ALONE IN THE DARK / Infogrames / PC
Resident Evil obviously cribbed its ideas from George Romero's movies, but the gameplay goes right back to this 1992 release by Infogrames (and their bizarre gay pride armadillo logo). You play as either Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood, two unsuspecting characters who get caught in the attic of an evil-infested mansion and have to fight and puzzle their way out to safety.
Instead of zombies, this game is based around H.P Lovecraft's Chthulu mythology (though there are some very zombie-esque monsters wandering around). True to "survival horror" style, you have a weapon but there is very little ammo about, as well as limited opportunities to heal up. The game is divided up between fighting and puzzle-solving, although most of the puzzles are fairly simple and obvious (the tougher ones involve figuring out what to use to kill certain monsters that can't be killed with conventional weapons). The fighting engine actually has one up on Resident Evil - you have two punches, a kick and a block maneuver, all of which are reasonably powerful, and you can also toss almost any item as a missile weapon to do some damage.
Expect everything to move at a slow pace. Back in 1992, it wasn't such a big deal - the game was breaking all kinds of ground, and we were kinda adjusted to slow computer games anyway. For the modern player, however, the pace is going to be a little off-setting. The default speed when running this through DOSBox is pretty cumbersome, so if you have an emulator front-end or speed throttle that can be tweaked to make software run just a bit faster than usual it might be advisable to set that up for this one.
The game is pretty fun, but it does have a number of hang-up moments that seem unfair. For example, early on the game gives you a sword which you (unknowingly) will need to use much later to kill a particular monster that can't be hurt any other way. However, you have no other weapons at the time except a rifle with a few shots left, so naturally a new player will start using the sword - and then it promptly breaks and can't be repaired. There's a way around this problem, but much worse is the limited amount of oil in the game. You see, it's the only way to kill the final boss, but again you have no way of knowing that ahead of time - if you use it all up, you get stuck in the final area and will probably end up having to restart.
Alone in the Dark was a really neat game for its time, and an important part of gaming's evolution. However, it also hasn't aged too well and is kind of cumbersome to play these days. Worth a look for the curious, and there are a lot of good "make you jump" moments that are still effective even after a decade and a half, but be sure your patience is with you before you check in to the Derceto manor.
* Gameplay video