Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review

As posted on Videogame Jungle.

Gasping for breath you run down the pitch black hallway. You hear the thing behind you – its growling nearing closer and closer. You don’t know which way to go, so you bolt for the nearest door and slam it behind you. But it’s too late. The thing attacks the door with its metal claws, the wood splintering on each hit. In the room is nothing but an old bed, too heavy to move. And then the thing is here. The last of the door now gone, you hide in the corner hoping it doesn’t see you. Your vision blurs, you can barely breathe. And then the thing is upon you. It’s twisted face, the last thing you’ll ever see.

Amnesia might just be one of the scariest games you’ll ever play.

Indie developer Frictional Games, based in Sweden, is a team of five people, but they also do some outsourcing for their projects. And for such a small team, I’d have to say the polish in this game is phenomenal.

From the sound effects to the music, to the setting design, it all comes together to create the best (well… spookiest) atmosphere, topping some of the best survival horror games out there.

Now I don’t normally play survival horrors, and I avoid horror movies like the plague (unless it’s got zombies!), but sometimes I do fancy a little scare in a videogame. To achieve a different emotion while playing a videogame instead of just the usual feelings of excitement, frustration and achievement. From memory the survival horrors I have played include Resident Evil 3 & 4, Alan Wake, and Dead Space. I somehow missed the trains for Silent Hill and Alone In The Dark. All of these games require you to evade as well as shoot the mutant-zombie-things to survive.

However, Amnesia has no weapons whatsoever. And there really is no way to hurt the creatures in the game. So the only thing you can really do is to run and hide.

Frictional Games are big fans of Half-Life and as evidenced by their Penumbra Series, love for the player to stay in first-person the whole way through. Amnesia has no cut scenes to break up the action, though there are loading screens when going through particular doors. Frictional also go for the Gordon Freeman “Look Mum no hands!” approach. Lifting and manipulating objects, watching them hover in thin air, requires a little suspension of belief, but if Half-Life’s anything to go by, you won’t even notice it after a few minutes.

A lot of the ‘moveable’ objects have no purpose other than for immersion’s sake. Pulling books and vases from shelves for example, as well as solving the odd puzzle. But sometimes you’ll need to open drawers or move crates in order to find the game’s hidden collectables.

Among health upgrades, notes and letters from yourself, there are tinder boxes scattered throughout the castle. Each one giving you a light source to light, whether it be a candle or medieval wall torch.

Oil jars are there for your lantern which functions much like its modern equivalent, the torch. But as it runs on oil you won’t be able to have it on every second, so conserve it wisely.

Why so much need for light you ask? Two reasons. Firstly, the obvious, to see where you’re going of course! The castle you explore is rather gloomy, especially as you go deeper underground, where there are no more of those things called windows. Second reason; you (Daniel) are afraid of the dark and the longer you’re in it, the more your sanity starts to drop. This makes your vision blurry, you start to pant and even see things. Like bugs crawling across your monitor, creatures that aren’t actually there, or the environment bulging in strange ways. Your sanity drains even more when there’s a monster nearby, especially if you look directly at it.

The music starts to swell and it’s your cue to get the hell outta there. Crouch down, turn off your lantern and find a darkened hiding spot. Behind desks, or in closets are usually the best places. And whatever you do, for the love of god, don’t move. Sometimes, sure you could make a run for it, but those things are faster than you, and will kill you if you give them the chance. Wait until the music dies down, and then it’s probably safe for you to come out.

Now if for whatever reason, the thing see you, you had better run. These make the god-damn most scariest moments in the game. Much like I described in this review’s opening. Only a few swipes of its claws and the monster will stop you dead in your tracks.

So apart from stealth, you’ll also be needing to don your cleverest adventure gaming hat. Throughout Amnesia you’ll be solving puzzles, some solutions come by using items from your inventory (like the good old days you can even combine some items), where others have you manipulating objects in the environment, much like Gordon-no-hands. Sometimes letters or notes you find are key to solving a puzzle.

Amnesia is mostly linear, but exploring the castle requires a bit of backtracking to find items needed for puzzles, and you can finish some tasks from your journal in the order you choose. Don’t be too intimidated. The game keeps you from getting lost by continuously pushing you forward. It does this by locking certain doors behind you, and falling rubble blocking old pathways (which becomes a bit of a cliché. Sure the place is haunted, but it becomes a bit of an over-used excuse).

The mystery of Amnesia’s story makes the game a much deeper experience. Since waking up in a castle with no recollection of who you are, you have to piece together the story yourself. You find out through letters and audio flash backs of your past about how you came to this place, and more about the castle’s existence. Unfortunately near the very end of the game, once most things were explained, it fell a bit flat. It feels like it jumped the shark with the supernatural stuff. But it’s all about the journey, not the destination, as the developers stress upon starting up the game.

There are three endings, and you can achieve all three by simply replaying the last scene. Each ending gives you part of a code to unlock a super_secret.rar file in the game’s directory. A rather neat and meta bonus for a PC game really. It contains a few making of tidbits, such as concept art, game docs, and early gameplay.

It took me about nine hours for me to reach the game’s conclusion. I was extremely careful but still died about three times. But like any adventure game worth its salt, this can vary greatly if you get stuck on some puzzles, or not know which way to go. In turn these will lengthen the time it takes for you to complete the game! As Frictional Games said, don’t rush it, take your time.

You’ll find times, trust me, when you’re hiding behind a door for five minutes because you thought you saw or heard something. Embrace these moments! Amnesia is not a game about bravery, but about being a complete chicken!

Like Valve’s commentary system, by clicking on floating icons you can play through Amnesia listening to sweet Swedish accents guide you through the game’s creation.

And if that wasn’t enough, you can download the free HPL2 Engine and make your own stories. The software looked a bit complicated for me, but that shouldn’t stop you from playing other players’ fine creations.

When you go and play Amnesia, as you should — you absolutely have to play in the dark, along with headphones. It’s the only way to truly appreciate the scare fest that is Amnesia. It’s a game of hide and seek, and you need to hear every cry, every moan, every heart beat, and every monster breathing.

So load up Amnesia, and find cover with your left pinkie poised above the shift key (run). Just in case some horrible ‘thing’ finds you hiding.

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