Amnesia: Because Memory Loss Wasn’t Scary Enough
Survival Horror. What do those two words mean to you? Is it shooting waves of mutants to escape a dark underground lab? How about traversing a town trying to evade the mad followers of an evil cult? Or even a series of dark rooms where things leap out at you from the shadows to attempt to attempt to tear off your skin before hanging you from a hook and letting the rats gnaw at your corpse?
Frictional Games, the makers of the Penumbra Series, released a survival horror game on September 8th, 2010 by the name of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Or as I like to call it, “I Better Put Down Papers, Because I Am Going to Wet Myself”. Amnesia is set in 1839 in the Prussian Brennenburg Castle, which is in need of a bit of repair. The entire place is dark, gloomy, and dusty, with entire sections of wall and ceiling occasionally shaking and dislodging deteriorated mortar. Certain halls are blocked by cave-ins and parts of the floor have fallen through
in later levels, leaving the unwary open to catching a sudden case of falling to their death. The place’s state of disrepair is just another factor added to the game’s eerie feel.
The game starts with Daniel, a young man suffering from amnesia, stumbling around, reminding himself of his name and that he is from Mayfair. When you first start out, you can take some time to get a feel for the physics of the game by picking up rocks, furniture, wine bottles, etc. As you make your way around, you get several different messages about how to play the game, with one very important message that would scare off the less daring gamers before they even give it a chance.
“You cannot fight. You have to run and use your wits to hide.”
Why Fight When You Can Run?
Yep. No weapons to make the monsters you find (or find you, as is often the case) seem less of a threat. And you shouldn’t look at the monsters for long either, as it will cause your sanity to drain, just like standing in the dark or seeing unsettling events will. As you lose your sanity, the screen will go fuzzy. You will start to have visual hallucinations and grind your teeth. When your sanity drops low enough, you will fall on the floor and be unable to move for several seconds. The only way to regain your sanity is by completing puzzles, making progress, and standing in light. However, the light has a big downside. The very thing that keeps your sanity up and makes you, the player, feel secure… tells the monsters right where you are. Your sources of light are limited to your lantern (which has to regularly be refilled with oil you pick up), candles, and mounted torches scattered around (which cost you tinderboxes).
The idea is that you are after a man by the name of Alexander, who was supposedly using the blood of criminals to collect vitae to perform a ritual to banish the Shadow that the monsters are coming from. Daniel learns why the vitae was truly needed as the game progresses, and who he was really harvesting it from through a long series of flashbacks, letters, and notes from Alexander’s research. You the player may find yourself feeling sickened by Alexander while you read and play through Daniel’s disenchantment with his employer. You also can figure it out (for yourself, not for Daniel) by just looking around in some of the more unnerving rooms, like the torture chamber and the study’s desk.
As you progress, you will have to do more than just duck in one place to evade the monster that peruses you. You will have to sometimes run and try to block its path by shutting doors and flinging debris in its path, while trying to stay far enough ahead to not be turned into protagonist pudding. And sometimes, you have to try to make a distraction by making some noise as far from you (and where you want to go) as possible, so you can sneak by the monster unnoticed. Sadly, many of these monsters wait right outside a room for you to finish a puzzle and try to move on.
Just Need A Friend
Many players, myself included, actually end up picking up objects and carrying them around with us, for no reason. Kind of like Wilson from Castaway. It makes you feel better to have a friend, even if the friend is the head off of a suit of armor, because you are so very alone. The gloomy loneliness of the game can actually depress you, even while you are terrified to go around that next corner because you know that the monsterisgoingtoberightthere!!
Many of the puzzles need several items to complete, which are scattered all around the castle. Many of these things are put in drawers and cabinets, but more than once I had to pull paintings off walls or jump up to snag something off the shelves up above. There are also puzzles that require you to mix things or use the parts to get other things from places you wouldn’t have originally thought of, usually nowhere near the area you got said item in. The game really does make you think outside the box sometimes, and remember where you have been.
The castle can become a bit dull itself, being a very large series of rooms that tend to look alike. You do so much backtracking that it makes you wonder exactly why the developers wouldn’t let you pick the item up sooner, but then again, there is a sense of pride when you actually remember where you saw that weird little jar that you had a feeling would be important later.
It is possible to create custom maps and stories for yourself and others to enjoy, which range from the funny to the same mortifying as the original game. Coming with the game is also a playable expansion called Justine, which feels very much like the original game, except you play as a woman and there is no saving option available. Once you die, the game is done, and you have to start over from square one.
And The Verdict Is?
All in all, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a good game for those who want to feel helplessly terrified and want to have to think their way through the game. It is also full of jump scares to keep you on your toes and ready to run when the monster that appears is real, rather than just an illusion that dissolves in a cloud of dust.
Valid Gaming considers this game to be…Validated!!
Hope you enjoy the game as much as I did, and can’t sleep the nights you play. Remember, karma always has a way of getting back to you, so be respectful of your fellow gamers. Happy gaming!