Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC) Preview

Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Sunday, June 27th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Previews/amnesia/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Frictional Games are known for developing some of the finest and frightening horror experiences around. Despite what Microsoft might tell you, it's very suited to the PC platform, where the series has found its home -- thanks to the "lean in" and perhaps more hands on approach that comes with the platform, one could argue the experience is at least a little more immersive.

None of that changes with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the spiritual successor to the aforementioned series which I've gotten some hands-on time with. Particularly when compared with Black Plague, Amnesia seems to be about all the elements fans are familiar with, now with a new story and gorgeous graphics.

It's still first person, combat is all but absent, and there's plenty of challenging and rewarding puzzles. An intrinsic mechanic is the emphasis on light and darkness: staying in the latter too long drains sanity, so you must use potions, tinderboxes for torches, and your own lantern with a limited supply of oil to make your way through in one piece, which is harder some times than others.

The first person perspective may turn some off, since it may appear to be a point and click game, albeit one with 360° movement and animation. This isn't exactly untrue, but it doesn't feel that way; it feels like you are this character, trapped in an 18th century castle with no memories, trying to find a way out while being haunted by visions and discovered diaries you and others have written -- everything else is secondary.

I recall hearing the news of the Silent Hill remake being altered so enemy encounteres were designed only to be escaped and being rather skeptical of that. Amnesia has certainly turned that silly perception of mine on its head -- avoiding combat is actually more terrifying, here. You feel vulnerable, utterly human, and with no weapons to rely on, your only thoughts are of getting the hell out of there, and using barricades or other methods if necessary to accomplish that goal -- some great footage of this can be found here.

Unfortunately enemy encounters were few and far between in my time with the preview version of the game. These certainly aren't the only method of inducing full-on terror, but I have to admit I never experienced that from my playthrough, which came as a dissapointment given all I've heard about Penumbra (e.g. scariest damn games ever). However, the pacing is perfect, assuming that feeling is to come in the other two-thirds of the game, and I look forward to finding out come release time. Even if not, Amnesia already feels like a must-play, if not for a completely mortifying experience.

As before, puzzles play a large role. Frictional pulls them off well; much of the time they feel like "real" puzzles and not contrived. You really have to open your mind up at times, too, and quit thinking the game operates within a certain set of paramters (it does, but like the point and click mechanics, it doesn't feel that way). My favourite puzzle came near the end where I had to start up a machine to get an elevator running and proceed to the next "level." This required tracking down objects, interpreting letters, avoiding enemies and more over a large section of the game -- the end result was very satisfying.

Puzzles and progress are never too frustrating, either. Smartly, after completing a certain area, you can no longer backtrack, which cuts down your list of possible places to find solutions or ways to proceed. In some games this would be a detriment, but in Amnesia, it's a relief.

The story is easily a highlight, and I enjoy how it's told completely through visions, notes, diaries and letters seen and found throughout areas -- this allows you to paint the picture yourself, the pieces of which come slowly, over time. Not knowing the full background at once definitely ups the atmosphere, similar to, let's say, BioShock.

It's also a very original story -- something increasingly rare these days -- and the writing is easily some of the best I've ever seen, as you can tell from the screenshot above. The game and its presentation are in some ways also strikingly similar to 1999's Shadow Man -- an honorable comparison, best understood by this video.

For horror fans of all types, whether gamers or not, this is one you must look into. For fans of the Penumbra series, it's a no-brainer.

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