By TheAcidSkull 5 Comments
Yeah, I realize I'm 4 years late to the party, but with 2015 being flooded with Amnesia and Outlast-Esque upcoming horror games, I realized that, as an avid horror genre fan, I need to keep up and get acquainted with the first person style of survival horror. Over the years, I've been hearing a lot of overwhelmingly positive comments about Amnesia, in fact, remarks like "mentally scaring" and "paralyzing frequently" frequently appeared, so it finally struck me that I wouldn't be a good horror fan I didn't give this game a chance. However, before I move on to the gruesome details I want you to consider something very important. I want everyone to keep in mind that this is me playing the game after 4 (or technically 5) years, which is arguably enough time to diminish the scare-factor of many games.
This is not the case with the Dark Descent. Yes, it may not be as "paralyzing" for me as it was for others, but to be fair I am not exactly the model for the average person, so moving on...
To say that this game is atmospheric is absolutely a huge understatement. Everything in the game, from the gameplay to the environments is designed to mess with you psychologically. You don't really notice it in the beginning, because most of the scares are are slowly and subtly built. In fact, when I tried to pin point the source of such a nerve-wrecking experience, I couldn't really put my finger on it. After some contemplation though I managed to really work out the small hints the game leaves for you. Lets start with the level design and the environments, which are all brilliantly crafted.
For the majority of the game, you spend going through tight corridors and catacombs, all of which are dark and gloomy. After some time though, you really get use to maneuvering yourself in these tight spots. But just when you think you got the hang of it the game throws something completely new at you. There is a section in the game where you enter an open space, and while, as you are reading this, you may think this is a good thing, let me tell you that it's quite the contrary. Personally, it completely changed my game tactic, which is basically the same throughout most of Amnesia's story. (this isn't a bad thing, mind you.)
Speaking of which, the gameplay in Amnesia really needs getting use to, but once it hooks you, and it definitely will, you won't be able to detach yourself from it. Like I said, almost every single element is designed to make you nervous and fearful, which is probably the reason why there is such a huge emphasis on how you interact with the objects. Opening doors and picking things up is not that simple, in the sense that you can't just press a bottom and expect Daniel(the main character) to hold that object, nor can you just open and close doors with the press of a button. No, the controls are much more intricate than that. Instead of simplifying things the game forces you to manipulate and constantly move around your mouse to perform specific tasks. This increases the tension, especially when you are chased by literally an indestructible foe. That being said, the game doesn't bully the player, in fact, the AI is as smart as it should be, and the developers have clearly considered how your relationship with your enemy should synch with the gameplay.
Anyways, since you have no way to defend yourself from these vile beasts, you're main weapon is running and hiding, but that's okay, since these monsters are much like children; after you vanish for a while they start strolling away. You may be thinking that these enemies are very simple to avoid, but that's completely not true. For starters, these guys can easily kill you, in fact, sometimes it may only take one single shot. Secondly, you can't look at your enemies, nor can you stay in the dark for a long time, because that way the player loses his sanity, and as a result of which you may die. The only way to prevent Daniel from losing his mind is by staying in or reaching a source of light, which may be coming from cracks in the castle, your lantern, or the candles/lamps nearby, but yet again, the game introduces a wonderful mechanic that keeps you on constant edge. The lantern you use runs on oil, and not all hallways are lit by candles/lamps, so you need to be very careful to not run out of resources, otherwise you may gradually lose sanity, which will make the encounter with the monsters way more difficult.
I still want to void talking about the monsters, however, I will mention that there are mainly three types of enemies in the game, all of which essentially simultaneously have similar and distinct qualities. In either case, the game does a tremendous job of showing you the hierarchy among these beings, which is another subtle hint to keep the adrenaline going
THE FOLLOWING SPOILER IS WRITTEN IN ITALICS: In one section of the game you see the most common enemy, The Gatherer, ripped to pieces, after which you face the more rare and powerful enemy called the Brute. So imagine that the enemy, which you are helpless against, butchered by another monster. Kind of makes you more nervous, doesn't it?
Moreover, the puzzles in The Dark Descent are both diverse and absolutely fantastic! By "diverse" I mean that not all puzzles are based on collecting and putting 2 and 2 together, sometimes it can be completely based one's intuition and how well you've managed to fathom the universe in which you reside. Amnesia has certain rules, all of which you need to follow, and once the setting clicks with you, some puzzles become more apparent, but that does not mean that they are any less brilliant. Plus, running around for multiple pieces in a monster infested area really tends to mess with your head. That being said, some of the riddles may be too hard to figure out, simple because the indications given in your notes are too vague to follow; thus, as consequence, your progression may be hindered, as you'll be stuck in one specific area for some time. This, sadly, momentarily takes you out of the experience, and while it's not a huge complaint, I though it was still worth mentioning.
Furthermore, the sound design is absolutely perfect. The game really doesn't give the player any chance to take a break; at almost every turn there is always something going on. It could be either Daniel's heavy breathing, his teeth shaking, stone grinding, or/and the rustling of chains. The point is that the tension rarely ever fades. Also, considering that you can't look at your enemies without loosing your sanity, nor do you want to risk them seeing you, you'll have to rely on the sounds of their moans and footsteps. Otherwise, you may walk right into your own grave. (The monster will slaughter you, duh)
And last but not least, the story in Amnesia is increasingly satisfying. Sure, it's not exactly brilliant, but it aptly fits the universe Frictional games have created. At the beginning, an amnesiac named Daniel finds a note, left by Daniel himself, saying to execute the Baron of Brennenburg, Alexander. The note also warns you of a constant pursuing shadow, which you mist avoid at all costs. From that point on, you receive bits of the story through audio dialogues between two characters and notes scattered across your journey, all of which are narrated by Daniel. Some notes you will come across one way or the others, but some chunks of the plot are not on your main path, so whether you find these pages is completely up to the player, though not everyone may be willing to go the extra mile and look for lore what with all the monsters running around, unless your like me of course. With that out of the way, I can understand why this may a be a problem for some, and on most cased I'd agree, but in Amnesia's place, this style of delivering the narrative is completely fitting for the tone and the general themes within the Dark Descent. The title is Amnesia, after all, so it makes sense to collect and piece together certain details.
In conclusion, Amnesia is a wonderful horror experience. Does it have some problems? Sure, what game doesn't, but considering all the things The Dark Descent gets right it'd be absolutely unfair to knock of point for minor gripes and inconveniences (some of which may have resulted from my own incompetence, like the ambiguity of the puzzles I mention). Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a powerhouse survival horror game even after 4-5 years, which tells us that it is a timeless classic.