Monday, April 11, 2011

Amnesia - The Dark Descent (PC)

Oh god, here we go
So, pretty much everyone and their grandmother have heard of Amnesia, the allegdely most horrific game in existence. You have probably seen some hilarious videos on YouTube about players losing their, um, self-control while playing the game. Taking place in Prussia some time around 1830-1840 in an old, worn-down castle it has a great setting for a moody adventure. Made by a Swedish company known as Frictional Games, who are known from their previous Penumbra-games. So, how does Amnesia fare?


As you might know, there is absolutely no means of combat in Amnesia. Well, not for you at least, the enemies can easily tear you to pieces. So, what do you do? You stick to the shadows and if that fails, you run as fast as you can. Penumbra-games had a good physics engine, and so does Amnesia, so you can pretty freely pick stuff up, rotate it as you wish and throw it around. Most of the puzzles revolve around this, much like in Half-Life 2 of the Penumbra-games. Puzzles include stuff like opening and closing vents, placing gears to their places and so on, nothing too complicated. While in darkness, you gain a slight 'night-vision', but it isn't all that good and fancy as you might think, but it really enhances the atmosphere.

As said above, your only way of self-defence is hiding, but this has a catch - should you linger too long in the shadows, your sanity will lower, and if it hits rock bottom, Daniel (the main protagonist) is only able to crawl on the floor. Loss of sanity has other nice aspects too, such as hearing voices and making it harder to hide from monsters. And oh yes, should you look directly at monsters, you would lose your sanity and fast. Sanity is restored by remaining in light and progressing in the story. If there is no light in the area, you can use one of your precious tinderboxes to light a torch or you can light up your lantern, which uses even more precious oil. Health can be lost by, you guessed it, getting hit by enemies and other nasty stuff. Health can be restored by progressing in the story and also by using rare potions.

Poor Agrippa
Though some players have said that they constantly ran out of oil and tinderboxes, I noticed that by the time I reached the end, I had a full lantern + 9 extra refillments or whatever they are called and around 30 tinderboxes. But on the other hand, I never use anything unless I really have to.


Hiding didn't work so well
The game's atmosphere is at the beginning pretty lame, as it resorts way too often to "BOOOO A DOOR OPENED BY IT'S OWN" or "BOOOOOO A MYSTICAL WIND"-tricks to scare the player. Also the soundscape seems a bit monotonous and only distracts. However, both of these aspects only get better as you progress in the game, as the scares get rarer and rarer and the soundscape starts to blend in well. And overally, the game has clearly taken a lot of influences from Lovecraft.
Things aren't looking too bright

The worn-down castle of Brennenburg is really, really moody and offers a good place for horror story, however, I really liked more Penumbra's setting as it was more 'realistic', or should I say, more immersive? But still, finding a naked body in the morgue is one thing, taking a vaccine from the said body's blood is a whole another thing. It's things like these that make the game feel creepier than your average horror game - you are forced to take some actions to survive, and they really feel immoral and disgusting. And oh yes, the guys from Frictional have taken everything they can out from the setting - you visit cellars of all sorts, torture chambers, archives, prison, sewers, afromentioned morgue... and every place will make you nervous. Really nervous.

Yeah, this game is not for children
The monsters are of little variance, but that really doesn't matter, as they are rarely shown and seen. And if you see them, you are either too close, or should be running. And the monsters can be quite intelligent - I was rather amazed when a monster noticed that I was hiding in a room and started tearing the door down. Then I cried a little as it killed me, while I was weeping in the corner.

And if you haven't heard of the water monster yet, just check this YouTube-video. It is really, really tense. Let's just say, I felt safe because there were boxes all around. But then I had to drop into water and the chase began, and I only could breath once I was on dry land.

tl;dr-version: atmosphere gets great about 1/4 into the game, and won't let you go. And the graphics are really good, too.

Who said picture is worth a
thousand words?

The story starts with the greatest cliché of them all - Amnesia (didn't see that one coming, huh?). Daniel, the protagonist, is inside Brennenburg castle and finds a note from himself - descend into the Inner Sanctum of the castle and kill Alexander. Why? It isn't revealed straight away, because, you know, that would be pretty lame. But it is a good reason to start moving. That, and the fact that "Shadow" is chasing you with an intent to kill.
One of the many diaries that can be found

The story develops in two timeframes - the one which the player is in, and the another, which is told by Daniel's diaries and other notes that can be found around the castle. I don't want to spoil too much, so I'll try to keep that to a minimum. The story revolves around an Orb that Daniel found on expedition in Africa, the curse that the orb has brought upon him and how Alexander tried/tries to help Daniel. The story also features Agrippa (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa) as a major character, who also happens to be a real person, a German magician, occultist and so forth. And Johann Weyer, who is not seen in the game in person, is also mentioned. So you know that something occult is going on. The endings were a bit of a letdown, but still fitting in the contextual sense.


The game started a little slow and trying too many cheap tricks, but the further it got, the better it also became. It wasn't as scary as the Penumbra-games in my opinion, but is still one of the best new horror games, and I recommend everyone to try it. Besides, it costs less than 8€ on Steam, and there's also a demo available. Should you have a Linux or Mac-computer, worry not, Amnesia is available for Linux and Mac also, so in a sense, it's a true PC-game. If there's something bad to say, it is that level design is sometimes too confusing (I am looking at you, prison).

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