Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review – Happy Halloween!
By Forrest Welk
On Halloween, every gamer has their yearly traditions. Maybe it is to watch horror movies or scare trick or treaters. But above all of these examples, playing horror video games is at the top of every gamers to-do list on that night. Of course, everyone has played the Resident Evils, Alone in the Darks, F.E.A.Rs, Silent Hills, and countless other examples. This year, I challenge you to mix things up by playing Frictional Game’s Amnesia: The Dark Decent. Making their name through the Penumbra series, Frictional Games builds on that game and creates one of the scariest games in recent memory.
Amnesia is first person adventure horror game that puts you in Brennenburg Castle in the 19th century. You play as Daniel, a young man who wakes up in the halls of the castle with no memory of how he got there. Despite his amnesia, he finds a note that he had written in the past. Reading the instructions of the note, Daniel learns of his only goal, to kill a man named Alexander. I won’t get into many spoilers, but the story is quite interesting, and can be uncovered if you take the time to read the various journals found throughout the massive castle. The twists found late in the game can be engaging, but the real meat of Amnesia lies in its gameplay.
Let’s get one thing clear, Amnesia is not a shooter. I wouldn’t even consider an action game in the traditional sense. What you find in this game is a unique adventure game with a terrifying setting, and even more unsettling enemies. A key feature of the game is light and dark. If you stay in the dark for too long, Daniel’s insanity will rise. This causes distorted vision, increased heart rate, and even loss of balance If you continue to allow Daniel’s symptoms to grow, he will die. To avoid this, you must make use of your lantern. The lantern only has a limited amount of oil, and it drains fast. You must strategize when to use the lantern while conserving a good amount of oil. You have other options. You can light a limited amount of candles around rooms and hallways to create “safe zones”. Some windows can provide light from outside, but you must be very careful to not waste your light sources. The light factor of Amnesia is a unique, and engaging feature that proves to be an important part of the gameplay.
This game has great pacing. Early in the game, you might not feel very threatened and might even think that the scares provided are overrated by everyone who has talked about them. But Amnesia does this on purpose. The game sucks you in early on, with much time spent solving various puzzles and collecting journal entries. These puzzles involve mostly messing with various machinery and chemicals. You’ll do things like fix an elevator or create a bomb with chemicals to blow up a wall. It can be kind of interesting, and sometimes even challenging. However, these sections are pretty forgettable once you start encountering the various enemies of the game.
The vicious monsters seen throughout the castle will kill you with a few swipes if they happen to see you. They are Alexander’s servants, called “The Gatherers”, who almost remind me of a more brutal zombie-like creature. You must avoid eye contact with the beasts, as that would make it easier for them to see you. This further causes your insanity to rapidly rise. You will also have trouble using your light, because the monsters will, again, quickly see you. The best option is to sneak past the gatherers. Typically, there are 3-5 gatherers in a section you have to get past. Stealth will be your best friend on this adventure as Daniel sneaks from room to room. The A.I. is excellent, so you must be on your best. Closing doors behind you is wise, and putting dressers in front of the doors is even wiser, as gatherers can open doors if not blocked properly. If a gatherer does happen to see you, Daniel must run. You have no weapons. The only way to attack a gatherer is to throw furniture at one, which will stun him briefly. You will probably be too busy screaming in your computer chair to be able to fight off the beast and be able to run away before he claws you to death. Oh, and did I mention that enemies are placed in random spots every time the game loads? That means the player will have no idea what to expect each time he or she plays the game.
The visuals of this game are a bit dated for what it is. The castle has some nicely designed architect. You won’t notice many pretty textures as this game is extremely dark. The atmosphere is what really drives this game instead of Crysis-like graphics. The darkness will terrify you, especially if you are playing this late at night with the lights off. The sound is equally scary. You won’t be able to tell if what you heard is background noise of the game, or the gatherer waiting to claw you around the next corner. To put it simply, Amnesia does all of the little things right in it’s atmosphere to get under the play’s skin and allow for a more engaging experience. The game even recommends you play with gaming headphones, something that I highly recommend to get the most out of Amnesia. Any decent computer should be able to run this game no problem. I was using at Nvidia 8800 GT, and ran this game fine.
Overall, Amnesia: The Dark Decent is the sleeper hit of the year. The game doesn’t rely on jump scares like a Resident Evil or cheap B movie. Rather, it using it’s atmosphere to drive not only Daniel insane, but the player him/herself. Amnesia even features a level creator to play with after you are done. I have played other people’s levels, and they do provide even more thrills after the main story is completed. This Halloween, do yourself a favor and check out this game. It is very cheap and worth the $20 of any gamer. The only people who should not play this game are those who do not like being scared, because you will get scared.