Reviews: Amnesia The Dark Descent

I'll never be scared of another horror game again.

The game is...terrifying. Most survival/horror games at least give you someway to defend yourself. This game removes that commonality as a whole; the only way to live is to hide. Say what you will about the story; it's not exactly the game's selling point. It's not terrible, but obviously not the first thing on your mind. Running from mutilated, deformed fleshies is what you will be most concerned about. That, and lighting up the place...

The sounds are quite well made...that's really what gets you sometimes. The whispering and voices in your mind, the creaks and wind howling in that damned castle....Brr. It still gives me chills thinking about it. Headphones and playing at night are a must. Don't even try to do it any other way, it blows the immersion. (At least try to play it at night) The atmosphere is constantly on you. Sometimes you'll feel as if you're the smallest thing in the universe. Everything in the game is there to make you afraid. The walls, paintings, etc...hell even friggin' drawers. At least, that's the way it felt...

Stuff just isn't scary anymore. This cursed game numbed my nerves. Unless something better comes along, I think I'm stuck not being able to enjoy the horror elements of games anymore...

  • enty
  • 11th Jul 13
  • 1

Not Perfect, but Absolutely Terrifying Regardless

Let me start by saying this: I did not play this game as recommended. I lack a good headset. Playing during the night only was too impractical for me. Perhaps the biggest strike against me, though, is that I never expected to get the game myself, and so watched a Let's Play of it a few months before I got it. But, to tell you the truth, I might not have been able to get through it if I had.

You've probably heard this before, but this game is terrifying. It knows what you are scared of and exploits it with sadistic beauty. The atmosphere is one of the best parts of the game; every corner feels like there's something around it, every room feels like there's something in it. However, unlike quite a few other horror games/films/etc, there is a notable absence of jump scares, and I applaud this, since it really contributes to the scare factor when monsters don't leap out at you and roar in your face every second. Another thing the monsters won't do is ambush you at every corner. Part of the scare factor is that you can't predict (well, most of the time) when they will show up and so, are constantly looking out for them.

Another great thing about this is the gameplay, which, while pretty basic, still does a good job of fitting into the game's genre and mood. Many times during a chase, you'll have to choose between two things that could either save you or kill you, such as pulling out your lantern to protect your sanity (which, when it gets too low, makes you easier to see) or keeping it off to avoid being seen. Also, the game encourages exploration, which, while you're in a dark, monster-infested prison cell, is quite nerve racking, but still worth the scares for the extra items.

This is not to say that Amnesia is a perfect game, there are flaws to it. For example, one can predict many attacks using a simple process: 1) Am I in a room? 2) Was there a puzzle in the room? 3) Did I complete the puzzle? If the answer is yes to all three, you can expect the monster to knock on the door. Besides this, the monsters have a habit of playing their theme music when they attack, which is enough to tell whether or not they've left the room, the story is predictable, and the latter parts can fall a bit flat.

But there are so many things that the game does right that Amnesia remains a masterpiece. If you have a firm stomach, definitely check it out.

Probably great, if only I could play it

I happen to be someone who can get motion sickness from too much shakycam. I'm sure this is a great, scary game for everyone else - I felt the tension and general jumpiness as I started - but unfortunately, the fact the game's screen has some kind of a perpetual vertigo effect filter specifically designed to emulate the POV character being dizzy meant that after about fifteen minutes I had to make my boyfriend do the playing while I watched because I was getting seasick, and fifteen minutes after that I couldn't even look directly at the screen anymore. After trying to pay attention out of the corner of my eye for maybe ten more minutes, I had to recuse myself to the bathroom and throw up my dinner. And we weren't even at any of the scary bits yet.

If you're prone to motion sickness from wobbly visuals, be prepared; this is probably not the game for you. Nothing against the game itself, which I'm sure is lovely, but don't buy it until you're sure you can play it.

An uninspired frightfest

I look how well a horror game delivers, not only by the emotions and scares it gives, but whether it lingers in my mind like a stone in the shoe. A week later, I remember how strange I felt when the PC (Player Character) has to suffer egg-grinding noises, waiting in the darkness for the monster to pass by. Do you hear that, that's the sound of your Sanity decreasing! If you're lucky, you get to see bugs crawl on your screen like a screen-saver, and even motion-blurred mouse control if your sanity gets low enough. Sanity here is an arbitrary metre, the designers seemed to think it makes the darkness more frightening than it should, and that you should appreciate ze light sources more. But in actuality, it is just an imposed contrivance, a gimmick. The only real problem from lack of sanity is.. fainting. Waaagh!

Apart from the use of sanity/light dichotomy, the core game mechanic relies on hand-control - the drag and drop akin to adventure games where you have hands-on control of your surroundings. It reminds me of Half-Life 2's physics, it's intuitive and there's potential for its adoption in later games, instead of simply pressing E to move boulders. Although there were some puzzles that took advantage of this feature, I feel the game should use it much more besides simply nudging things. The other puzzles are just picking up objects and finding the right hotspot to use them at.

Now looking at the game's horror, I found it dull. Brennenburg Castle didn't feel like a real castle at all, I was just exploring linear Castle-themed levels. The art design lacked that special touch, leaving things amateur and unimmersive for visuals and audio. The music is standard goth chords.

My biggest gripe is that throughout the whole game, I felt that the developers were trying too hard to scare the player, and it shows. "This is a scary part, now FEEL SCARED." The delivered "horror" is as nuanced as Sgt. Hartman using every trick in his handbook and screaming his recruits into submission. From the beginning, the disclaimer, "Don't play to win. Play to be absorbed," to the bland cutscenes interspersed. And all the hints that pop up in sections, "This is a monster! Hide!" The story is Lovecraft-lite: I must run away from Ze Gooey Shadow and Monsterz N The Castle, and on its own it isn't provokingly scary, but clichéd.

Stupid story; serious scares

Personally, I am not afraid of the dark.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent has changed this.

It is the single scariest game I've ever played, and even now, playing through it for the 11th time, it can still give me the chills. The atmosphere is simply perfect, as you're constantly expecting something to attack you, even in what few breather levels you get. And the best part? More often than not, nothing attacks you... And that just makes it worse, because you know that the longer it takes for something to attack you, the worse it'll probably be when it does. Even before you catch a glimpse of a monster, you're still holding your breath whenever you turn a corner or open a door.

The sound is just perfect, with soft music that you barely notice, hallucinations of footsteps around you, and the disgustingly freaky sound of the protagonist grinding his teeth that you hear when your sanity gets low enough.

However, that being said, the story itself is a little... Well, stupid, to be honest. Up until a certain point, it's all fine - the protagonist (Daniel) erased his own memories, so we can assume something has been going on, especially when a note to yourself informs you that you have to kill the Baron of the castle, Alexander. From there, it goes into the story of why Daniel is there and why he must kill Alexander. In the 3rd part of the game, this story just kind of seems to give up, and dives into a pool of clichés that most would probably have seen coming. It feels as if the creators spent months and months coming up with the best ways to scare people, the scariest sound-effects, the best physics you can get for a game... And then at the last second remembered that they needed an ending for the game and tagged this one on.

This, however, is not bad enough to distract too much from the actual gameplay, which is simply amazing, even if it basically boils down to "Find Alexander. To do this, solve puzzles, go through dark rooms, and occasionally hide from monsters as you have no way of defending yourself whatsoever".

In short, Amnesia is, in spite of its flaws, very much a game worth playing, especially if you're just out for a good scare.