: Amnesia: The Dark Descent
: Frictional Games
: THQ/Frictional Games
: Windows, Linux and Mac OSX
: Survival Horror
: September 8th, 2010 (Steam), February 17th, 2011 (Retail)
This game from horror studio Frictional Games is overflowing with cathartic experiences and disturbing imagery, from the second you load up this title you know that you are in for a ride.
When Amnesia: The Dark Descent was released two years ago it took the survival horror community by storm. For many people, this game was so scary that it was rendered almost unplayable, especially in the second and third acts. Videos of people playing the game and their terrified reaction to the gameplay went viral and quickly flooded YouTube and similar sites.
Set in 1839’s Prussia, Amnesia: The Dark Descent tells the story of Daniel, a young man that awakens trapped within the dark and dusty halls of Brennenburg Castle. Daniel quickly finds a note written to himself in which he learns that he has erased his own memory and is tasked with descending into the depths of the castle in order to kill Alexander, the Baron of Brennenburg.
Armed only with his wits and dubious sanity, Daniel must navigate through the maze like corridors of the castle and face the occult horrors that live in its shadows. Throughout his adventure he will have to solve puzzles and hide in darkness in order to survive his dark descent.
Amnesia does its best to hide the fact that it’s an independent title, especially in the graphics department. The visuals lack the polished, high resolution look that many gamers are accustomed to, however are very effective at creating the scary atmosphere the Amnesia is all about. In combination with the effective use of lighting and the sanity meter (more on that later) the player is mostly oblivious to some of the relatively low resolution textures that are present in The Dark Descent.
Where Amnesia’s graphics engine really shines is in the lighting department. Since lighting and shadows plays a big part in the gameplay aspect of this title, it should come as no surprise that the lighting effects are stellar. Shadows dance and respond to your interactions with candle and lanterns, and since in many cases your only option is to hide in the shadows, the game engine really shines in this aspect.
As most horror fans know, music and sound play key roles in scaring audiences and creating a dark atmosphere that makes you feel uncomfortable. Simply put, Amnesia knocks it out of the park in the sound department and it comes as no surprise that it won the “Excellence in Audio” award at the Independent Games Festival.
Since most of the game is played in the dark, oftentimes you will depend on your sense of hearing to orient yourself and to avoid any potential dangers that might be making their way towards you. Amnesia also takes a page from the Silent Hill playbook and fills your speakers with static when a monster is approaching or is just around the corner. Women and children faintly cry for help, while a distant nameless entity groans and causing your character to whimper in terror. All of these subtle background noises combine to make Amnesia a great auditory experience.
We should also mention that the musical score is top-notch. While it is low-key enough that it won’t bring you out of the game, it certainly does help set a foreboding mood as well as compliment the sound effects in order to create a dark atmosphere.
The Dark Descent is a first-person title where you will also be asked to solve a series of physics puzzles similar to those found in Half Life 2. Movement is controlled though the keyboard while you interact with objects with the mouse. Controls are highly responsive and simple, since the game lacks combat you will spend most of your time exploring and moving around Castle Brennenburg.
Amnesia has a couple of quirks that set it apart from other games in the genre. Firstly, your character is entirely defenseless against the monsters that inhabit the castle; there is absolutely no combat in this game. If a monster sees you, it will hunt you down and kill you, helping create a powerful atmosphere of defenselessness and true fear. Your only resources are to hide, barricade doors and create obstacles for your assailants. This is a truly nerve-racking experience.
Borrowing from the Lovecraftian style of horror like other titles such as Eternal Darkness, Daniel has a sanity meter that can warp and distort your surrounding and you gameplay experience. Stare at a monster for a long period of time or hide in the dark for too long, and your control over your character will start to wane and unsettling sounds will start to creep into your speakers. As a manner to counteract this, you can avoid monsters and stay within bright areas, but beware. Tinderboxes and lamp oil, which are needed to shed some light on things, are scarce resources, so make the best of them and use them wisely!
The story is mainly told through notes and diaries that you pick up as you go, along with the occasional flashback. While some might find this survival horror trope a bit annoying, we believe that it really helps reinforce that sense of isolation and create a sense of fear of the unknown. Throughout the game
Technically speaking, this game is relatively short. Once you know the solutions to certain puzzles and enemy patterns, one could blaze through this game pretty quickly. However there are several endings to the story as well as a free hour-long expansion pack available entitled Justine that certainly compliments the Amnesia experience quite nicely.
Amnesia is one of those unique titles that are an experience in itself. It is scary, tense, atmospheric and will leave you feeling unsettled after a while. However it is an experience that becomes much less potent once it has been played through in its entirety. I would contend that this title’s lasting appeal is found in playing it with others and playing it together with friends. While it is a single player game, sometimes nothing is more entertaining than watching your friends jump with fright.
Like most survival horror games, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is not for everyone. The non-existent combat might scare some people away and for some the game might be too frightening and/or depressing to play from start to finish. In a time when most survival horror games are actually action horror games and are stripped of their power to frighten us due to the action aspect, I believe that Amnesia is a step in the right direction and will scare you like no other game has.
Simply put, if you enjoy being scared, tense and viewing disturbing imagery, Amnesia is the game for you and will haunt long after you have finished