Oh, The Insanity! – My Thoughts On Amnesia: The Dark DescentJanuary 18, 2011
Oh man, where do I start? Seriously. How can I even begin to describe the horror and the absolute delight I experienced this long weekend, playing one of the scariest games in recent memory?
Let’s just put it this way — Amnesia: The Dark Descent was unexpected surprise, something I probably wouldn’t have gotten for myself, so I have fellow blogger Victor Stillwater to thank for gifting it to me over Steam as my Secret Santa this Christmas. After playing the game, all I wanted to do was rave to someone about it, as I am wont to do with any good game I feel passionately about. My husband, being closest to me at the time, fell prey to my impulses as I stormed into the living room, wide-eyed and holding myself and babbling about how creeped out I was. I also told him that if he can somehow manage to tear himself away from World of Warcraft for long enough, he should really take a day or two to give this game a try.
He asked, “Why, is it scary like Resident Evil?”
Um, not quite. It’s scarier. At least in games like Resident Evil you’re given an arsenal to defend yourself against the hordes of zombies, and there’s enough explosive action to keep your mind off the frightening atmosphere at times. I’ve played many survival horror games in the past, but none like Amnesia. For one thing, this game gives you no access to any weapons — none at all. First and foremost, it is a game of wits, which you must keep about you in order to escape from the many grotesque monsters roaming Brennenburg Castle. That, or you can turn tail and run like hell.
Lord knows I did plenty of that.
Second of all, Amnesia features a stat called your sanity, which is a factor separate from your health status. Encountering monsters, witnessing scary events, or even staying in the darkness too long will deplete it, making it harder for you to move or see or until you pass out. So, think hiding in the shadows will offer you safety from the horrors? Think again. Surviving this game is a delicate balancing act; you are constantly gauging in your mind how long you should spend in the light or in the dark, and how you can get the most out of your limited supply of tinderboxes and lamp oil.
Before I played this game, one of my commenters warned me not to underestimate its ability to scare. In his words, the game is “atmospherically horrific like a mofo” and that it’s “what you don’t see that will freak you out.” Well, he was absolutely right about that. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will find many homages to the author and his works in the Amnesia’s plot and structure, and the theme of losing one’s mind plays a central role in the mounting horror as the tale unfolds. The story is revealed almost backwards in flashbacks, Memento-style, as you play the main character trying to piece together the past events which landed you in this nightmare.
At its heart, Amnesia is a first-person adventure game, with a heavy focus on exploration and puzzle solving requiring the player to manipulate and interact with objects in the environment. I’m no stranger to this sort of gameplay, though the horror angle can be rather unsettling. The puzzles themselves aren’t too difficult, but they’re not really meant to be. The developers, Frictional Games, even tell you not to play to win — indeed, the enjoyment I had came more from the creepy experience than anything, and keeping a clear head can be tough when you’re in a room being distracted by mangled corpses or horrifying torture devices, all the while trying to keep your sanity intact and dodge monsters at the same time.
But just as I was warned, it’s what I didn’t see that made my skin crawl with the heebie-jeebies. That’s not to say the game itself isn’t full of frightening visuals (because as you can see from the screenshots — it is), but that alone usually doesn’t suffice to scare me. But the game doesn’t resort to cheesy action sequences and cheap jump scenes either — it doesn’t have to. What really did it for me are the horrors that are implied rather than shown, the kinda stuff that sends you packing on a fun and twisted all-expenses paid mind trip.
For best results, do as the game suggests and play in a dark room with a nice, comfy pair of over-the-ear headphones. Allow the sound effects and the spooky environment to take you away, let yourself become vulnerable and completely immerse yourself, and you’ll find the experience all the more terrifying.