Part of me feels a bit redundant when reviewing a game like Amnesia. Well, more so than any other game, if only because pretty much everybody knows the game to be a scary good time, and I don’t have much in terms of an argument to that. Heck, I only own it thanks to a Humble Bundle I threw $5, and decided to play it because I like to have a diverse order of games to play so I am always feeling different flavors of the good stuff. Actually, the mostly unrelated sequel is coming out in a few days, so I can just use that justification.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review
Release Date: 08/9/2010
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Rig: AMD FX-8320, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7770, Windows 7 64-bit
Amnesia: The Dark Descent follows an amnesiac named Daniel who found himself in a very dark Prussian castle with a note written by himself that mentioned a man named Alexander. Who he must find while being chased by a mysterious shadow that is causing him to ever so slightly descend into madness. So the title certainly is fitting. Regardless, with the remainder of the overall narrative being found through a series of set pieces littering the cobblestone corridors. Along with pages of Daniel’s diary, all of which are conveniently discovered in the order he wrote them.
An aspect that I criticized before when included in games, as action shifting to text is a rough transition at best. But the voice overs for all of Daniel’s diary entries, and the fact that the game is very much rooted into the survival horror genre do make their inclusion feel far more appropriate. A genre that I must admit my lack of experience with as my copy of the Resident Evil remake still remains unplayed, and classics such as Silent Hill 2 remain out of my reach.
Though I think the whole generational gap and lack of a PS2 justifies that somewhat, not that I need much prior experience with the genre to say that Amnesia does not do its genre a disservice. Throwing you into a first person perspective is the first big plus, as there is something comforting to have an ever present avatar crawling through the darkness, which is removed when the most their only shown body part is their left hand. With a sanity meter allowing for the screen to bob over and filters to be gradually applied as Daniel’s crystal clear mind becomes distorted with everything glossed over, and teeth literally chattering as he makes his merry way.
With the rather massive establishment being more of the focus anyhow, as you go through the remnants of a middle aged domain with the intersplicings of industrial equipment thrown in for flavor. With a limited amount of light, whether it be from tin biscuits to light up candles and torches, or your trusty lantern with a dependence on the bits of oil you can find. Adding to the tension as you will need to stew in the dark, something made all the worse by how there are obviously monsters lying around. Most often in the form of tall shambling zombie-like creatures, they are a very interesting choice as they managed to instal dread whenever I saw them, while looking downright dumb.
Which may sound like an insult, but if anything it is plausible to make someone fear something that would only, and totally does, make your box art look like a cheesy sack of it. Though, I would argue that the audio really takes the cake, as its looming ambiance can make even a brightly lit area feel like an uncertain hall of death and sorrow, with there always being something crawling around, and the transition from carefully placed fear to downright horror being only a few notes away. Made all the better by the occasional bursts of noise that erupt from Daniel’s warped psyche, and bugs that crackle in spite of how you flung a chair at them in an attempt to silence them.
Which I did quite often, as when the game is not being a chilling slice of tense fun. It dons the guise of a puzzle game, specifically the old timey adventure game, except one where they put all the essentials in a place where most players would instinctively see it,and only hide your lamp oil. Leaving the majority of the puzzles being a mix of seeing what makes the cursor pop up or what has a light around it and is not a bringer of the ever so holy light. Which are all very conveniently placed, at least for the most part. Yes, I suppose that I should’ve figured that two parallel rooms needed to be similar, but dropping the word “symmetrical” in the note wouldn’t have hurt either. Same thing with the pipes that somehow stuck themselves to the wall or the secret brick of progress that looks just like every other.
Though the game would’ve certainly been lesser without the inclusion of these little obstacle courses. If only for how you only are focusing on the things that go bump in the night, so they’d likely get old exceptionally quickly. And it’s not like combat would be very appreciated, especially with the game’s in-house engine that lets you throw chairs about or open doors like a normal person would. Well, assuming their arms were invisible.
Instead, it’s mostly just hobbling through the cobblestone walls contemplating whether it is safer to crouch in the corner or flee to another area, which actually doesn’t look too shabby given its humble roots. Sure, the game is mostly just stone corridors with a handful of wooded rooms attached, and getting those two things right should be expected, but everything glosses over rather well as Daniel goes from crystal clear to a speechless state of unimaginable terror. Represented by the music thumping and screen distorting because what else would you do to portray temporary insanity?
I kid, after all there are very few things that can be considered truly horrifying after you step outside and take a closer look at them. Amnesia is not necessarily one of those things, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t crawling up into a corner while a biped walked about, squeaking as it only brushed past me. It manages to do both craft a world where I knew things were going to screw me over, while also making me shake in my boots. Which is pretty much all the game set out to do, so here is a gold star for you. Let it shine through the caverns, assuming you didn’t amass oodles of tin biscuits.
An impressive product, but won’t always astound due to a fair number of flaws that are difficult to ignore. Still worth your cash and a few hours of your time.