Amnesia: The Dark Descent
I've mentioned before that I enjoy horror games more than most. I've grown up and flowered on horror movies and scary games. Hell, I made my mom watch The Exorcist with me before I was even ten years old.
I didn't sleep for an entire week because Linda Blair was going to come into my house and kill me, but hey, it was well worth the watch.
That being said, Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a game that I could not miss out on. Though I played it through a very long time ago, I remember it quite vividly. Friction Games, creators of the Penumbra Series (also excellent), really outdid themselves when they released this title in 2010.
Admittedly, the story is slow in the beginning, but it builds beautifully. Daniel, the protagonist (you), wakes up in an abandoned castle with no memory of why or how he got there. After finding a note you left for yourself before dropping unconscious, you begin your journey through Brennenburg Castle. Throughout the game, you find pieces of memoirs and have visions of past occurrences which start to jog your memory as the game progresses.
Without spoiling anything, once you get about a third of the way through the game, the story hooks you. It's not terribly complicated, but that's not to say that a story is ruined by being simple.
Daniel quickly comes to discover that he isn't alone in the castle and that whatever lurks in the darkness is hunting him, drawing closer as he makes his way deeper in. Monsters roam throughout the halls and Daniel's only defense against them is to run and hide--stealth is key.
As you discover Daniel's mysterious past and his reasons for coming to Brennenburg, the story really livens up and becomes more adventurous. Things begin to move much more quickly once certain elements fall in to place, and you start to feel a sense of urgency, especially as you see more and more monsters.
Most people who play this game appreciate one aspect of its play: the environment is extremely interactive. You can open and close drawers, you can slowly open doors as not to be caught unawares, and you can interact with objects in a way not really showcased in many other games. While the game is linear, it's difficult to tell given that the castle itself seems very open, filled with puzzles and little goodies for completionists to discover.
I mentioned stealth in the previous point; this isn't to say that there's a stealth mechanic, because there isn't. That's where the environment comes in to play--you can hide behind anything in the room, moving things around to build great hiding places. You can peek out through doors you've cracked, sneak a glance over the top of a barrel you moved to hide, or just flat-out run away.
If you scream like a little girl while doing so, well, I won't judge you, especially since there's no way to actually kill the monsters. Once they get ahold of you, you're dead.
The horror aspect
When you think puzzle adventure game, you may not think horror right away. And though the beginning of Amnesia is creepy and dark, it's not necessarily terrifying to start. Like I said, the story can seem very slow and uninteresting in the beginning. The creepy factor is what makes the start of the game. You know it's a scary game and you've heard of it before, so you don't want to go down in to the cellar. You know what's down there, and it's not down there to give you hugs--it's down there to rip your face off.
The music is also a huge aspect worth mentioning--I've never played a game that uses audio cues more than Amnesia does. The subtle changes in the ambient music let you know that something is coming or that something is about to happen. This trailer gives a little taste of what the audio is like:
Much like a horror movie, the suspense grows as the game progresses. In short, look for creepy squeaks and dark hallways in the beginning, with a fair amount of jump-scares towards the middle and end.
Overall, this game receives a 7/10 from me simply because no game is ever really deserving of a ten (despite the raving reviews that games like Bioshock: Infinite get). The graphics are very smooth and the gameplay is fluid and fits in well with the progression of the story, which is also a main factor in why you should pick this game up.
Given that it's an older title, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is on Steam right now for $19.99, but it goes on sale every now and then. There's also a free demo available on Steam for those who want to try it before they buy it.
An indirect sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, is slated to release later this year.