Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, September 6th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/amnesia_dark_descent/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
When I had my first look at Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I noted while there were moments of real fear, the experience as a whole was disappointing in a sense, as it came up short of being completely mortifying. Having played the full version, I can happily tell you that's changed.
The game, or "interactive horror experience" as the developer might prefer to call it, is a first person adventure set in 19th century England. You play Daniel, a seemingly sensible man caught up in matters of the occult, and of course, suffering memory loss. The story is told through various visions and notes as you play, and it's masterfully written -- easily one of the best I've seen in gaming.
I use the word "play" loosely, because Amnesia is undoubtedly the most stressful title I've had the pleasure of experiencing. This review has taken a little longer than expected partly because the only proper way to play, as you'll see, is at night without lights, and with a good pair of headphones and the volume blasted, and partly because it's at times so immersive and terrifying, I could only play in short bursts.
I'll give you an example, leaving some details out so you can share my pain when your time comes. One section sees you traversing a dark and dilapidated part of a castle (the game's setting). You spend awhile figuring out this miniature maze of sorts, then suddenly spy a monster. Just looking at these guys (or whatever the hell they are) drains your sanity (a wonderfully maddening mechanic), and sends the in-game "music" screeching and pounding into your ears. But there are no weapons to be had, so you run as fast as you can, hiding out until eventually the moment passes. You're lucky this time... In another, similar moment I could see the monster's shadow on the wall...that didn't help tension any.
After some serious thinking and a good amount of time spent wandering some more, you finally figure out how to pass the next obstacle. "Phwew!" you think, "I can finally get the hell out of here and hopefully somewhere less--" Oh but wait, that monster guy? He's back. In fact, he's directly behind you. The noise kicks in louder than ever, and he brutalizes you just as you think to run. It's at this point I literally screamed out loud, threw down my headphones, and said, "No, no no no..." and had to stop playing for awhile.
I consider myself pretty "tough" when it comes to this sort of thing, but I've got no problems admitting Amnesia horrified me.
It's not purely about terror, though: it's also a beautiful work. Similar to Risen, there's a feeling of warmth and also grittiness -- a fabulous design perfect for the atmosphere, and with some glorious architecture to boot. Graphically, Amnesia is absolutely impressive and can stress even some of the latest hardware with lots of fancy effects and settings, but also scale well to fairly old stuff, too.
Between the scary bits, there is relief in what I call "moments of holiness" -- you'll encounter a few downright angelic bits accompanied by equally lovely music. Puzzles are also on hand -- solving them and progressing will heighten your level of sanity, which suffers fairly often, particularly in dim light and with those monsters about. The puzzles are sometimes a bit obscure, but putting yourself in the experience as if it were your own will likely get you thinking resourcefully and able to move forward, which is a treat in design, really, as it doesn't much feel like design, if you know what I mean.
On a related note, one point I really admire Amnesia on is the sheer emphasis on the atmosphere. There is no quicksave or checkpoints as such (that's all taken care of for you); no health bars or anything like that -- the exclusion of both really amplifies the experience.
Keeping in mind I reserve these terms for the rarest of occasions -- I must say Amnesia is a masterpiece of horror, something surely all other horror games could take from and in some senses, strive to be. Frictional sticks just enough to classics like Myst and Silent Hill while venturing down their own path with their own innovations, too. It's damn near perfect -- the only weakness perhaps being its brevity (well, that and some even more intense insanity effects would've been nice). Since you likely won't be playing for extended stretches (lest you're willing to put up for therapy bills), it should last you about a week with roughly 10 hours of total playtime. At the $20 price point, this is more than worth it, though you may find yourself wishing to be able to pay more for more content. The developer commentary does provide some added value, however; there's also a "Custom Story" mode -- this refers to fan-made experiences, a very promising-sounding feature.
If you love horror, there's no two ways about it: you must play Amnesia.
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