Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4.
- Suggested Platform: PlayStation 4.
- Developer: Frictional Games
- Genre: Survival Horror.
- Release Date: 09/08/10 (PC)
- Why Play It?: Revolutionized first person survival horror, and has a great story and atmosphere.
- Why Skip It?: Some of the puzzles are fairly vague, and the game is absolutely terrifying, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent revolutionized the first person survival horror genre, especially the kind that has no combat. Games like Outlast and Slender: The 8 Pages may never have been what they are today if not for Amnesia’s influence.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent puts you in the shoes of Daniel, a man trapped in a Gothic castle, known as Brennenburg, with a severe case of amnesia in late August, 1839. Daniel doesn’t remember what he’s doing there or why, but but he does know that he’s being hunted by something. A journal entry, written by his pre-amnesiac self, offers one main goal: Descend into the Inner Sanctum of the castle and kill the Count of Brennenburg, Alexander.
Amnesia’s story is a beautiful tapestry woven throughout the game discovered by exploring the castle and finding journal entries left from the pre-amnesiac Daniel, notes that Alexander has left laying around, and voiced flashbacks that Daniel will remember as the player progresses. The story is chilling, exciting, and leaves you wanting to explore the dark recesses of Brennenburg to piece together what has happened to Daniel. Both Daniel and the player experience the story together. I would love to give more detail about the story, but I wouldn’t dare spoil a single thing about Amnesia, I highly suggest you take the descent and piece it together for yourself. When you reach the end of your journey, you will have ridden an amazing ride, and with 3 different endings, you can feel free to pick your favorite.
Amnesia’s story is stellar, however the amazing atmosphere and environments only enhance the story, delivering a wonderful one-two punch of a great game. Castle Brennenburg is absolutely huge and incredibly foreboding. The dark grays and blues paint beautiful shadows on the cobblestone floors and walls, and each and every room is littered with interesting things to look at or interact with. Cockroaches will skitter around the floor, ceilings will creak and strain as you pass, doors may open or close on their own… And you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time. As you progress, monsters and other terrifying happenings occur in front of you or just beyond your vision, oftentimes making opening a door to the next room quite the psychological ordeal. You’ll go through many different “levels” throughout Amnesia, despite them being interconnected, but each one offers its own theme, atmosphere, design, and challenges. Not only is the environment great, the pacing is amazing. You won’t actually encounter enemies that can “get” you until a decent way into the game, but they’re often just in the distance, heading to whereever you’re going, usually, creating an amazing tension. Finally the creepy music, voices, and sound effects will leave you shaking in your boots. Really good sound design.
Even if Amnesia was just a story and castle, it would still probably be great. That said, the puzzles and gameplay are incredibly high quality. Castle Brennenburg is incredibly dark. Not only may you have trouble progressing without light (though Daniel’s eyes do adjust to the lack of light after a bit, just like yours would), but Daniel will slowly go insane the more time he spends in the dark. Seeing creatures or other disturbing things, like corpses also reduce Daniel’s mental state. Insanity is a major detriment to Daniel, as the more insane he is, the harder it is to hide from creatures, as his pained breathing makes him easier to find. In addition, Daniel’s vision may distort, making exploration challenging, and he may begin to see and hear things that are not there at all, which is a unique and interesting mechanic. The only way for Daniel to regain his sanity is to make progress throughout the castle, and to prevent him from losing his mind, you must make careful progress while remaining in the light as much as possible. To make this possible, early on, Daniel finds a lantern that can be filled with oil and carried around once lit. Oil is very scarce, however, and so you must manage how often you utilize the lantern. Daniel can also find Tinderboxes hidden throughout the castle, and can use them to light the various candles and torches throughout Brennenburg, which stay lit indefinitely, assuming something else doesn’t extinguish them. The avid explorer will find more than enough tinder and oil, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some tense moments where you must really manage your inventory well. This aids the atmosphere of feeling on edge very well. “Will I have enough oil? Can I afford to explore here right now, or will I be lost in the dark?”
As you progress through Castle Brennenburg, you’re bound to find something barring your path. To progress, you’ll often need to find keys, fix machinery, evade terrible creatures, or even engage in some chemistry. Essentially, the puzzles can be broken down into three categories: Finding and/or combining objects, physics puzzles, and evading monsters. Sometimes a route is barred merely by a locked door, and a key is all you need to hunt down. Other times you may need to gather chemicals and combine them in a laboratory to create an acid to progress. This is your standard survival horror staple, but the combinations and hidden items are often a bit more imaginative than other games of a similar nature, especially the various machinery puzzles. Amnesia does it well. Secondly, you have physics puzzles. In Amnesia, virtually everything can be picked up and tossed around. Sometimes you’ll need to break a wall with a well placed chair-toss, and other times you may need build yourself a bridge or jam a door with items you find. Completing these puzzles on your own really creates that ever-satisfying “a-ha moment”.
Finally, you have evading monsters. Though this puzzle doesn’t occur until a decent way in (again, great pacing), evading a monster is a puzzle nonetheless. Daniel is completely defenseless against the creatures and an only run and hide. If you even look at one of the creatures, Daniel starts to lose his mind, seeing the awful creatures. This is another wonderful mechanic, as you need to see where the creatures are to evade them. Light also attracts them, so to effectively hide, Daniel must crouch in a dark corner, again, losing sanity due to the dark. Running, too, can trigger the creatures. Sanity and avoiding monsters becomes a delicate balance to manage, and only helps to add to Amnesia’s great mechanics and stellar atmosphere. Another great thing about Amnesia’s monster encounters is that enemies tend to disappear once you’ve successfully gotten past them, unlike games like Outlast, where enemies will constantly and annoyingly patrol the same area.
I only have a few qualms with Amnesia. The first is that sometimes, the puzzles can be pretty vague with few to no hints about what must be done. This can often lead to some faffing about as you try to figure it out, wasting precious resources like oil and tinderboxes in the process. I know on my very first playthrough, I had to consult a walkthrough on multiple occasions to figure out what to do, though not where to go. Next, Amnesia is a fairly short outing if you know what your doing, meaning your first playthough of Amnesia will be your best playthrough. Subsequent playthroughs of Amnesia can be really short if you know what to do and where to go, as the mystery and “a-ha moment” no longer exists.
If you like good stories, dark and creepy things, or good puzzles, look no further than Amnesia: The Dark Descent. If you’re not a PC gamer, Amnesia: Collection just released on the PS4, for $30, containing this game, the add on story, Justine, and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Though Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the crown jewel of the collection, I’d say each game is worth a play for sure.