I genuinely get a whole-hearted sense of happiness when indie developers come together, or work solo to create amazing games, particularly survival horror titles. Lone Survivor, Tormented Souls, and Echoes of the Living are to name a few. But the one that really stands out in recent memory is Casper Croes golden age-inspired survival horror, Alisa. I reviewed this back in early 2022 and was thoroughly delighted at the pin-point late 90’s survival horror aesthetics, interesting dynamics, sense of challenge and general creepy vibes pulled off. Revisiting the game now that it’s launched for consoles, I have some new thoughts, but mostly the same admiration as before for the creation of this charming and spooky, doll-infested survival horror.

What is Alisa?

Alisa is a loving homage to the legendary era that pioneered survival horror, with everything from pre-rendered backgrounds, tank controls, disturbing monsters and subject matters, and questionable voice acting (but in a lovely, great kind of way). While Alisa does indeed take many elements from a late 90’s survival horror game, it includes a few new tricks of its own to make it stand out from the crowd.

Players take on the role of Elite Royal Agent Alisa, who finds herself stuck within a highly disturbing scenario that feels like Alice in Wonderland meets James Wan. What starts as a thrilling espionage of stolen war plans, and chasing war criminals, turns into a venture through a sinister Victorian mansion, that’s home to all sorts of killer dolls, tormented beings, and something much worse.

Exploring the mansion only reveals more horrors as Alisa desperately tries to find a way out. The mansion is very reminiscent of the classic 1996 Resident Evil game, with twisted drippings of a Lewis Carol novel. The crazed, mechanized doll-like humanoids stalk the corridors with only the urge to kill Alisa on their minds it seems, while other horrors lurk in the shadows, ready to expel unimaginable torment. Yet there is much more that lies under the surface of this mansion. And to resolve the mystery and make it out alive, Alisa must explore the labyrinth of gothic horrors, uncover the many layers, solve lots of testing puzzles, and fight off increasingly dangerous foes.

Wow! What a mansion!

The best way to sum up my feelings for Alisa is as a comfy survival horror roast dinner. It’s a hearty and familiar meal that has all the right ingredients, cooked to perfection, with a side that somewhat differs from what you’ve seen or had before. But also with a dash of something that doesn’t taste bad, but doesn’t seem correct.

All the right elements are there, from an expansive and compelling environment, littered with dozens of rooms, each hosting either a death trap, a puzzle, both of the previous things, monsters, secrets or something a little different. You can see the Resident Evil influence right with the general mechanics, fixed camera angles, and clunky fight-or-flight combat. monster designs. Everything feels put together by a loving fan of the genre, without adding in those tricky contexts of pandering, or die-hard fandom.

It's familiar, but strange. And it’s really good.

I love the creepy thematic horror infusing the fearful stillness and deadly silence of dolls, with warped Lewis Carol vibes, all brought together by what you could see as a talented small studio in the mid to late 90’s. You’ll 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.

The multiple, distinct areas of the Doll House are all fantastic, 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 main thing you will be doing here is surviving of course, and that is something of a challenge to newcomers I assure you. On my first-ever playthrough of Alisa, I was whooped plenty of times and barely made it through. There are several factors for this, including very limited resources, no multiple difficulties, and your resource which acts as cash, being used for weapons, ammo, outfits, and even save your progress. Not to forget there are some annoying enemy behaviours to deal with (but more on that later).

On my revisit for this review (well, quite a few revisits and replays), I felt much more accustomed to the brutality and doing rather well for myself. Why may you ask? Well, it’s a shame to admit, but there were plenty of instances where I managed to cheese enemies, attack them, and defeat them easily due to a simple tactic or running around them and stabbing them with my sword.

Now, to be fair not all enemies were so easily dealt with, and I praise the variety of enemies in the game. There are some which appear once and never again, giving the world a much more interesting density and sense of character. But there were many enemies which felt too similar in mannerisms and attack patterns, making them easy to figure out and defeat. And I didn’t mind so much as some of the smaller enemies are incredibly annoying due to their speed, ease of evading your attacks and managing to take off chunks of health in a matter of swipes.

…. And the stun-locking from enemies (and some bosses), is utterly ridiculous.

But aside from these troubling features for combat, is it fun? It is actually! As mentioned, there is a great variety of enemies throughout the house, it’s the underground and outside area. All ranging in beauty and deadliness. The bosses are a lot of fun in their designs and scale, and on revisit, appreciate the more dynamic elements. Even though at the core the fights are straightforward, I admire the variety in mechanical density and the presentation for each one. There’s just so much creativity in the encounters, monster designs, thoughtfulness in their placement, and so much more.

But Alisa has more layers of complexity for its gameplay, thanks to the inclusion of outfits which boost stats from defence, faster reloads or being able to swim like a fish. Plus, the selection of weapons is one of the best in survival horror gaming I do say so.

Feeling like I’ve been taken back to the 90’s

And I’ve said this before here and in my original review, but Alisa nails everything when it comes to the authentic presentation. I mean, Casper nailed it, and I’m still kind of blown away at how well it all comes to be. From the grainy pre-rendered backgrounds, stilted, but quirky animations, great use of colour, textures, and simple environmental animations, and the sound design make Alisa feel like it was born in 1997.

The best comparison I can think of is 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 filmed the original 1931 film. It’s using old retro tech, but also mastering the constraints to create something wholly compelling and beautiful. As said by Orson Wells, The enemy of art is the absence of limitations. And that shows here, as it did with the old survival horror classics of the bygone era.

The music is also bloody good too. 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 terrific, with each area having its theme, and even the voice acting has a certain level of “it’s not good, but enough cheese to make it somewhat charming”.

Except for one track in the Big Top area … this was just plain awful after hearing it again and again … I was basically that John Tron meme of him on the roller coaster ride …

But everything else was great!

A subtle blend of lateral thinking and extreme violence … like Resident Evil?

So, expect to be doing a lot of exploring and plenty of backtracking as you go about finding key items, unlocking locked doors with bizarre engravings, and scavenging as many resources as possible before your time comes to an end.

There are plenty of puzzles, ranging from pretty good, to a couple which were painful (a sliding pin puzzle, which even die-hard Alisa fans hate – you can see in comments on YouTube). The issue is the lack of context or ultraminimal UI, which removes an indication of what you need to do. For repeat players, it’s no problem. But newcomers will be stumped a few times and it’s not your fault. It’s a shame that while some hints and new accessibility features have been added in (which is amazing, especially the auto-aiming which is a God send!), that there haven’t been some tweaks to critical moments and puzzles. But in all fairness, there aren’t many moments like this, and once you do figure it out, you know for next time.

But the fact Casper listened to a lot of feedback and even threw in more outfits and new additions adding to the replay factor is above amazing. And the quality-of-life changes, while minor, do allow some breathing room to new players, and returning ones. And the new note about the elevator puzzle, which was a massive oversight in the original release, was the biggest relief I could have hoped for.

There are still some small hindrances, like aiming at fast enemies still being a gigantic pain! There is enough in weapon variety, and environments have a lot of space to move around in, then it does balance out rather well.

I just feel that Alisa nails its presentation and held my attention through its 8-to-10-hour original run with a gripping mystery, tension-rising beats, high stakes and high rewards, while its weird thematic quirks both unnerved and intrigued me. The general plot might not be the most original, but I liked Alisa, her surroundings, and the weirdos she met.

The gameplay is solid, with great problem-solving, exploration, and resource management while dealing with a diverse host of enemies and issues. While there wasn’t an item box in sight, I still felt the sting of managing my items and my health. But above all, all the quirks and additions from the outfits, secret items to discover on replay visits, and the little discoveries such as the fishing mini-game and so forth, really flesh out Alisa as one of the best old-school inspired horror games in the modern era.



While Alisa still has some odd jank, and oversights here and there, the overall vision remains compelling and made even better with some great quality-of-life inclusions, with the Director’s Cut. Alisa does a stellar job at recreating in near-perfect detail, a fantastic survival horror from the late 90’s era of gaming. So much so it could be played on older hardware (director Casper Croes has stated that Alisa can be played on Windows XP).

Alisa is still an extremely charming and engrossing old-school blast from the past at the best of times. As a long-term fan of the genre, I was still amazed at the solid gameplay loop, exploration, puzzle-solving, the new dynamics such as the outfits/stats, mini-games and the insane replay value that make Alisa simply one of the best.

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 greatest of the genre.

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

- While the auto-aim is great, aiming at faster/smaller enemies is still difficult
- Some immense difficulty curves and balancing with certain enemies
- Certain UI elements are needed, along with clarity on certain puzzles/events

A PS5 copy of Alisa was kindly provided by the publisher for this review.