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Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is terrifying in a way no horror game has been for a decade. It manages to slowly work its way under your skin to sow the seeds of true fear and even once you've stopped playing, it takes time to escape the constant sense of dread. Coming from the team behind the successful Penumbra series, Frictional Games, can it match the success of its spiritual predecessors?

Amnesia Game Screenshots

Horror games have undergone a resurgence recently, with a number of high profile titles selling well and collecting critical acclaim. However, one of the most memorable series of the past few years was the Penumbra games: surprise hits from a small independent Swedish developer. With an innovative and intuitive control system and a surprisingly terrifying concept, they were distinctly scary experiences. We are pleased to report that Frictional Games have surpassed their previous efforts and crafted a horrific masterpiece of terrifying proportions.

The concept of Amnesia: The Dark Descent is deceptively simple. The protagonist, Daniel, finds himself on the cold floor of a castle, somewhere in the dark forests of Prussia. All he remembers is his name and where he lives, with the rest of his past shrouded in mystery. Immediately obvious is that something is clearly wrong and as the plot begins to unravel he finds himself involved in a series of very dark events. The story is told subtly through occasional flashbacks and the discovery of journal entries scattered around the castle. The narrative has been strongly influenced by H. P. Lovecraft and is all the stronger for it, channelling the sense of unknown horrors lurking on the edges of our world.

Amnesia Game Screenshots

Much of the game revolves around exploring the castle while trying to unravel Daniel's mysterious past and here the game really excels. The same control system from the Penumbra titles is used to interact with the environment and solve puzzles and it feels more refined. Using the mouse to mimic the motion of the action you wish to perform is somewhat difficult to grasp at first, but it won't take long for you to get used to it. These actions could be rotating the mouse in a clockwise direction to turn a valve or thrusting it forward and backward to open and close doors. It is a nice system which definitely adds to the immersion and gives each of your actions a definite sense of weight and purpose.

These controls form much of the core gameplay as, inevitably, progressing through the castle is far from straight forward. There are frequent puzzles to overcome with most bringing a refreshing twist to classic adventure game challenges. While you will still have to find and combine items, many of these puzzles are far more logical and often they are combined with the excellent in-game physics. It is usually clear what you have to do and there are plenty of clues scattered throughout the levels to assist Daniel. Most importantly, Amnesia rarely frustrates and never feels repetitive, leaving the game free to exploit its chilling atmosphere.

Amnesia Game Screenshots

Throughout Amnesia the game environments are excellent and, despite the graphics being somewhat dated, all are memorable and frightening. With some excellent lighting effects and very clever level design, the locations you visit are all huge factors in building an atmosphere which is truly scary. Coupled with some incredible sound design and music, the ambience of the castle is true psychological horror which certainly leaves a lasting impression. Walking through the empty corridors is consistently disturbing, with disembodied voices, ominous footsteps and crying occasionally echoing through the hallways. However, these effects are never overused and Frictional Games have a real understanding on how to keep you on edge at all times.

Yet, being a horror game there are inevitable creatures stalking the depths of the castle and we shall do our best to avoid any spoilers. As each monster is so brilliantly designed and crafted it would be unfair of me to describe them, but here the title really excels. There are  stand-out moments of pure terror when you first encounter some of these abominations and there will be some that will prove impossible to forget. As in Penumbra: Black Plague you are largely defenceless and must use stealth and your wits to escape and evade the horrors of the castle. The stealth system is enhanced by the addition of a sanity gauge, which must be constantly monitored to prevent Daniel from becoming insane, making him more noticeable. However, spending time in the darkness lowers his sanity, but hides him from enemies creating a series of tough decisions about where is best to hide.

Amnesia Game Screenshots

One of our biggest criticisms of Penumbra: Black Plague was the underuse of enemies and thankfully Amnesia addresses this by boosting both the numbers and patrols of your foes. There are portions of the game where you are constantly stalked through the dark and the tension and fear generated by some of these encounters are some of the most memorable we have ever encountered in a horror game. The oppressive and uncomfortable atmosphere only adds to the anxiety as you are constantly battling Daniel's state-of-mind as well as the hideous creatures. Thankfully the pacing of the title is outstanding and for every sequence of bone-chilling psychological terror there is a more sedate section that allows you to adjust and settle into a more comfortable rhythm. This rationing of the more intense sections makes the horror all the more powerful and turns Amnesia from a good game into a truly memorable one. 

 

Amnesia Game Screenshots

Included with the game is an interesting commentary mode, clearly inspired by Valve's speech nodes in their latest titles. It is a nice feature and offers some replay value to the title, allowing you a glimpse into the mind of the development team and the challenges they faced as a smaller developer. There really is little to fault here, aside from the visuals and Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an incredibly solid title. However, the real highlight is the exceptional atmosphere that Frictional Games have managed to create. The low retail price of £12.99 is sure to appeal to potential buyers and as such it is difficult not to recommend this game. If you can stomach the intense and genuinely frightening atmosphere then Amnesia is one of the survival horror highlights of the past decade. 

 

9.00/10 9

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

Included with the game is an interesting commentary mode, clearly inspired by Valve's speech nodes in their latest titles. It is a nice feature and offers some replay value to the title, allowing you a glimpse into the mind of the development team and the challenges they faced as a smaller developer. There really is little to fault here, aside from the visuals and Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an incredibly solid title. However, the real highlight is the exceptional atmosphere that Frictional Games have managed to create. The low retail price of £12.99 is sure to appeal to potential buyers and as such it is difficult not to recommend this game. If you can stomach the intense and genuinely frightening atmosphere then Amnesia is one of the survival horror highlights of the past decade.   

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Christopher Wakefield

Christopher Wakefield

Writer

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COMMENTS

icaruschips
icaruschips - 11:36pm, 3rd April 2015

I want this. A lot. Penumbra made me **** myself in all three games, yet the short demo I played of this was worse (see: better) than anything I can remember from the Penumbra trilogy.

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POBmaestro-1428097466
POBmaestro-1428097466 - 11:36pm, 3rd April 2015

Spot-on review Giraffe, except for the replay score! I have just completed Amnesia and I am so relieved that it's over! The atmosphere is astonishing and the sense of fear is so real it makes me glad I don’t have to experience it anymore. There were times – especially when in the presence of the horrid monsters - when I felt fear and fright deeper and more powerful than anything ever before – probably greater than every scary movie and game added together (yes, even more so than the Cradle from Thief 3, since you're unarmed in Amnesia!). I found the puzzles largely frustrating as I am awful at figuring things out, but they did make a nice respite from the otherwise constant terror. Amnesia is very dark but it is equally clever, remarkable and ultimately rewarding. Highly recommended if you think you have the determination to get through it!

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