Alone In The Dark Review: Voodon’t Even Bother

Alone In The Dark Review: Voodon’t Even Bother

My continuing mission to play games from franchises that I’ve never fully explored before has finally brought me to Alone in the Dark. This reimagining of the 1992 original is my first ever experience with the venerable franchise. Considering how deeply mediocre it is, I think perhaps I should’ve started with an earlier one, Probably a much earlier one.

Alone in the Dark has an AUD$349.95 collector’s edition

Three-hundred and forty-nine Australian dollars and ninety-five Australian cents. 

I’m saying this up front and in bold not just because I’m in awe of the sheer hubris of it, but also to grab the immediate attention of any of you who did, in fact, preorder this thing.

Alone in the Dark is not good.

It’s also not bad or broken enough to be entertaining in the kind of memeable way that last year’s Gollum was, nor does it embrace its ‘B’-grade-iness enough to become a campy cult classic like The Sinking City.

Alone in the Dark simply exists. It is a nothingburger, notable only for the pointless and distracting casting of Jodie Comer and David Harbour as its leads. Its plot is absolute nonsense, and their performances are, somehow, even worse. 

Broadly speaking, the acting is of the Star Wars prequel trilogy variety. It’s as if the leads were directed to be as flat as possible while all the supporting characters go way over the top. Imagine if The Phantom Menace had Qui-Gon converse with Jar-Jar, but the Gungan has the voice of Foghorn Leghorn. Somehow, it’s not even as entertainingly ridiculous as that sounds.

alone in the dark
Screenshot: Jam Walker, Kotaku Australia

Muffled Lovecraftian catawampus

As the story begins, Comer has hired private detective Harbour to accompany her to an old plantation house turned sanitarium to check in on her uncle. After a brief bit of very stiff banter, you’re given the choice of which character you’d like to play (I chose Comer initially). With nobody answering their knocks at the door, the pair split up, with her Comer’s character breaking in through the garage to let Harbour in.

What followed was 8 hours of nonsense that involves voodoo, a cult, and a weird little girl, all of which only barely hung together through the recurring suggestion that Comer’s family carries some vague curse of madness. 

At various points in Alone in the Dark, Comer and Harbour are reunited, and he has no clue what she’s on about when she refers to monsters or entering other worlds. As the credits rolled on Comer’s side I thought okay, maybe it’ll all make sense when I play Harbour’s.

It doesn’t.

The first alarm bell came right at the start when I chose him instead of Comer. It’s now his character that breaks in through the garage instead. There is no ‘b-side’ story structure here, not even in the ‘doesn’t make sense when you really think about it’ way that Resident Evil 2 handled such a device. Barring about forty minutes worth of unique levels and scenes, the exact same adventure plays out regardless of whether you pick Harbour or Comer. It makes even less sense when going through it as Harbour, as instead of the narrative thread of ‘is she just crazy?’, the only throughline for him is that he drinks.

There are multiple endings, but after slogging through my second run, I considered the game’s decision to crash the instant the ‘congrats, u did it’ trophy pinged a signal to stop. Given how low-key buggy the game had been through both playthroughs, combined with how fed up I’d become with having to play it, I simply laughed out loud at how it had inadvertently delivered me the most perfect ending possible.

Screenshot: Jam Walker, Kotaku Australia

Alone in the daft

Much like the aforementioned RE2, you progress through Alone in the Dark by solving puzzles throughout the house. Doing so unlocks new rooms and new puzzles, and on it goes. The twist here is that each chapter will eventually see you thrown into a twisted elseworld where you have to do the same thing while being attacked by monsters. There’s a stealth system the game suggests you use to avoid these monsters. The thing is, on normal difficulty, you needn’t bother. There’s utterly no point in sneaking around, given the amount of firepower you’re given without even really having to search it out. In fact, about halfway through my second run, I realised that even shooting most enemies is pointless. If you choose to simply jog on by, there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it.

There is some satisfaction to be had in opening up new areas of the house, and most of the puzzles required to do so are enjoyable enough. There is one puzzle about halfway through the campaign, which focuses on sussing out the combination to a safe. I’m convinced that the hints given are not a match for the puzzle’s actual solution. A book you pick up in the same room has a reference to the devil as one of its few highlighted keywords, but I’ll spoil it enough to tell you right now that six is not one of the combination’s numbers. Just… ???!??!

Some of the production design is good, and there are moments of mise-en-scène that are truly beautiful. Having the option of playing with the developer’s commentary included and unlocked right from the start is also fantastic, and it’s something I wish more games did.

That’s about all I can say about Alone in the Dark that’s truly positive though.

I hope that this review doesn’t read as particularly harsh or negative because Alone in the Dark truly isn’t that bad. It’s just a complete non-entity, and on some level, I feel that’s worse. The sheer number of half-baked mechanics and disjointed narrative beats make it easy to see what the game was intended to be; it just completely fails to realise its ambition in any area.

There are a lot of games releasing this week. Consider playing one of those instead.  

Review conducted on PS5 with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.

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