Now where was I? Oh yeah, my name is Daniel, and my head is throbbing with pain, my vision only just beginning to clear and I can only remember fragments of the recent past.
I don’t really even know what year it is, let alone where I am and what happened, but I know I am in terrible danger, the very walls of this dank, dark imposing room seem to yearn to cause me harm. There is an implied menace that is part of this buildings soul, one that intends malice against me.
Amnesia – The Dark Descent is designed to be played in a specific way. The designers are adamant that this game is not meant to be ‘won’ as such; instead it is to be experienced. Turn the lights down low, set the gamma levels correctly, don those headphones and prepare for a scare.
The game takes inspiration from a lot of sources. The dank fictional Brennenburg mansion/fortress that is the games set, reminds us of games as far back as 1995’s Interplay classic Stonekeep. The right angled corridors of dimly lit stone initially come across as graphical work from that era as well.
But the graphics, whilst only serviceable, do provoke that sense of a dreamlike state that remains as part of the games immersion from beginning to end. There is limited animation haunting these corridors, but just as how a clothed body can be so much sexier than a fully naked one, it is the sparseness, and stillness of the environment that eventually makes anything that moves, from a dust mote through to more substantial horrors so much more spine tingling.
The aim here is to unlock the story, progress through the puzzles and survive until the end, and like any good horror tale, you will feel helpless and defenceless along the way, adding to the tension.
Inspiration is taken from a classic title such as Mist, with puzzles being mostly about manipulating the current environment to achieve passage progression. But unlike the static Mist, you will also need to be fleet of foot, to avoid any encounters with the shuffling denizens of Brennenburg.
Like Alan Wake one of your enemies is darkness. Managing tinderboxes and oil for your lamp will be paramount to keeping your sanity. Sanity also falls if you stare at an enemy (even if they are unaware of your existence and wandering away down a corridor) or witness other triggered paranormal events. These play out in a Hitchcock visual style with camera distortion and forced perspective. At first it feels somewhat cheesy, but by game’s end becomes a comfortable effect that is just part of the experience.
The story is told through a number of mechanisms; notes fill Daniel’s journal, audio cut scenes interject at triggered locations, with the voice acting overall pretty good, with only a couple of exceptions. Other story pieces are triggered through manipulating objects, or loading screens between rooms.
In general the story comes together in a satisfying way, sporting a handful of twists, though with an ending telegraphed reasonably early. From a horror perspective, the story relies heavily on the macabre as it progresses, losing some of the dramatic thrills set-up during mid-game.
A word must be said for the excellent score and sound engineering on this title, the choral accompaniment to a number of locations goes a long way to build the awe of a place above and beyond the visual representation. The horrific groans, and sudden howls or classic chain clanks really get the hair standing on edge.
Whilst there is a bit of backtracking in the game, the designers have worked in excellent subtle (and some not so subtle) changes to the environment from your previous visit. This can be unsettling, which is the obvious aim.
Puzzles wise, the game can be tough; there is a good hint system, that pops up from time to time, but many solutions will require either painstaking exploration or excellent attention to details and clues scattered around. Only a minimal amount of inventory alchemy (combining items) is required.
Accompanying this standard puzzle set-up are a number of physical elements and quick work on the W,A,S,D keys to avoid. Death will occur, and the death scene unto itself will provide clues to progression.
A lot of love has been sunk into this project from a small development team, and whilst there are some technical bumps along the way, the result is a sophisticated brain frazzling experience that injects a significant amount of satisfaction on completion.