Insert Disk collects Alone In The Dark 2 for the PC.
Today’s retro game review is Alone In The Dark 2 for the PC. This retro gaming classic is the focus of part 2 of the 4 part Insert-Disk Alone In The Dark Mini Series Where we will take a look back at Alone In The Dark, Alone In The Dark 2, Alone In The Dark 3, Jack In The Dark, The New Nightmare, Alone In The Dark 2005 and Alone In The Dark Illumination. Perfect for Halloween.
Following the success of the original Alone In The Dark 1993 saw the release of the widely anticipated sequel. The originally named Alone In The Dark 2. The series took more of a mystery and puzzle solving approach compared with the gothic horror style of the original. Expect ghost pirates and a sequel that divides opinion to this day.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. You join today for part 2 of the Alone In The Dark Mini series. During this series we’ll be revisiting the original Alone in the Dark Trilogy as well as the spin off game Jack In the Dark, The New Nightmare and we’ll also take a shorter look at the more recent attempts to reboot the franchise. We left off last time having looked at the original disk based Alone in the Dark for the PC. A game that helped begin the survival horror genre as we know it and also show that physical box presentation was still very much alive.
Today we’re going to have a look at the next stand-alone game in the series, Alone in the Dark 2 but before we do I’d like to quickly cover the Alone in the Dark entry that often seems to be forgotten in retrospectives. Jack In The Dark. For the early adopters of Alone in the Dark the first pressing came with this original artwork and disk only formats. However, there was a release which you can think of as either the version 2 or 1.5 release. This came on CD, the shiny new darling of media formats. In 1992 the Pentium was gaining hold and the introduction of CD drives on PC’s was becoming more standard. For this reason a specific CD based release of Alone in the Dark 1 made a lot of sense. However, we had all run out and bought the floppy disk version of the game so Infogrames would have to sweeten the deal for us to adopt the CD edition. This spawned the promotional Halloween / Christmas spin-off game “Jack In The Dark”. Packed in to the 1.5 release as a taster of CD technology and a decent sampler to get us all interested in the scheduled 1993 release of the true sequel.
Jack In the Dark is beatable in under 10 minutes if you know what you’re doing. It features a child visiting a toy shop to rescue Santa from a group of demonic toys. For what it is its very charming. The darkness of the first game is mostly absent here in favour of more slapstick approach as the child gets the stray toys under control. The game doesn’t contribute much to the series narrative although it does have a cameo of a jack in the box called one eyed Jack. It’s definitely worth a play through if you can find a copy.
This brings us on to the Alone in the Dark 2 full retail release. 1992 has kick-started the series and the sequel was much anticipated. As you can see from the cover, the reviews were rather spectacular: 94% from CVG, 95% from Sky 1’s Games World, 9/10 from PC Review and 97% from PC Zone, their “Highest Rated Game Ever”. So as you might imagine gamers were flocking to the stores to get hold of this game. Upon initial release for PC the game was simply titled Alone in the Dark 2 with the tag line “A new virtual mystery starring Edward Canrby”. However, the 1996 re-release in Europe titles this one as Alone in the Dark 2: Jack is Back and can be found on the PlayStation1 and Sega Saturn. In the US this title would be further changed to Alone in the Dark: One-Eyed Jack’s Revenge. It’s fair to say that both the 32-bit editions look much better than the PC edition after their reworking. Added narration and cut scenes really add a different feel to the game. The PC edition is very much in line with first game, lots of polygons and some very awkward controls. This time around the plot is much more of a mystery and it’s hard to justify Alone in the Dark 2 as a horror game, action mystery just seems much more fitting as there is lack of any real gothic horror so prevalent in the first game. The story is very much around rescuing a girl called Grace from gangsters and pirates and does not necessarily sit well against the first game.
The puzzle elements of the game are as strong as ever and the game is arguably more ambitions in terms of setting and story arc. However, I feel that the game was a bit of a miss-step for the series. What worked well in the first was the slow methodical nature of solving puzzles to progress. There were of course enemies to fight but this element of the game was always the weakest due to the control system. However, Alone in the Dark 2 seems to focus in on the need to fight various enemies. This really doesn’t play well to the strengths of the mystery elements. Instead focussing on the rather creaky combat system. It’s a shame because if done well they basically would have created a pirate edition of Resident Evil, instead we get a game that is a bit of a mission to play at times. That’s not to say that the game isn’t enjoyable. There’s plenty here to enjoy once you get past the incredibly punishing opening sequences with the garden guards. Edward Carnby’s role of supernatural private eye comes in to play well throughout the game and is the real link between parts one and two. Overall the game isn’t quite perhaps what fans were expecting and received mixed reviews from magazines of the day. The original PC edition is often cited with favourable reviews. However, the PlayStation version released in 1996 was launched after the first Resident Evil game making it instantly inferior which is a shame because this is where Alone in the Darks decent really begins. Tragic irony as the game series it did so much to influence ultimately became more well-known with younger generations of gamer.
The good news though for collectors is the physical release. As with the first game Alone in the Dark 2 certainly doesn’t disappoint. So, let’s address the elephant in the room which is the magazine feedback of the day. Basically 9/10 being the lowest score and these were from bonefide PC magazines of the day. Whilst I’m slightly down on Alone in the Dark 2 it’s because I have the luxury of hindsight. The graphics and execution for the day, although they have not dated well were cutting edge. The size of the game and the general scope was very ambitious. I also wanted Alone in the Dark 2 to be pure horror experience similar to the first entry. However, that wasn’t the plan. The series is pitched as a mystery series, not horror. Once you come to terms with these facts then the ratings all begin to make a little more sense. After all, as much as we all tell ourselves that Alone in the Dark helped found the survival horror genre it also helped found this type of mystery adventure too. Before Alone in the Dark horror mystery was very much confined to text adventure and point and click if you were lucky.
The physical box gives some great insights in to game marketing at the time boasting 50 hours of gameplay, 70 characters, 210 backgrounds, 600 3D objects and 1500 animations. This was indeed a monster of a game. Also, check out those required PC specs. 2mb ram, VGA 256 colours and 14mb hard disk. Interestingly you don’t even need a Pentium processor to run this game simply a 386 or 486 processor running at Mhz. This blows my mind when I see how far we’ve come and how talented programmers of the day were to create such rich experiences with so little resource. When I collected this one some years ago I also opted for the 9 disk edition because, well I’ve always been a bit of a fan of these things. CD ROMS were still a bit like witchcraft to me back then. For full collecting disclosure this is technically the second pressing of Alone in the Dark 2, printed in 1994 as it contains the on front ratings. The original has exactly the same content though.
So, what do you get inside? A rather well constructed box and, oh jeez there’s those 9 floppy disks. 1.44Mb of high density goodness. Then the rest of the good stuff. A rather nicely laminated manual with all of the usual instructions. A registration card which you can post back to France if you wish. The 1993 Infogrames collection brochure. Interestingly still plugging Alone in the Dark part 1 and coupons for free demo disks. However, it’s the last 3 items in the box that are perhaps the most intriguing. There’s a very interesting form to send away for a hint book. Fill in your name on a declaration and post back for a hint book for just £3. The lamp logo overtime became synonymous with the series and appears in many places over the course of the series. The other half of the card though is really fascinating. It invites you to become a Godfather to a friend. Simply add your name and a friends name and Infogrames will send out 2 decks of Alone in the Dark playing cards. I particularly like the address: Infogrames Ltd, Detective Department. These little touches really go above and beyond to help make Alone in the Darks world feel more real and blurs the lines of reality with our own. Also, how desperately does everyone want those decks of cards now?
As with the original of the trilogy though the star of the show has to be the Mystery Examiner Xmas issue 1924. This newspaper gets you right in to the mood with tales of kidnapping, references to the original mansion case, adverts for in game health potions and subtle hints as to the games sub plots. Quite frankly this is a most brilliant piece of gaming history. It neatly ties the game together and develops backstory in to some of the off-screen part of the world. Also, a rather enticing advert to “Blow big holes in criminals!” advert. Modern publishers take note, this is how you create emersion. Last but most certainly not least is the card deck. As far as poker hands go not great but what they will do is allow you to read a security code to get you in to the game. With piracy all the rage in gaming Alone in the Dark had some real fun here with the fans. Simply hold the correct card up to the text and get that code.
What’s more the box fits very well alongside the rest of the trilogy. So, is Alone in the Dark 2 worth collecting? Whilst not as influential as the original you certainly get a lot for your money here. You get a challenging pirate based mystery adventure and for any trilogy completionists it goes without saying that the physical edition is a real treat. Back in 1993 this game really was the talk of the town. In a more modern setting, it looks rather dated, plays a bit wooden and there’s so much more that came later in mystery adventure gaming to explore.
For a pure nostalgic hit though I’d still recommend Alone in the Dark 2 for those curious to learn about the earlier days of the horror mystery adventure genre. With decent sales of parts one and 2 Alone in the Dark would see its next release in 1994. The imaginatively titled, Alone in the Dark 3. This would be the last of the original trilogy but with an aging engine and competition from the 32-bit console market creeping in how would it fare? Find out in the next episode for ghosts and cowboys as I finally ditch the disks in favour of this new-fangled storage system known as the compact disc.