Polygons in the dark…
France is a leading country in the video games industry and known for developing MANY excellent video games. So I was actually pretty worried that I would have to decide among an entire list of French games. But when I asked my French friends what game I should play they all answered immediately “Alone in the Dark“. I found a version (also for Mac) on www.gog.com for 5$. Alone in the Dark was released in 1992 and is considered as a breakthrough title because of the innovative use of 3D-graphics and as the first survival horror game. It is named on several “games-you-have-to-play-before-you-die”-lists and if not – it definitely should be.
In the beginning you would choose your protagonist: Emily or Edward Carnby. I chose to play Emily. The first minutes of the game feel like a detective story. The story takes place in 1924. Emily’s uncle Jeremy hanged himself and she wants to go to his “creaking old mansion” (named Derceto) to eventually find a note explaining his decision. Some hints already lead to suspect a hidden drawer in the piano where she hopes to find the suicide note. Then the game starts with an intro. Polygon-Emily enters the mansion (whoops – the door closes as if by an invisible hand) and walks up (and up and up) the stairs to the attic. First, looking at the graphics and hearing the story I expected some kind of point-and-click detective adventure. BUT as soon as the actual game begins, there is no clicking or any mouse interaction at all and it is clear- this game is different. The controls are pretty unusual, the cameras are fixed with dramatic angle-changes, and the gameplay is not entirely clear. So you would move her polygon-body through the room until the music (great music) changes and a dinosaur/bird-thing would jump into the room from the window. Emily dies and a random zombie drags her to her grave. The game ends with an extremely cool outro-scene and the typical “Game Over” message.
Lucky me saw this pretty cool outro-scene many more times. This was most probably one of the shortest game experiences I had. Ever. And this would happen again. And again. (And again.) So this is how it feels if stories from H.P. Lovecraft meet DOS game: horrifying frustrating. Survival game mode = save the game every minute. After getting used to the controls and finally also discovering the “fighting” mode and how to use weapons, I was able to concentrate on the story, the atmosphere, and the puzzles. Entering room after room (saving and saving) you would immerse more and more into this polygon-world. And even though we are probably already extremely used to fancy and realistic 3D graphics, the 3D art in this game was the aspect I appreciated the most. One can feel all the effort and care the developers put into this game, developing the innovative 3D technique in an atmospheric and engaging setting.