Amnesia: The Dark Descent will scare you. No, I mean it. It will scare the hell out of you. You will jump, gasp, swear, and otherwise scream like a little girl as you play the game, checking every nook, cranny, and alcove for a hiding spot as you run in terror, because there is no fighting in Amnesia. Just your wit, speed, and luck.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent comes from the twisted minds of Frictional Games, who apparently love scaring the piss out of everyone, because prior to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, they released a series of games called the Penumbra series, which are along the same vein as Amnesia. Amnesia is an older game now, coming out in 2010 and all, but does not show it’s age with brilliant controls, excellent visuals, and a grim and original story line. Amnesia is the best first-person survival-horror game I know of. It is also the only first-person survival-horror game I know of.
Before the game begins, it has a message from Frictional Games explains “Amnesia should not be played to win. Instead, focus on immersing yourself in the game’s world and story.” Okay, that means that Amnesia just raised the bar for itself. This better be one compelling world and story if the creator is already telling me how to play. It then proceeds to tell me about the game saving automatically, and it offers some advice. “The world of Amnesia is a dangerous place and you are vulnerable. Do not try to fight the enemies encountered. Instead, use your wits. Hide, or even run if necessary.” You don’t realize how true that statement is until you actually begin playing the game. Then they have you set your gamma settings, offering that “The interplay between light and dark is very important to the game and because of this it is vital to set up the gamma correctly.” Sheesh! This game seems like it’s nagging me, but I suppose it’s all for the better in the end, right?
After creating a user, I naturally went with “Brandon”, I adjusted the graphics options to maximum, because that’s just the kind of guy I am, and started my folly into the dark world of Amnesia. The game starts out in first person with my character mumbling about his name, Daniel, and where he lives, who he is, and telling himself not to forget that he must stop “him”. Very mysterious, and it does a descent job of drawing me in to find out more. I can control the character, moving him sluggishly forward as his eyesight fades in and out, and it appears I’m wandering a castle hall, lit by candles and torches. All of the sudden, my character blacks out, and I can here glass breaking in the blackness.
With that, the real game starts. Amnesia follows Daniel, who has for one reason or another intentionally erased his own memories. He leaves letters and pieces of a diary for himself to find that explain that he is to kill the lord of the castle, who it seems Daniel has an extreme hatred of. The main mechanic of the game is puzzle solving and exploration. In order to advance within the castle you usually have to find a key, or mix special ingredients together, of move symbols into certain patterns. The beauty of Amnesia is that it makes these normally monotonous quests interesting. Instead of “go here, find the key, don’t die” kind of mechanics, they use more story to to drive you towards your goal.
Amnesia’s controls aren’t necessarily intuitive, but once learned, they make sense. Movement is the standard WASD configuration, Tab for your inventory, Q and E let Daniel peer around corners and doors and the Left Mouse Button lets you interact with the world. When you find a door or item you can interact with, a hand replaces the aiming reticle. Holding Left Mouse Button and R allows you to rotate and examine an item, and the Right Mouse Button hurls whatever you have in you hand at the time. Opening doors is a unique experience in Amnesia. Instead of simply clicking and the door opens, you must click and hold the left mouse button, and then drag the mouse towards you or away from you. The door will then swing towards you, or away from you. This allows Amnesia’s “hiding” aspect to work. You can nudge the mouse and the door will only open a fraction, usually just a crack, so that you can peer out and see if whatever you’re hiding from is still there. Switches, too, are activated by left clicking and then dragging the switch up, or down.
In the Inventory you’ll see a heart, but in the anatomically accurate depiction, and a Brain and Spinal Cord on your left, a 3 x 6 grid for your items in the center, and underneath that is a blank spot that usually displays helpful text about an item if you hover over it, and on the right a Tinderbox counter, Lamp Fuel, and the Journal.Daniel’s Health is indicated by the Heart. Hovering over your mouse over the heart brings up how your health is doing, such as “All is good.” for perfect health. As you take damage and your health deteriorates, the heart shrivels, and the text will change. The Brain signifies Daniel’s Sanity, which is very important in Amnesia. Daniel’s Sanity will suffer if a troubling event happens, like the wind blowing out all of the light in a room, or if he spends too long in a dark area. There was a point where I had let Daniel’s sanity slip too far, and cockroaches scurried all across my vision, and the entire world seemed to ripple. Don’t let that happen. It’s not easy becoming sane again. The tinderbox is used to light candles, or torches. This is useful to keep you Sanity. The Lamp oil is used in, you guessed it, a lamp. The lamp is much like the flashlight in the Alone in the Dark Series, but it staves off insanity instead of shadow creatures. You find tinderboxes and lamp oil through the game, and I never found my self short of either, if I was smart and used tinderboxes strategically.
Amnesia also features the best audio and visual combination I have seen in a game. They compliment each other well, and set the mood of foreboding throughout the game, never dropping or ebbing and always keeping you on the edge of your seat. The ambient noises are very detailed, from the constant pitter patter of rain with the occasional crack of thunder, to the creaking of a door off in the distance somewhere in the castle. During the beginning of the game, someone can be heard walking on the floor above where you are, and dust filters down from the cracks in the ceiling from where the mysterious person passes. It also helps that Amnesia’s graphics are done well. Stones, which you will see more often than not, are actually irregular in shape and rounded, not flat (I’m looking at you Oblivion). The entire game also feels like somebody has taken cobwebs and dust, and spread it across the screen. It’s very dark, and gritty which just furthers the sense of suspense.
Amnesia is a breath of fresh air in the world of Battlefield’s and Call of Duty’s and World of Warcraft’s. It offers unique gameplay mechanics, with a truly terrifying world, and excellent visuals and audio. Amnesia can be purchased directly from Friction Games for Mac, PC, and Linux, or from Steam for Mac and PC.