Amnesia: The Dark Descent

I think Amnesia has gained enough popularity that I don’t really need to promote it, but it is my favourite game that I am too scared to play, so I feel like I must give it a nod.  Plus, I’ve spent a fair amount of time recommending it to friends, so I have some material already typed up that I can cannibalize for this review.  It really should be something I post around Halloween, but with any luck we’ll have Machine for Pigs by then and I can proceed to be too scared to play THAT, instead.

The guys who made Amnesia made the Penumbra series before it.  They’re a very similar style of game – first person, wander around, solve some adventure-style puzzles, scare the shit out of you.  The failing of the Penumbra games is that they included combat.  I’m relatively certain you aren’t supposed to engage in combat, but it’s an option in the game so people immediately pick up the nearest rock and try to bash a hell hound over the head with it, die horribly, and then say “This game sucks” and quit.  Possibly because they learned from this, Amnesia contains no combat at all.  It has monsters, yes, and those monsters want to fucking eat you, but you have no offensive options against them.  And the game is so much better for it.

I love reading discussion about Amnesia because invariably someone will come along and do the internet tough-guy thing.  “This game isn’t scary I don’t understand why everyone gets so scared by this game it didn’t scare me at all.”  You most certainly can boil the game down into its components and realize that if a zombie catches up to you in a video game, you won’t actually die in real life, so jeeze if you get scared by that you must be some kind of pussy!  Or, you can play a game and lose yourself in the atmosphere.  Because if there is one thing Amnesia does, it is atmosphere.  Amnesia has taught me that I apparently do not scream!  I curse.  So instead of screaming it’s more like “AAH FUCK FUCKOFFYOU#!#@!#%^$^$@!@#!#$%^&#@!@#$” as I run for my life…

The premise of the game is that you wake up in a big abandoned castle with no memory. Shortly thereafter you find a note from yourself telling you that YOU wiped your own memory. And then you find out there are ghosts who are mad at you. The story is suitable levels of fucked up and if you enjoy psychological thriller movies, you should really enjoy trying to unravel what went on. There are also multiple endings.

You wander around in first person and almost everything in the world is interactive, and you have to use objects in your environment to figure out how to advance. This includes things like sliding open drawers and cupboard doors, opening shit, smashing down walls… all with mouse gestures rather than point and clicking. It feels very fluid. Embarrassing note: I got stuck for like 15 minutes because I was clicking on a door and thought it was stuck, when I really needed to slide the mouse to pull it open /facepalm. The physics are fun, although sometimes when you grab objects they go flying around like you’re actually superman and chucked them with superhuman force.

The main hook of the game is that you have a sanity meter of sorts, and it works similar to Eternal Darkness where if your sanity gets low, you start hallucinating shit. Hanging out in the darkness will drain your sanity. You can hide from monsters in the darkness. You can see the dilemma. Looking directly at a monster will also drain sanity. Progressing through the game will restore sanity. At least as far as I’ve played, they’ve balanced this very well to keep the pace moving. If you hang around in an area too long a gust of wind might blow out all the candles, “convincing” you to move forward and get back into the light. Solving the puzzles will restore a big chunk of sanity, so when things get dire you have an option to restore it. Running out of sanity doesn’t actually kill you, it just makes everything fucking terrifying, and you might occasionally drop to the ground and assume the fetal position if you let it get too low.
As a veteran of the Thief games, I spent my time skulking around in the shadows looking at stuff and promptly went insane. I’m doing better now but trying to decide whether to waste a tinderbox on lighting a lantern HERE, or wait to use it up THERE is really gutwrenching sometimes.

This was my experience in the flooded archives which is probably the first really “oh fuck why did I buy this game fuck FUCK” moment of the game, fairly early on. (Oh god this is the beginning, what’s coming later??!?!). This is like 30 to 40 minutes in, when the game is reported to last “about 10 hours, not counting the time you spend cowering in cupboards afraid to look out.”

(Note: I describe a couple areas of the game which counts as a spoiler.  It’s a small area, and available in the demo, but if you want to experience the game in a pristine fashion you may need to quit here)

The flooded archives are, well… flooded. Its about shin deep and restricts your movement speed a bit, and you make big splashy noises walking through it. There are lots of boxes and other furniture debris around. As you progress in, you notice you are not the only thing making splashy noises… and also the other thing making splashy noises has noticed you. You can see the splashes coming toward you, but the creature is invisible.

I freaked out and tried jumping on the boxes but I picked one that was too high to climb on and it whacked me once (getting smacked disorients you for a second which is NOT GOOD AAAHHH), then I managed to climb on top of one. The thing wandered back and forth below the box making splashes, but it couldn’t see or hear me if I wasn’t splashing in the water. This is where I sat on the box going “fffffuuccckkk” for a couple minutes, then looked around and figured out that there was a little box-path that I was obviously intended to escape on. So I did that!

Some of the boxes are too far apart and you hit the water, and it comes for you :(. So you freak out scrambling to get back onto the boxes before it catches up. Then I got all the way to the end of the hall only to find out that the GOD DAMN GATE IS SHUT. The switch, NATURALLY, is at the other end of the hall where I came from. So I had to go back. And then the switch was on a timer so I had to rush back down the hall to get back through it, which meant I fell off a lot of boxes. I got through the gate and it slammed shut, leaving the little splashmark of the monster on the other side. WHEW I’m safe.

Oh, there’s one on this side too. TO THE BOXES, FUCK.

THIS room was disturbing, because it was a wide open room with boxes on this end, and a box and a door on that end, and nothing but water and splashy monster in between. It knows I’m here, and it’s pacing around between me and the door. There’s no way I can make it.

There is stuff on my box. Oh good, dismembered body parts! Argh.

So I grab some unfortunate persons’ torso and chuck it as hard as I can into the far corner of the room. It goes sploosh, and splashymonster runs after it. I grab the severed arm that’s sitting there, just in case! Then I tear off toward the door. Splashymonster comes back for me! But I made it before he got to me. Then he went back to the torso and ATE IT.

Now there is a problem because the wheel to open the door is in water nowhere near my box, so I chucked the arm back toward the splashymonster to distract him some more, then dove in and started turning like my life depended on it. (because it did, I guess).

To turn the wheel you have to grab and then make circles with your mouse. I think I burned a circular pattern in my mousepad I turned that fucker so fast. He was coming back for me but I made it through. It was a short jog to the next area from there. The door is a transition to load a new area so I figured I was safe.

Holy fuck was I wrong. The door opened up into another flooded hallway, and a few steps in I start hearing the ominous splashing behind me. There are no boxes to stand on in here, but there’s plenty of debris to block your path.

I think the next few minutes can count as my cardiovascular exercise for the day. Sprinting through the hallway jumping over busted chairs with SPLOOSH SPLOOSH SPLOOSH and horrible monster like gurgling behind me… and ALL THE MOTHERFUCKING DOORS OPEN INWARD so every single FUCKING door you have to stop at and pull backward. The first door I ran too close to and jammed it on myself and had to reposition to get it open and through, and it caught me and got a hit in while I was doing it which took me to “barely conscious” and my vision went all red and blurry for the rest of the sequence… FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

And then I made it! And the next room was a serene little room with a fountain and bright windows and calming music and I was like “FUCK this game”

Then I immediately recommended it to everyone I know.



About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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