It’s wild to think that only a couple of weeks ago we got the (official) announcement that a brand-new Alone in the Dark game is in production, and now I’m here at Gamescom having just sat in a room with some of the game’s core development team including Writer and Creative Director, Mikael Hedberg (Writer on Amnesia and SOMA) as well as getting hands-on with a playable teaser that is meant to showcase the game’s identity. I was lucky enough to be shown a presentation on the game and what Pieces Interactive’s approach is to this new title, how it keeps the Alone in the Dark DNA alive and also what new ideas the studio is bringing to the game and franchise.
I feel I must preface this with the admission that I’ve not played the majority of the Alone in the Dark franchise, especially the earlier and more fondly remembered titles, but there’s no escaping its cultural impact. Way back in 1992, it paved the way for some of the most recognisable aspects of survival horror video games that would go on to be the core of global phenomena such as Resident Evil. The creepy mansion, pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and fixed cameras, inventory management, puzzle solving and combat against unsettling monsters.
While the studio isn’t calling Alone in the Dark a ‘remake’ or ‘reboot’, they explain that this new game was actually born of a lot of pieces of the first three entries, very loudly and proudly calling this a “love letter” to the original. The team scoured these older games and cherry-picked bits of lore, characters, themes, key visual elements and more and essentially built out the world of their game using all of these ideas and this history and backstory as a base to tell a new version of the events at the Decerto Manor. Only Decerto is a hospital for the mentally fatigued now, one whose residents are a mix of new and recognisable faces. Still very much haunted, though.
Where its genre companions have continued to embrace and up the ante in sheer horror as time’s gone on, the team at Pieces is taking a more classical approach with this new Alone in the Dark title. I’m told that the new game’s tone is an incredibly important part of recapturing the identity of the originals, with less of the constant ‘terror’ of modern horror games and more of the charm and character of the series’ beginnings. That extends to gameplay too, where combat is a thing but is less of a constant and more of what the studio calls “desperate” situations, ones where incredibly limited ammunition means you’ll more likely be frantically swatting away all manner of grotesque beasties or running for your life than gunning then down in waves.
Part of that important tone is also the setting of Louisiana. Hedberg explains that one of the first things the creative team identified from the first games was that while they were set in a unique and interesting locale for this flavour of horror narrative, players’ experience was still largely confined to the interior of Decerto. And so Pieces has rectified this in Alone in the Dark with plenty of opportunity to explore the surrounds of the manor and potentially even further out to capture the vibe of places like New Orleans, the French Quarter, the swamps and bayous and everything in between to really sell the American Southern Gothic setting. It certainly looked the part in the small slices of gameplay footage that I was shown, which weren’t more than glimpses along the lines of what’s come out in trailers but have me champing at the bit to see more.
There’s no doubt that a big part of what makes Alone in the Dark’s identity so alluring is the crack team of creatives that Pieces Interactive has been able to bring on board thanks to publisher THQ’s backing. Alongside the writing chops of Hedberg, the team also brought on legendary artist Guy Davis to reinterpret the original, polygonal monster designs into something new. They explain that not only did Davis come up with designs that perfectly suited the tone and aesthetic of the new game but also had a lot of back-and-forth with the studio who were very excited to explore the gameplay implications of the new monster concepts. Another collaborator, Jason Köhnen, helped to shape the game’s “doom jazz” soundtrack, which should absolutely sell that American Southern Gothic aesthetic even more.
Something that excites me quite a bit about the potential of this title is a particular one of the four “pillars” that the studio is focussing on in development of Alone in the Dark. Aside from suspenseful exploration, desperate combat and a cinematic story, one of the core tenets is challenging and connected puzzles. What I’m told this means, aside from looking forward to having the noodles in my brain twisted around for fun, is that puzzles in the game have been designed so that they genuinely fit within the game world and feel connected to progression. The designers didn’t want puzzles to simply exist as an extra gameplay element but make sense within the context and add to the Decerto experience. Time will tell if that’s how things turn out in the finished game but it’s a goal I can certainly get behind.
Outside of the presentation, I also got the opportunity to check out a playable teaser of the game that’s also available to play on the public show floor at Gamescom. It’s a short, standalone snippet that features a series classic character, Grace, as its playable character. The teaser only runs for around five minutes but in that short time manages to do a great job of showcasing the game’s identity. As Grace, exploring a small section of the manor that’s been twisted by an unknown force to begin to resemble a swamp (complete with gruesome alligator monsters), you’re able to get a feel for some very light traversal puzzles and a neat little bit of backstory with the goal to post a letter to one of the primary playable characters that we’ll see in the game proper. It feels lazy to make the comparison but it really does feel like one of the recent Resident Evil remakes in the hand, only much more colourful and with that great, jazzy soundtrack permeating. I quite adore Grace as well, with her childlike wit and adorable Southern drawl. I’m gutted this is the only way we’ll get to play as her (as far as anyone knows).
I’ve very quickly gone from cautiously curious to a complete believer in Alone in the Dark after hearing it straight from the team at Pieces Interactive just how much thought and care is going into this love letter to the original games. Psychological horror with a gumshoe detective charm and a unique setting is certainly a compelling cocktail. I’m told the final game should be roughly 12 hours long, which to me sounds like the sweet spot for this type of experience.
Alone in the Dark is coming at an unannounced date for PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PC.
The Author of this article traveled to Gamescom as a guest of PLAION.