“With all of the remakes going on today, you can never be sure what you’ll get at the end.”
It was with this cautious scepticism that veteran game designer, Frédérick Raynal, initially greeted the news of his most famous creation, Alone in the Dark, getting another do-over.
Which is an understandable reaction, given that this franchise has a singularly bad track-record when it comes to being fumbled by outsiders. And that’s putting it lightly, as anybody who has ever played 2015’s risible Illumination will attest.
You see, while other survival horror classics like Resident Evil and (to a lesser extent) Silent Hill have managed to evolve with the times and cling to their relevancy, Alone in the Dark has suffered quite a spectacular fall from grace.
Very few players under the age of 30 will remember the series with all that much fondness, given that its entries have been so few-and-far-between and that the quality of them has been even spottier. Honestly, the Uwe Boll movies are probably what the IP is best known for these days, and that’s a pretty damning indictment if you’ve ever tried to watch those fucking atrocities. Yet despite this troubled history, Raynal seems quite optimistic about the latest reboot from Pieces Interactive. Extolling the project in a new spotlight video, he claimed that the franchise is “in good hands now.” With a very telling emphasis on the word “now.”
And based on what we saw at a recent press conference — where the video in question first debuted — we’re inclined to agree with him. A truly auspicious preview, it confirmed that Alone in the Dark is finally returning to its roots, with plenty of mystery, exploration and atmospheric scares. Not to mention a pair of hot celebrity leads.
Going Back To The Source
Much of Raynal’s confidence seems to be entrusted in writer-director Mikael Hedberg, whom he credits with rekindling the essence of Alone in the Dark.
Incidentally, if Hedberg’s name sounds at all familiar to you, it might be because he helped craft the stories for many of Frictional Games’ iconic horror titles, including Amnesia: The Dark Descent and SOMA. So he definitely has an encouraging batting average.
Praising his successor, Raynal continued: “When we made the first Alone in the Dark, we were basically doing something that nobody had done before. It was the first time that you could explore a big mansion, fight monsters and solve difficult puzzles. All in real-time 3D! I think that Mikael and the team at Pieces did a great job of preserving the core feeling of that [original] game. They went further than I could have expected.”
For his part, Hedberg claims that it was deeply “flattering” to receive Raynal’s blessing in this way. Reciprocating the compliment, he added: “It’s really an honour to be part of the franchise, because it cannot be overstated how much of a novel experience it was [back in the day].
“As a fan, I wanted to bring as much of that as I could to our version […] If you know the old games, then you will find a ton of references here. It feels like we’ve been cultivating a seed that was planted 30 years ago and it has grown into something darker and even more sinister.”
Scrappy Combat and Bewildering Puzzles
Staying true to that vintage Alone in the Dark seems to have been a top priority for Hedberg and his team, because everything about their new remake feels like a deliberate throwback to the heyday of survival horror.
While the last two instalments in the franchise tried to clumsily up the ante and pivot to an ill-fitting, more action-heavy style, this one promises to mark a return to old-school sensibilities. Among other things, it’s got a claustrophobic setting, a gauntlet of obtuse puzzles, and civilian protagonists who aren’t exactly suited for the violent encounters that await them.
Focussing on the latter, Hedberg told us: “Our combat is intense and tough. You will need to use every bullet that you can find and, if you run out, you might need to get in close and hit the [enemies] with a melee weapon. Or if you are lucky, you might find something to throw.”
Accompanying gameplay footage then illustrated precisely what he meant here, depicting a player caught in the throes of a deadly ambush. Cornered by a horde of grotesque, eldritch abominations (some of which look like the oversized bugs from The Mist, while others are more humanoid in appearance), they unload a meekly-powered pistol into their adversaries, before then going in for the swing with a metal pipe and finally lobbing a bottle at them as an absolute last resort.
Although the monsters were eventually defeated, it was still a frenzied, panic-inducing struggle; just as it should be. After all, this isn’t the type of horror game where you are going to be lugging around a vast armoury or gunning down every single creature that you bump into, ala Resident Evil 4 or Dead Space. Instead, you’ll need to play it smart and use your resources more judiciously; choosing when is the right time to fight and when you ought to just flee.
The approach is totally in keeping with those earlier Alone in the Dark outings which, lest we forget, were hardly action-packed experiences. If anything, they were more focused on puzzles and exploration.
Fortunately, both of those aspects will be making a welcome return here as well, with our preview offering a tantalizing glimpse at some devious conundrums. All of the usual suspects were present and accounted for (you’ll be hunting for keys, slotting items into stone reliefs, deciphering symbols etc.), but it sounds like the developers also have a few more challenging riddles up their sleeves.
On that note, you will be able to customise the difficulty of these puzzles — should they prove too arduous — by tailoring how much the game holds your hand. Clarifying how the system will work over email, a spokesperson for publisher THQ Nordic told Bloody Disgusting:
“Going into the puzzles without any aid will require some patience, as well as a willingness to do non-linear thinking and finding your own path through the mansion. Many players will enjoy this; however, we don’t want it to be [an obstacle] for players who enjoy going through the game a bit faster.
“This is why we are offering additional help with puzzles and navigation. [It] will affect how much information you will find on your map, how many hints you get for a puzzle, and how easy it will be to find interaction points.”
From a narrative perspective, Alone in the Dark (2023) will also have a great deal in common with its 1992 forebear.
At the press conference, Hedberg summarised: “We start our story much like the original. In the 1920s, a man called Jeremy Hartwood believes himself to be cursed and haunted by [a malevolent presence] known as “The Dark Man.” He is then admitted into a countryside hospital, in Louisiana, which goes by the name of Derceto.”
His mental state growing increasingly unhinged, Jeremy eventually sends a concerning letter to his niece, Emily, as a desperate cry for help. Plagued by terrible visions herself, Emily is spooked enough by this communiqué that she decides to venture into the Deep South to see what’s going on.
For support with her investigation, she also ropes in private detective — and series icon — Edward Carnby. Together, they’ll soon discover that maybe there is more to Jeremy’s ramblings than first meets the eye, and that a supernatural entity might actually be tormenting the Hartwood clan after all.
Those who are familiar with the OG Alone in the Dark will recognise that the basic skeleton of its story has been kept pretty much intact (a young woman heads to Louisiana in search of her uncle, accompanied by a hired gumshoe). Yet many of the specifics have changed.
Most notably, Derceto has been converted from a quintessential haunted mansion into a private mental hospital. As such, you are slightly less isolated within its walls, sharing the space with a bunch of eccentric patients and furtive staff members.
The fact that you will be interacting with all of these persons-of-interest feeds into the remake’s other major difference. This version of Alone in the Dark is much closer to a noir mystery than your traditional ghost story. The characters each fit into archetypes of the genre, there’s a moody doom jazz score, the dialogue is terse and snappy, and there’s no telling how far down the rabbit hole your investigation will lead you.
According to Executive Producer, Michael Peck, some in the development team have taken to calling this style “Interbellum Horror,” in reference to its unique period setting. Sandwiched between WW1 and WW2, it’s an era that we rarely explore in video games and, when combined with the humid Louisiana backdrop, should give the remake a unique flavour.
Elaborating upon this at the virtual press conference, Hedberg said: “When I first wrote the dialogue […] it was sort of a 1940s thing. They were kind of being a bit catty and a bit funny. With Carnby, we also played on the trope of the detective, which was a lot of fun. It just makes it feel a bit different.”
A Top-Notch Cast
Of course, to embody these pulpy characters, you need to enlist performers who are capable of delivering the lines without making them sound too silly.
Enter David Harbour and Jodie Comer.
Portraying Edward Carnby and Emily Hartwood respectively, these Hollywood A-listers have both had their likeness translated into the game, alongside their facial capture and vocal performances. As the two playable leads (they each have their own separate campaigns that crossover from time to time) they’re obviously going to have a lot of juicy material to work with.
Visibly delighted by how he managed to attract such high-profile talent, Hedberg said: “We knew early on that we needed to find some really good actors to make the characters come to life [because] it’s not like we just used the voices. We can also see their likenesses.
“David seemed to slot on in perfectly as Edward Carnby. [He] has a really strong presence as an actor and he’s able to make the funny moments really funny, but also the dramatic parts really intense.
“Meanwhile, the character of Emily has a closer connection to the plot. She’s Jeremy’s niece, and therefore also suffers from the strange affliction known as the Hartwood curse.
“I felt it was important then that we get somebody who could hold their own against David, and not just come off as some sort of pathetic side character. Jodie is a fantastic actress, and she brings a lot of nuances to Emily. It really makes us sympathise with her.”
The feeling of admiration is clearly mutual, as both cast members had nothing but praise for the script. Making a fleeting appearance in the spotlight video, David Harbour was particularly effusive about the game’s writing.
Describing his relationship with Alone in the Dark, the Stranger Things star gushed: “I knew of past iterations of the game. I mean the video game world is something that I’m very interested in in general. The horror genre specifically.
“[This new version] maintained some of that weirdness of the old games, but it had an updated slickness to it that I liked as well. [Carnby] is kind of a gruff detective and [he’s] hardboiled but he’s got some humour to him and stuff like that. He’s a bit of a trope. And I liked that. And I like the world and how he’s exploring this insanity, amidst all of this horror.”
Echoing these sentiments, Jodie Comer (who is less au fait with the gaming world) enthused: “I love the mystery […] There was so much about it that I was curious of.”
Once again disguising her Liverpudlian dialect — as she did in Free Guy and The Last Duel — the Killing Eve actor seamlessly disappeared into the role of Emily in the footage that we were shown, sporting a very convincing American accent.
About her character, said added: “There’s a lot of fear within her and a lot of speculation, curiosity, dread and intrigue. There’s a lot about her that’s on edge. Yet there’s still […] time to breathe and have a funny moment or a sarcastic moment.”
In the opinion of Hedberg, Comer’s “earnestness” perfectly offsets Harbour’s more jagged edges. It’s like they’re ideal foils for one another.
He hopes that this chalk-and-cheese dynamic will compel you to replay the story at least a couple of times, so that you can see it from both perspectives. About this he said: “It makes the two campaigns that we have more interesting. Depending on who you play, you will get a different take on the same narrative. The people at Derceto will react differently to you […] even the story will be slightly different, so you should definitely make sure to play the game twice.”
If what we saw here is anything to go by, however, then you won’t need that extra incentive to dive back into the world of Alone in the Dark. Indeed, this is shaping up a damn fine horror title and a textbook example of how you go about remaking an older property, with a healthy reverence for what came before and an equal willingness to shake things up.
To paraphrase the franchise’s original creator, it looks like we’re in very safe hands.
Alone in the Dark (2023) will be released on the 25th of October for Xbox Series X/S, PS5 and PC. The game will be priced at $59.99.