What’s Eating You?
How good is Amnesia: The Dark Descent? Or maybe you want to know how scary it is? Let me put it this way; I had to shut the game down a few times to satisfy myself I was absolutely alone in my house. My house is over a hundred years old, and it really doesn’t take a game this creepy to get my imagination going. Considering I play games professionally, this is about as good a testimonial I can give a game. It’s seriously messed up.
If you didn’t like the Blair Witch Project (not the sequel, no one could like that), then you probably love Doom. I use this psychological profiling to make the point that if you like Doom and didn’t like Blair Witch, you aren’t engaging your imagination sufficiently. Things are much scarier when left to your imagination. All too often we rely on visuals to do the work for us, and that’s when things get lame. Nothing can freak you out without permission from your mind, and Amnesia will put your imagination to work in overdrive. I implore you to play this game, but consider a few things first lest you come to the conclusion it sucks. This is not a shooter. You will not have a weapon at all. You are vulnerable. It’s the closest thing you’ll experience to a living nightmare. And don’t expect to see a lot monsters, this is not Doom. The creatures are there, but you don’t always see them, until it’s too late. You can hear and sense them while they stalk you, there’s just not a lot you can do about it except cower in the dark and slowly lose your mind. If this game doesn’t disturb you, your imagination is broken.
It’s difficult when describing Amnesia not to spoil the surprises. I’ll do my best to tap dance around the sensitive areas. Amnesia is a great game, and despite its obviously numerous influences, manages to come across completely original. The story may be old, but the way it’s told isn’t. The movie Memento is definitely one of the game’s biggest influences as the lead character, Daniel, is suffering from memory loss, locates notes he had written to himself during moments of greater cognition. We see other elements from games such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Fatal Frame, not to mention heavy doses of author H.P. Lovecraft, the master of the cerebral macabre. These are all great influences, and fortunately they are handled with respect and great care to generate a horrific masterpiece of unquestionable pedigree. Let’s face it, mixing all these elements can be a recipe for disaster as we’ve seen many times.
As I mentioned, this isn’t a shooter. It’s an adventure game. But it’s more interactive than the standard point-and-click. You have to move the mouse in relation to the action you wish to perform. If you want to open a door you have to click on the knob and pull the mouse in the direction you want the door to open. Same thing with drawers. You will also be able to pick up objects such as keys and insert them into locks. Objects can also be thrown, combined and otherwise manipulated as required. Puzzle solving is a staple of action adventure games. Amnesia manages to include lots of puzzles relevant to the gameplay. At the expense of being easy, the puzzles feel realistic. Some trial and error is required for a few of them, but you won’t be stumped long, nor will you have to do any backtracking as everything you need is in your immediate vicinity. The simple puzzles and lack of backtracking contributes to the short gameplay, but that’s preferred over padding it with redundant content.
My only concern is some of the voiceovers are insanely amateurish. It just astounds me how the developers can be so meticulous on so many levels but don’t have the aptitude for producing believable recorded dialogue. Being aware of an actor reading his lines poorly tends to dissipate the illusion the game is attempting to create.
Immerse yourself into the game the way it’s intended. Play it late in the evening, turn out the lights and put on headphones. See how long you can stand it. Your virtual environment is an atmospheric medieval castle, filled with the remnants of unspeakable atrocities. The darkness is your enemy as well as your saviour, as hiding in the shadows is often your only line of defense against approaching entities. You’ll hear them coming, and the ungodly sounds will tie your stomach in knots. It’s this anticipation that will wreak havoc on your psyche.
While hiding in the shadows, an interesting gameplay element will begin to affect your character as he loses his grip on reality. Insects will visually torment him, sounds will become more aggressively bizarre and even the control system will become affected, making even the easiest move sluggish and difficult to perform. You really feel the need to get back in the light but you can’t until the threat is gone. In the light you are a target, in the dark you are a madman. There is no safe haven in Amnesia, just places that are less horrible. And there’s no shortage of horrifying places including dungeons, torture chambers, morgues, sewers, and laboratories of the damned. Words can’t describe some of the terrifying images these environments conjure. It’s not just the images of clumps of congealed tissue stripped from tormented bodies, or the blood-and-rust-stained, ancient instruments of torture; it’s what they represent. We are forced to confront the realization our ancestors did practice such barbarism, in real life. In such instances, Amnesia is more than a game.
It’s the glimpses of the creatures we see that captures our imaginations and makes us question: what the hell did we just see? And we hope we never see it again. But hope is not something you will experience in Amnesia, helplessness and fear will be your constant companions throughout your journey. The castle is huge, and rendered in an uncanny gloom that chills your bones like a cold rain. Oil can be found to fill your lantern to light your way through the corridors. Tinderboxes will allow you to light candles and torches. The lighting effects are very convincing. The monsters are twisted mutations of only God-knows-what. Sounds emanate from all over the castle, but not your usual creaks, groans, and chains. Many of these sounds are demonically ethereal, provoking your imagination to the breaking point. The music is restrained and subdued, deftly controlling your emotions.
If you’re going to play Amnesia: The Dark Descent in the evening, with the lights out and headphones on, make sure the house is empty. Should someone come up behind and tap you on the shoulder it could be game over. You’ve been warned.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
Graphics provide great horror atmosphere, but can be a little cartoonish at times. 4.8 Control
Excellent interactive use of mouse for a point-and-click style game. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Amazing sounds from Hell, though voiceovers are a weak spot. 4.0 Play Value
Short game with virtually no replay value. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.