I shivered. I was startled. I felt goosebumps. I even saw fit to stop playing after feeling the game’s oppressive atmosphere for long periods of time.
I was scared.
No other horror game of any kind has ever done that to me. Not Resident Evil. Not Silent Hill. Not Dead Space. Not even Siren: Blood Curse which I thought was pretty damn creepy. Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent was no joke. It was one of the scariest games I’ve ever played.
I didn’t think it could have lived up to the praise. I’ve seen people name this game along side the likes of F.E.A.R. which had startle scares, but not more than that. Not many games can maintain an unsettling mood for long stretches of time. Amnesia held that atmosphere for about 80% of the journey.
At first, I felt the atmosphere was forced. “Ooo.. playing scary music and throwing out creepy noises. That’s going to be scary.” I thought sarcastically. It was predictable and I was skeptical of it. But with their persistence and relentless pressure, I succumbed and was engulfed by the world.
Through the eyes of the Englishman, Daniel, I explored poorly lit castles and dungeons seeking out the truth. The truth behind Daniel’s amnesia and the truth behind the predicament he found himself in. A mysterious “Shadow” was chasing him after his discovery during an expedition to Africa. This “Shadow” was causing a lot of headaches for him. Literally. If I was in the dark for too long the insanity effects began kicking in. My vision became distorted, I began hearing eerie noises, movement became sluggish and — worse of all — bugs began crawling everywhere.
I had to stay in the light. Or suffer the full brunt of the insanity breakdown.
As with all survival horror games, I had to manage resources. In Amnesia I managed tinderboxes aka “old timey” matches. I also had to manage fuel for my oil lamp. I could bring the lamp and its comforting light where ever I went, but I couldn’t rely on it. I couldn’t rely on any source of light since it was either fixed or finite. This meant I had to make tough choices and scrounge for resource on a regular basis.
While one half of Amnesia was survival horror, the other half involved finding common everyday objects, combining them and using them to overcome obstacles. There was an adventure game in my survival horror. Fortunately, the puzzles were, for the most part, sensible. I was weakening locks with with acid and using a hammer and a pick to break them — sensible scenarios and solutions.
I was surprised by how active this game was without the use of weapons to combat the monsters. All I could do was run and hide. They took the interaction with enemies and funneled it into exploration and puzzle solving. I had to use mouse gestures to open drawers, doors and pull switches. They worked well. Well enough that I could even pull them off during an intense chase (or retreat).
I mentioned that the atmosphere of the game didn’t hold up for the game’s entirety. There were many factors as to why. First and foremost were the crashes. Nothing broke the immersion faster than a black screen with nothing happening. I had no idea why the crashes were happening, but they occurred on a regular basis. Fortunately, the autosave was fairly generous.
Unraveling the story meant I had to look for diary entries narrated by Daniel himself. Daniel’s voice actor wasn’t very convincing. It seemed like he wasn’t briefed on what Amnesia was all about because he was very chipper in his readings. I had a good chuckle listening to every entry he found.
But even with the crashes and amusing voice work, I was able to submerge myself back into the game’s atmosphere. It wasn’t until the final hour or so where they just dropped the horror motif altogether. They replaced scares with weird. There was talking green fog and old man penis; that’s the impression they left me with. Not particularly fond memories to say the least.
Setting the few shortcomings aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It delivered a genuinely scary experience and did so in a unique manner. The lack of weaponry to fight back with may seem odd from the outside, but it works. In fact, don’t seek out videos or images. This is the kind of game you have to play for yourself. No piece of media can successfully communicate its intent. I urge you all to play it.
Unless you’re a scaredy cat.
For some preliminary info on Amnesia: The Dark Descent, visit the official website.