As you peer round each dark, gloomy corner and gently open every creaking, splintered door, your evil, twisted subconscious is sitting gleefully in your brain, pulling all the right chords to make you scared out of your mind.
Amnesia is Frictional Game’s second horror series (after Penumbra). You play as Daniel, a British researcher who chose to forget about his past at Bennenburg castle. You start the game on a stone floor with no memory of how you got there, or even who you are. A note from your previous self instructs you that there is a shadow chasing you, and that you must kill Alexander in the Inner Sanctum to save yourself. As you explore the large, ominous castle, you begin to realise you are not alone, and that horrible, gruesome creatures skulk the hallways in search for fresh meat.
Whilst in most survival horror games, a simple pistol, or even the classic crowbar or wrench would be suffice to dispatch of any organic obstacles in your way, in Amnesia, you have no weapons. No way to defend yourself. If you see an enemy… hide. Just hide (and think of your happy place if it helps). Each area of the castle brings back memories for Daniel, as well as the numerous notes and diary entries scattered around the environment.
It is fascinating how Amnesia chills you to the core so very well. Whilst the monsters are scary, its the absence of them that’s even more terrifying. Looking down every looming corridor, you are just waiting, waiting for that unmistakable ‘blah’ or moan of a monster. But Amnesia: The Dark Descent never gets predictable. There isn’t a jump scare round every corner, and nor is there a monster after every completed objective. Moments of terror are neatly segmented by puzzle sequences and scenes without any monster appearances at all. Amnesia always seems to know what mood you’re in, and as soon as you start to lower your guard and settle into the game, it jolts you awake with a lumbering, grotesque form of some sort.
Amnesia doesn’t blow everything all at once either. In the first few levels, you may not even see a monster, only hear it. The game progresses you forward, heightening the stakes, yet not overwhelming the player.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is really dark, figuratively and literally. Almost all areas in Amnesia are awash with this impenetrable black hue that can only be lifted by lighting a candle or flame torch, or holding up your lantern. But you only have limited amount of tinderboxes and oil. Obviously, bathing the castle in light is illogical. Not only will you quickly run out of supplies, but monsters can see you much more easily in the light. Incidentally, if you hide for too long in the shadows, your mental health deteriorates rapidly until you’re no more than a shivering figure lying on the floor in the foetus position sucking your thumb.
As for music… well, Amnesia takes atmospheric sound to the extreme. Sound in Amnesia couldn’t really be described as music, rather a tool to reflect the player’s mood and events that transpire in the game. When you see or hear a monster, the sound remixes into a steady beating rhythm. A high-pitched screech lets you know when a monster has seen you, and it only gets louder the closer the monster gets. When you complete an objective, the game rewards with respite to the usual concoction of audio suspense with a relieving, enlightening chime (make the most of it, it’s very short lived).
Unfortunately, the game does have a very minor audio glitch. When listening to some of the audio tapes, the game cuts in a couple of seconds from the start, meaning you miss some of the beginning words. Nothing terrible, but worth mentioning since it’s the game’s only flaw.
But beyond the main campaign, and the additional DLC ‘Justine’ that comes with the game, there is an almost unsurmountable number of mods and custom stories made by the community for you to download and try. You can head over to Frictional Games’ forum to check out the latest and the best mods out there for Amnesia. If the main story didn’t scare you enough, I guarantee, the community will have concocted a sea of horror in the shape of one mod or another.
All of these subtle gameplay choices culminate to make the most genuinely chilling and consistently heart-pounding experiences you are ever going to play in a virtual reality. Frictional Games are obviously professionals in the horror genre and Amnesia: The Dark Descent is their best creation yet.
Publisher: Frictional Games
Description: A Scary-Ass First-Person Run-and-Hide Horror Game
Pros: Effective design choices that leave you terrified, atmospheric sound, extended replayability through custom stories.
Cons: One small audio glitch.