A Descent, Darkly

Plunging into the horrifying world of Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Studios.

Plunging into the horrifying world of Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Studios.
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Well met!

The time has finally come to get to reviewing games.  If you read my beginning posts, then you know I have a taste for games that spans decades; I’ll be reviewing some older titles as well as the newer purchases I make.  Seeing that I am, like a good number of you, on a relatively tight budget where entertainment is concerned, I may do more “retro” reviews of games I’ve owned for a long time, especially in the early going.  My hope is that I’ll introduce you (or reinvigorate your love for?) some of the games that captured my imagination growing up.  Now, on to the good stuff.

I think I have a relatively good reason for reviewing this game first.  Survival/horror is a genre rapidly gaining popularity, despite the fact that it’s certainly not for everyone; those of you who can’t handle scary movies might want to stay away from a MORE interactive medium for tales of terror.  For those who love scares, though, there are many upcoming titles that should have you as excited as me: (Outlast, The Evil Within, and of course, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs).

Click “Start New Game” if you dare, but may I suggest you void your bladder before you do?

On to what is my favorite survival/horror PC game, as yet.

I’ve played through Amnesia: The Dark Descent several times, and I’ve never played a first-person game with an atmosphere this relentlessly intense.  It captures the Silent Hill 2-esque fear of being utterly alone and infuses it with one of the most well-constructed, albeit macabre, plots in gaming history.

My favorite parts about the game (to try to intrigue you a bit):

Vulnerability-induced terror.  Even in scary shooters like Dead Space and Doom III, the terror of facing hellspawn and/or abominations of nature is assuaged by the fact that you have a veritable arsenal at your disposal.  It’s hard to feel vulnerable when you’re packing a “BFG-9000.”  Your only weapons in Amnesia are your reaction time that dictates how quickly you start running when danger rears its ugly head, and your cleverness in finding a place to hide.  You can’t so much as swing a wrench in self-defense.  You run, you hide, or you die.  Did I mention that the creatures pursuing you are all slightly faster than your character?  If your reflexes are slow — prepare to meet your maker.

Atmosphere.  The game takes place inside a castle nestled in the forest outside a small European hamlet a la Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  You’ll never hear a creepier soundtrack, music and sound effects included.  The wind howls, your heart pounds, your rate of breathing is directly proportional to the tension in the air — the roaches even hiss at your approach.  The lighting is also used to spectacular effect… the darkness is pervasive and menacing, and the light is only slightly reassuring.  Some areas are pitch black, and you’re forced to use your lantern (with a rapidly-depleting, seldom replenished supply of kerosene) and tinderboxes (for lighting sparse lanterns, candles and torches) to illuminate your way.

The feeble rays of your lantern are far more comforting than they ought to be — by the time you finish the game, it’ll be like a teddy bear wrapped in a security blanket to you.

Plot.  The more I write about the game, the more I’m struck by the similarities between this game and Stoker’s brilliant horror novel.  The protagonist learns the secrets of the castle as he finds his own journal entries and memoirs scattered around the rooms.  Amnesia starts out creepy and plunges into full-on twisted darkness.  There are three endings — I won’t spoil them, but there are varying levels of redemptive light cast on the situation.

Now for the cons:

Control scheme. This was one of the biggest drawbacks to the game (until I eventually got used to it).  Like Frictional’s Penumbra survival/horror series, the player must use a click-hold-drag movement to accomplish certain things, e.g. open a door or move a beam of wood that’s barring your path.  Once you acclimate yourself to it, you might just find it more immersive… but I just went from hating it to ignoring it by the end of the game.  Great idea, but mediocre execution, in my estimation.  Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard WASD and mouse with crouch and jump.

Clichés.  I feel that works of horror are very prone to falling into certain devices that have become routine, if not downright predictably mundane, in the genre.  This game has very few of those, but some are still there — replacing tension with gore to induce fear (never works on me) and the inevitable “it’s darkest just before the dawn” feeling that the end of the game evokes.  What I mean by that is that the part just before the ending is far more frightening than the actual conclusion.  Ah well, you can’t have it all.

Woefully anatomically-correct male characters.  They’re few and far between — but seriously — prepare to avert your eyes and/or laugh like a 5-year-old.

No, I wouldn’t give you a screenie of THAT. Just some normal stuff, like this blood-soaked altar with diabolical symbols chiseled into it…

If you like horror, it’s absolutely worth a look.  Play it after the sun goes down, put on your headphones… and it might not hurt to invest in some dignity savers.  You know, just in case.

Until we meet again, namárië.


Plunging into the horrifying world of Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Studios.

A Descent, Darkly

Plunging into the horrifying world of Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Studios.

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About the author

Mithrandir GW

I'm an old British bloke who lives in a young Yank's body. I dwell in Middle Earth in my head. I love God, my family, my friends, music, books, writing, and video games.