Monday, 26 May 2014

Alone In The Dark (1992) - An adventure game?

A 3D logo! Impressive for 1992.
 Alone In The Dark is the classic example of early "survival horror" gaming. It's a genre popularised by Resident Evil, and generally involves a lone protagonist in a B-movie horror setting. More modern examples tend to concentrate on gunning your way out of trouble, but Alone In The Dark was no third-person-shooter. Bullets and guns are hard to come by, and some of the malevolent creatures you meet are indifferent to your attempts to kill them by conventional means. (here's a retrospective over at IGN)
The game has some wonderful visual moments, and I love the book-based credits.

Perhaps we have this all wrong, and Alone In The Dark is in fact the first 3D adventure game?

Decerto - setting for this Lovecraft-inspired horror adventure

I began this line of thought after spending time over at The Adventure Gamer blog, considering what actually defines an adventure game. Certainly there is a lot of variation, from the text adventures of the early years to the lavish 3D series that are produced today. For many fans of the genre Lucasarts and Sierra are the classic examples, as they produced their finest works during a golden age for the genre in the 90s.

Someone, or some-thing, watches you arrive

At their heart, adventure games are about puzzles. But they are reliant upon a narrative structure to provide context for these puzzles. The puzzles are there to lead you through the narrative, to bridge the gap between an interactive novel and a simple puzzle game.
As a quirk of the engine, moving/interactable objects were all 3D. So this suit of armour stands out as something to remember.

If Alone in the Dark were a 2D, Sierra-style, point-and-click game, it would easily fit in to the adventure game genre. I would argue that it is merely it's appearance and control scheme which separate it from traditional adventure games. However, Grim Fandango shares a similarity in general appearance (albeit much more modern) and nobody would have any qualms about describing it as an adventure game. (see also: Quest for Glory V, Kings Quest 8, Simon The Sorcerer 3D, etc.)
The attic, where you begin. It requires you to think on your feet from the start though.

The other possible method of differentiation would be the game's use of combat. Adventure games have generally avoided action-based conflict, but there are plenty of examples that use action sequences or have combat throughout. Most notably of these is the Quest for Glory series (generally considered an RPG hybrid however), but combat is also seen in Mask Of The Betrayer, and the Space Quest series has had it's fair share of action or arcade-style sequences.

Letters and books contain clues for puzzles, as well as plenty of interesting information about the setting and plot.
It's the puzzles and puzzle-solving which I think truly place it in the adventure game category. You have an inventory, you pick up items throughout the game and you use those items to solve puzzles. The game lacks dialogue, but does have plenty of books, notes and such which provide clues and context for the plot.

A fully functional inventory system, with 3D display for your items!
Overall, I think this makes for a rather compelling case. However, I wouldn't necessarily extend this to the entirety of the survival-horror genre, as each game will have a different focus. Certainly the amount of combat in the Alone in the Dark series was highly variable.

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