Come one, come all! What do we have here then? Another look at the Golden Age of Survival Horror you say? An indie developer embarking on the recent resurrection of the 90’s era of horror games, with pre-rendered backgrounds, fixed camera angles, and spooky going-on?

Okay, enough of the old-timey voice! As AAA survival horror continues to be about remakes, remasters, and … well just that. It’s up to indie devs to take the bold steps and the risks to create new and exciting Ips that bring in fresh concepts and new thrills for new and old fans of the genre. Alisa is our subject for review and one that has all the makings of a cult classic, even to be genuinely mistaken for a game from 1998. But can Alisa make a name for itself as an inventive and loving recreation of a time long passed?

What is Alisa?

Alisa is something of a loving homage to the legendary era that pioneered survival horror, with everything from pre-rendered backgrounds, clunky controls, extremely disturbing monsters, and questionable voice acting. While Alisa does indeed take many elements from a late 90’s survival horror game, it includes a few new tricks of its own.

Centered on a terrifying and surreal ordeal experienced by our leading character Alisa, players are taken to the wonderfully weird and dangerous world that you must escape. Set within the early 20th century, you play as an Elite Royal Agent named Alisa, who finds herself in a said wonderfully weird situation. While chasing a wanted criminal who has stolen vital plans for what appears to be a rather fascist regime, Alisa manages to end up being captured by a group of strange creatures and finds herself in a bizarre Victorian mansion.

Exploring the mansion only reveals more horrors as Alisa desperately tries to find a way out. The mansion is very reminiscing of something familiar (yeah, a little bit of Resident Evil), something that feels ripped out of a Lewis Carol novel. Yet more disturbing as the halls of the mason is haunted by crazed, blood-thirsty mechanized doll-like humanoids. Alisa must survive her ordeal in the Dollhouse by exploring its many layers, solving puzzles, and fighting off increasingly dangerous foes.

Resident Evil in Wonderland

You can see the clear influence for Alisa, with the likes of Resident Evil helping with the setup and general mechanics, while other games such as Koudelka, help with the gothic horror elements and monster designs. Being stuck in a creepy mansion, with plenty of puzzles, death traps, and monsters is a classic premise and while it might be one that seems all too familiar, the most creative of designers and directors manage to implement a certain edge or interesting theme.

Much of the inspiration in terms of the thematic horror comes from the works of Lewis Carol, with child-like fantasy and wonder that takes a much darker turn. Expect to see living dolls that gaze at you with soulless eyes, killer clowns with blunt weapons, deformed and fleshy centipede creatures, and underworld creatures that feel almost Cosmic. Everything here thematically and aesthetically is extremely compelling, disturbing, and while refreshing, feels genuine to late 90s horror.

Expect to be doing a lot of exploring and plenty of backtracking as you go about finding key items, locked doors with bizarre engravings, and as many bullets and first aid kits to ensure your survival against the many denizens of the Doll House. There are multiple, distinct areas to the Doll House, from the central main hall to a makeshift circus, a massive garden where everything organic has turned to metal and a flooded basement, which meets a monstrous underwater lair. The Doll House is incredibly impressive with its various designs, and environments, not to mention the large roaster of enemies. From clowns to knights made from metallic plants to giant walking Heads, the artist/designer has done an amazing job at creating an immensely pleasing and terrifying world to explore.

The story for Alisa holds enough mystery to keep you invested, with certain beats amping the tensions and stakes, while random notes dotted around will add in a layer or two of lore. The general plot might not be the most exciting, and there was some more clarity needed at the end personally (I may have missed a note or two explaining certain things?), but overall, the story is vastly surreal and gripping from the start to finish.

A Blast from the Past!

Aside from creating something so wonderfully disturbing as a concept, the designer Caper Croes, has managed to perfectly recreate the visual design of a late 90s horror game, in such immense detail. While there are quite a few “homages” to classic survival horror, most don’t push far enough to create the actual look and feel of the golden age games that inspire them.

What other games tend to do is simply put in the fixed camera angles and call it a day, yet Alisa is a game that remarkably looks like it was pulled from 1998. With beautifully design pre-rendered backgrounds, sculpting the eerily charming Doll House and all its various interior and exterior designs, as you would expect to see in a late 90’s game of the same nature. But seeing these backgrounds with even the same level of texture compression and slight pixelation shows an incredible eye for detail in replicating something that looks as though it is from 20 odd years ago.

The best way I can descript how I felt seeing these impressive visual details, even to mimic the technical constraints of the time is like watching a good modern film recreation of a bygone era. When filmmakers decide to implement an older style of film or a film within a film that could be from the 1930s for example, they tend to film in digital. Instead of using the technology of the time to make something that feels genuine, they use digital, and it ends up looking too clean and crisp. Whereas something like 1992’s Dracula, where director Francis Ford Coppola, wanted to use only visual tricks and even the same type of camera for one shot, used back in the 1930s when they film the original 1931 film, is a good level of professional dedication. 

It shows a loving touch and professional craftsmanship when these small details are added in, as they really mean a lot.

The music is also darn good. It’s nothing like saying Resident Evil 2/3 level of quality, which was big and dramatic, but Alisa feels more akin to the weird synthetic beats and tones of Parasite Eve 1 and 2. It sounds very good, with each area having its own theme, and even the voice acting has a certain level of “it’s not good, but enough cheese to make it somewhat charming”.

Plus, we have the amazing Youtuber Suzi Hunter “Sphere Hunter” lending her voice talent to portray one of the most memorable baddies in the game. Which was a great cameo, considering her love of old-school horror games.

Old School and New Tricks? 

The goal is to escape The Doll House but to do so, Alisa will need to arm herself, search for keys, items of interest and do some vigorous resource management to stay alive. So, yeah you got your fixed camera angles, spooky house, keys with symbols (and one with an eyeball that moves – nice!), puzzles, and all that glorious stuff.

But there were some things that stood out from the typical formula we’ve seen so many times before. For instance, there is a shop you can visit. I know, a shop?! Shops weren’t a thing for old-school survival horror games? This is most definitely right, but the shop (which is run by a creepy cute hand puppet) itself does seem to fit the tone and general design of Alisa. When you kill enemies, they drop cogwheels, and these cogwheels can be exchanged for small items such as ammo and first aid, or even new weapons and outfits which allow certain benefits.

Weapons are added throughout the game, from a blunderbuss, a heavy pistol, and even a Thompson-style machine gun. And outfits can be purchased to increase damage resistance, reload speed, and even how well you move through water (vital for later in the game). Changing how cool Alisa looks but also offering vital perks and attributes. The guns all felt quite useful, even the slow reloading Blunder Buss (seeing as the next weapon unlocks after the first boss), and could be useful in any situation. But it was quite a shame that no weapons could be found in the Mansion itself, you must buy them all. It’s not a bad thing as you do get enough currency to buy them all, providing you don’t aimlessly spend it all on medkits. But for balancing and even as a means of reward, it would have been nice to find a gun or two.

But Alisa also does well to include a few cool set pieces, including an arena/wave-based hoard mode where you can earn extra cash and even an important item. These moments that broke away from the formula still felt in keeping with it and keep the venture and general flow rather refreshing. The general survival horror stuff is vastly entertaining, with some great enemies, some good puzzles that’s give your brain a good workout, and the overall vibe and rising tension through exploration, where entering a new room could have you breathing a sigh of relief or just saying “nope”.

What is new or different from the formula, even a thing such as a change of scenery from pre-rendered backgrounds to 3D models is a nice change and still manages to keep in the tone of what Alisa is replicating.

A Survival Horror diamond in the rough?

Some camera angles are a bit too obtuse and poison any coherent means of attack and defence. The “Free Aim” was also a bit of an issue, especially against some of the super-fast and smaller enemies. Aiming at 30 degrees rather than 35 degrees at a fast-moving target on the floor would often result in certain death.

Tank Controls for movement, need straightforward tank controls while aiming. And while I did really like the large roaster of enemies, some of them were way too fast and jumpy for my liking. These little ghosts on bicycles nearly busted a vein in my head, I was so mad trying to shoot these guys, and using the melee option can work or just be useless. But most enemies were fine, but when it came to the bosses, this issue of speed came up again. Alisa reloads so slowly, and bosses can move quickly, but stun lock you as well (the first boss, in particular, hammered me to the ground constantly without any breathing space). This is not a great combination and only with a few decent weapons and a helping hand from one NPC from time to time, did these fights manage not to be infuriating.

There is also thought about the first couple of hours and how these vital moments could deter some people away. Now I’m a survival Horror Vet, but oh man did Alisa kick my a*** during these initial stages. By the midway point, when I gather more currency and got into the flow of things, did the game really smooth out and I got into a grove. But the initial harshness could be due to the very clunky aiming, the ridiculous speed of certain enemies, the slowness of Alisa performing certain actions, and the small instances of stun locking which can easily end you, if not drain 90% of your health.

Survival Horror games always allow you a trick or two, or just make everything solid. Tank control aiming is straightforward, while defence items can help you out in a bad situation. As mentioned, the dresses can be helpful, but the first couple you can buy have minimal effects at best. And by not finding weapons, I feel it can give somewhat of a disadvantage. Why not allow players to buy and find guns?

Even if Alisa is meant to be “Souls-borne” hard at times, it can feel biased at times. But as said, when you get into the flow of things, Alisa is incredibly enjoyable as an intense survival horror venture through the madness.


Alisa is what you could consider the ultimate in survival horror homages, taking a few more bold steps to becoming the very thing it aims to mimic. What Alisa does is pretty much be a game from the late 90s, a survival horror game that you could see being played on a Playstation one or even on Windows XP (director Casper Croes has stated that Alisa can be played on Windows XP). While there are some rough edges, especially with some clunky aiming and some enemy unbalancing, Alisa still is extremely charming and absolutely engrossing at the best of times. The look and feel will really amaze you, more so if you come from that era of survival horror, the solid gameplay loop or exploring, puzzle-solving, and fighting for your life never gets old and is done so well here. Thematically, this is one of the best survival horror games I played in recent memory, and can see the passion clearly that went into this.

Alisa is a game I highly recommend to any old-school survival horror fan and anyone new looking to check out the genre should possibly start right here. If there is ever a PSone disc version of Alisa I can add to my collection, I would happily keep it among the greats of the genre.

++ Awesome world design, creature design, and thematic horror elements
++ Looks and sounds incredible  
+ Solid survival horror gameplay
+ Some neat set pieces and puzzles

-- The free aiming does not work well with the general feel of the game
- Some immense difficulty curves and balancing with certain enemies
- Bosses are okay, yet not mechanically interesting

A Steam review copy of Alisa was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.