide Parker through a digital exhibit featuring characters and stories from Lovecraft’s fertile imagination. Although this had no bearing on the game itself, it was an excellent touch, as it helped to introduce many a video gamer into the source material that inspired this very game. Again, the graphics are quite dated for it now, but it is still worth popping in your CD-Rom drive to view. In a day and age where most people espousing to be Lovecraft fans don’t read the books or play the tabletop RPG like it’s a hack N slash dungeon crawl, it’s nice to remember that there are game developers out there that respect Lovecraft’s work and made a video game truly worthy of all the writers that combined to form the Cthulhu Mythos.
Shadow of the Comet remains one of the hardest, creepiest, and best written video games ever to be released. Chaosium and Infogrames remain one of the best licenser-licensee teams in the history of the industry. If you are looking for a game that will truly make you feel like you are playing a Lovecraft novel (that actually uses Lovecraftian characters), then look no further. This is your Holy Grail.
Wow. On retrospect, I’ve put the entire Infogrames Cthulhu trilogy on the list. Not bad. Next week, we’ll be looking at the game that sold the world on the CD-ROM format for video gaming, as well as a game involving a camera, two twins, and a shitload of ghosts.