Amnesia: The Dark Descent | Review (Looking Back)
Being chased by monsters with no means of which to defend yourself is a whole new level of fear created in this game.
Acclaimed as one of the best survival horror games of recent years, Amnesia caught my eye with its fresh perspective on terror; you cannot fight enemies, merely run away or hide and try to survive and escape. With a sequel imminent – Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs – which is one of the most anticipated horror games of 2013, I knew I had to immerse myself in the world of Amnesia before it’s release to fully appreciate how far the game has come.
You play Daniel, a man from London, who wakes up in a large empty castle with, you guessed it, amnesia, and so cannot remember how he got there or where he is exactly nor anything about himself or his past. Through a note that Daniel has written to himself, he discovers that he has wiped out his own memory and must descend into the Inner Sanctum to kill the castle’s Baron; Alexander. There are rarely any cut scenes to advance the story, instead Amnesia uses audio flashbacks as Daniel starts to regain his memories – usually when entering a new area – or through text documents – letters, journal entries – found about the castle. As the story unfolds you discover you are in Prussian Brennengburg Castle, owned by Baron Alexander, who has been executing strange experiments of a seemingly occult nature which have let loose some vile monsters throughout the castle which relentlessly search for Daniel.
Played in the first person perspective, you must search the castle and try to escape, however each area is usually filled with puzzles to complete or keys to find in order to progress. Puzzles usually consist of fixing machinery or combining objects in order to advance somehow – for example, combining compounds together to create a substance to dissolve a biological mass that is blocking your route. Opening and closing doors is done by clicking with the mouse then pushing or pulling, which allows for stealth as you are able to look through the gap in the door or close the door quietly to avoid being heard by enemies. However this also adds to the unease as you can’t see behind you whilst using the door and so may have an enemy sneak up on you.
Objects are stored in an inventory on a separate screen which also has Health and Sanity indicators – a heart and brain, respectively. There are vials of Laudanum dotted around the castle to increase your health should you get attacked, however your sanity slowly drains whilst in the dark or through witnessing unsettling events and staring at monsters; and can be regained by staying in the light or by solving puzzles and progressing. Losing your sanity completely merely makes your vision blurry and Daniel fall about over the place, which can be awkward if being chased by an enemy.
When seen by an enemy your only choices are to run until you are out of sight, hide in nearby wardrobes or to shut a door and try to barricade it as best you can with objects nearby such as chairs, rocks or crates, however most enemies are able to break down these doors after a few hits and will continue to chase Daniel and attack. Amnesia does not provide any weapons what so ever to defend yourself with, which I found to be utterly terrifying as nearly all games in the Survival Horror genre that I have played in the past give you something, whether it be a gun or even a measly 4X4.
The monsters that stalk Daniel throughout the castle are results of Alexander’s experiments and are deformed creatures with grotesque features that stumble through the corridors, often in areas where a simple puzzle must be completed or where you are trapped until you find a key to the next area. There are also water monsters that are in the flooded areas of the castle. You cannot see them; merely know their location through the splashes and ripples in the water. Usually, some precariously placed crates or surfaces are in these flooded areas to provide some relief from the chase or to allow you to turn a handle to open a gate that is blocking your way. Sometimes, the best method in these situations is to find a random body part in the water or on a shelf and throw it into the water to distract the creature as it will feed on the flesh and give you a few precious seconds to jump back into the water and do whatever needs to be done to escape. After my first time experiencing the water monsters I found myself utterly dreading my next encounter, however, these parts are not over used and so do not become repetitive or boring.
The majority of this game is puzzle solving, and, as I am terrible at puzzles, I found I spent most of my time getting frustrated just trying to figure simple things out. I would personally class this as a puzzle game with horror elements – it is scary, and should take roughly 7-8 hours to complete, but as I spent most of my time stuck on puzzles, it took me roughly 11 hours to complete.
As this is an indie game, many people have taken it upon themselves to create custom stories within the Amnesia universe, and so there are many, many extra downloadable stories to complete, with the number increasing all the time. I have yet to try any of these for myself, however I feel this is a fantastic way to increase a game’s replay value – seeing what people other than the main developers of the original game have come up with story wise and what new creatures, environments, puzzles and scares await upon your return to Amnesia.
Developed by Frictional Games, this game is mainly available to download via Steam although there are apparently some physical copies available for the PC in Europe. However you go about it, please play this game, and play it now before the release of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, whether you are a fan of horror games or not. This game is fantastic and really shows the possibilities of what can be achieved by an Indie Game’s Studio and must be played to be fully appreciated.
Version reviewed: PC