Alone in the Dark Review

The cult classic returns, re-imagined

By Paul Hunter

I always love me a good survival horror game and when I played the Prologue demo for Alone in the Dark back at Tokyo Game Show 2022, I could tell we were in for something special. In it, you step into the tiny shoes of Grace Saunders and venture around the iconic Derceto Manor to get a first taste of the creepy psychological horrors that await you in the full release. Fast forward a year and a half and the game, which is developed by Pieces Interactive and published by THQ Nordic, has arrived on PS5, Xbox Seris X|S and PC.

Alone in the Dark reimagines the 1992 survival horror cult classic with modern-day visuals, enhanced audio design, and some great implementations of the DualSense controller on PS5. Like in the original, the story begins with Emily Hartwood travelling to Derceto Manor with private detective Edward Carnby after receiving a disturbing letter from her uncle Jeremy Hartwood, who's gone missing. And also like in the original, you can play through the entire campaign as either Emily or Edward.

Your character selection has a much bigger impact than simply who you control over this eight-hour experience. For one thing, NPCs will react differently depending on whether you're Emily or Edward. In some cases, cutscenes will play out in new ways with noticeable tonal shifts as NPCs who may have been hostile towards one playable character may be more amiable to the other—and vice versa.

Another change is while both stories start out more or less the same, eventually, they'll diverge allowing you to visit new areas unique to each character. Some collectibles can only be found by specific characters, so if you want to 100% the game there's an incentive to play through both campaigns. Finally, the two heroes each have a personal 'trauma' to overcome, with original cutscenes for each, and separate trophies tied to completing them.

The basic gameplay loop in Alone in the Dark has you spend the first half of each chapter exploring Derceto Manor, interacting with characters, gathering clues and solving puzzles. The second half of each chapter will transport you into strange and hostile nightmare worlds, including Ancient Egypt, the dark city streets of New Orleans, a dilapidated steamboat and the fictitious Convent of Taroella.

Puzzles in this game hit the sweet spot of testing your logic skills while never being too obtuse to prevent you from solving them. But you'll need to actually pay attention to all the written clues and books with drawings to solve puzzles, as oftentimes solutions are found within. Thankfully, not only is there voiced narration for every page of text you'll collect but you can also zoom in on the drawings to take a closer look. Puzzle types are nicely varied and include staples like finding keys, locating lock combinations and using bolt cutters, along with more compelling ones like cleverly arranging X-ray photos, manipulating light beams and rotating puzzle pieces to complete an image.

The nightmare worlds are mostly fun, particularly because of the nice visuals and interesting level designs. For instance, the steamboat segment is set in the swampy Louisiana bayou and has detailed images of vines growing through in interior while the sweaty midday sun shines through the broken windows. The Ancient Egypt temple has a twisty level design with clever shortcuts and mysterious levers and light sources to tinker with.

One element that does underwhelm though is the loose and imprecise combat that feels more like a chore than adding excitement and tension. The fleshy zombie-like enemies look nice and are surprisingly versatile, in some cases they'll crash through doors or even break through walls with sudden intensity. You'll acquire a range of weapons, including a pistol, shotgun, machine gun and flare gun but aiming them precisely is a challenge, especially when enemies hit you and knock your reticle way off course. There are also input delays that often turn battles into random blind fire matches that look awkward and waste ammunition.

The good news is nightmare worlds focus more on exploration and immersion, and in both of these areas the game excels. Rooms will suddenly shift into creepier, deadlier versions of themselves, and strange anomalies often appear out of nowhere to give you the chills and then disappear in a flash. While the sudden room shifts can give you a jolt, the pathway forward is usually clear and keeps the action flowing.

Actors David Harbour (Edward Carnby) and Jodie Comer (Emily Hartwood) deliver great performances and the characters even have their likeness to boot. The supporting cast is mostly good as well, particularly the hodgepodge of mentally fatigued individuals who are staying at the manor for rehabilitation are quite eccentric. Story-wise, Alone in the Dark treads familiar grounds revolving around a clandestine cult, a dark ritual and a terrifying otherworld being, but it still managed to have a few interesting twists that I didn't expect.

Alone in the Dark does an excellent job of respecting your time as a player with some genuinely helpful accessibility features. Firstly, you can toggle on map highlighting, which will mark your map if there's a solvable puzzle—eliminating the lull of aimless walking. Next, you can opt to have important text highlighted in the many notes you collect, cluing you in puzzle solutions. There's also an option to turn on dynamic objectives that outlines all the sub-tasks you need to complete before tackling a main puzzle to progress.

Along with the excellent visuals, the audio design is equally impressive. There are a lot of sudden supernatural sounds that startle you when rooms shift into nightmare worlds, and you can hear evil creatures through walls that forewarn you of their presence while also elevating the tension. On PS5, the DualSense haptics and adaptive triggers give combat extra punch to further immerse you into the haunting world and some puzzles use the controller speaker to good effect.

The Verdict

Alone in the Dark offers a compelling world filled with interesting characters and engaging puzzles, brought together with its great ambiance and immersive audio. Combat is sloppy and could use refinements, although it wasn't enough to deter me from thoroughly enjoying this eight-hour descent into madness and double that if you play through both campaigns (and there are many good reasons for doing so). There have been a few reboots of this franchise over the last 30 years, but this is the best one yet and hopefully is the start of more Alone in the Dark experiences to come.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

Alone in the Dark details

Platform: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Developer: Pieces Interactive
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Genre: Survival Horror Adventure
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.