Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

[Review] Amnesia: The Dark Descent

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Amneisa: The Dark Descent is a notoriously scary game, so allow me to begin by listing all the things it has given me phobias of:

  • purple liquid
  • blood
  • orbs
  • bulls
  • naked people
  • water
  • piano music
  • being in the dark
  • being brightly lit
  • pyramids
  • cockroaches
  • drills
  • syringes
  • mushrooms
  • wheels
  • strawberry jam

(Minor spoilers under the cut)

Amnesia was created by Frictional Games, an independant Swedish company. There’s a rumour on the internet that the limited budget meant developers were doing unpaid work for something like two months, and I’ve gotta say I can only just barely buy that–Amensia looks a lot better than some recent big-budget games. The game takes place inside Castle Brennenberg, a fairly standard horror-movie set made newly terrifying by it’s state of perpetual chiaroscuro.  I have now played exactly two games with realistic darkness in them (the other being Thief, for the curious) and the windowless basement rooms, lit with at best a lantern and at worst a single flickering candle, bring the childhood fear of the dark screaming back. The importance of light and dark to the game–namely, the need to choose between being hidden from the monsters and being subject to increasingly disturbing hallucinations and the quiet grinding of your own teeth–is one of the essential elements to bringing the scary in this game. The other, of course, is the monsters–they are rarely visible (looking at them for too long saps your sanity and draws their attention, as does trying to draw them into the light,) they are effectively invincible, and they’re faster than you. The best way to deal with them is, quite literally, to find a dark corner, curl up with your nose to the wall, and pray they don’t stumble over you. The developers also paid a lot of attention to detail, and there are all kinds of things that are just subtly off; and the graphics are good enough that you’ll see them even if they don’t quite register. Take a second look at that piano in the guest room, for instance…

There are some unfortunate failings; most notably from the time you enter the dungeons onwards, the writing and plot takes a downward turn, and the final boss fight is something of a let-down. There’s also an element of predictableness once you’ve gotten into the swing of it (as noted by Yahtzee, the monsters appear to be attracted to the quicksave button.) The voice acting is also not quite up to par, which leaves a fair number of diary entries and flashbacks stilted or unnatural or drifting towards narm. It’s just about impossible to hear the Baron say “The Inner Sanctum!” or Daniel say “Impossible geometries!” without getting jolted out of your suspension of disbelief by the urge to giggle. But these moments aside, Amnesia is a very decent game, and in the end it’s also probably the scariest thing I’ve done all year.


Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

July 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

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