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Bev Chen
26 Sep, 2010

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review

PC Review | Don't sleep with your lights off.
The survival horror genre has come a long way since its inception, bringing people some of the most well-known franchises in the video game world. Ask anyone who has played a Silent Hill or Alone in The Dark game and they are sure to tell you about all of the moments that scared them and how much sleep they lost over them. Yet one of the complaints heard in fan circles nowadays is that survival horror video games are losing their roots, focusing much more on action-based gameplay rather than the ‘survival’ aspect of it. Gamers who feel this way can rest easy knowing that another game to whet their appetite for fear has arrived – Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Developed by Frictional Games, the independent studio who brought us the Penumbra series, Amnesia was almost cancelled mid-way through production. But persistence pays off, and Amnesia is an excellent example of that.

You play as Daniel, a man who has no idea about what's going on - just like you. As the title implies, Daniel is struggling to remember the details of his past and the reason for his presence in the strange, haunting castle he finds himself in. These details are gradually revealed in the game by numerous letters and diaries scattered around the castle and the occasional flashback. These materials are all very well written and present a lot of interesting lore; players who are familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft will find that there is a lot to like here.

Trust us, it gets worse.

Trust us, it gets worse.
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As a game without combat, Amnesia forces you to have your wits about you as you explore the castle. The castle is split up into several areas, most with fairly mundane purposes, but others that are sinister and incredibly foreboding. Like many adventure games, you will find yourself completing a variety of puzzles in order to progress through these. Those worried about the frequency of backtracking need not be concerned – puzzles are mostly specific to areas of the castle and backtracking is therefore minimal. Amnesia also places plot markers to ensure that you know exactly where to go. No matter where you are though, the game does a fantastic job of keeping the atmosphere tense. While it is true that enemy encounters are infrequent, the use of this tension makes sure that you will never want to encounter an enemy, not even out of sheer curiosity.

Most of the time, your focus will be on the use of the game’s most important features - light and dark. Learning how to strike a delicate balance between the use of both is an important key to your physical and mental survival. More often than not you will find that light is your best friend. Being in the dark will slowly drain your sanity, leading to bizarre things happening (ala Eternal Darkness) and eventually, death.

There are two main sources of light: those found throughout the castle; such as wall torches, candlesticks, hanging lanterns, and a portable oil lamp. Lamps in the environment can be lit using tinderboxes, which are scattered around. You more or less have free reign over what you want to light, but as tinderboxes are uncommon, these choices should be made wisely. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair if you were forced to go exploring in a pitch-black castle, and some light sources in key areas are already lit for you. In situations other than these, the previously mentioned oil lamp comes into play. Much like tinderboxes, the lamp needs to be used sparingly as the oil used to fuel it is very scarce. So if light is so wonderful, why should you even bother with darkness? The answer is simple – when enemies are near, bathing yourself in light will make you more noticeable to them. In other words, you need to hide in the darkness at the cost of your sanity. Minimising sanity loss means that you will need to meticulously plan an escape route. It’s an interesting and subtly balanced system that manages to be fair to the player at the same time.

Run. Run as fast as you can.

Run. Run as fast as you can.
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Much like the Penumbra games, Amnesia’s control scheme is meant to feel unobtrusive. It affords itself to very natural motions, similar to what you would actually perform in real life. So, for example, tipping a vase over would require you to hold the left mouse button down and tilt your mouse. Opening a door would require you to focus on the door and push or pull the mouse depending on which way the door opens or closes. The controls might take a little bit of getting used to and may even be a little unresponsive if you are running from enemies in a blind panic, but for the most part they are very well implemented.

Despite the game’s fairness, chances that you will meet your demise during your eight hours of playtime are high, either because of a sudden ‘skip’ in the quality of controls or because of an unfortunate encounter with an enemy. However, we’re not sure if it was just strange coincidence or not, but segments of the game seemed to get progressively easier when we died, to the point where enemies vanished from certain rooms in the castle. It’s an understandable decision if the developers were trying to remove player frustration from dying in order emphasise the experience, but there’s something jarring about having major obstacles removed just because they prove to be a problem a few times.

Amnesia is a game where the smallest sound of splashing water will turn you into a nervous wreck.

Amnesia is a game where the smallest sound of splashing water will turn you into a nervous wreck.
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For the best experience, the game recommends that you play it with all your lights off and the volume up. And it definitely ramps it up. Amnesia is very graphically impressive, given its relatively small download size on Steam (approximately 1.8GB) and there were no texture problems as far as we saw. Each area in the castle has its own horrific beauty and in the glow of your light sources, you will be able to see just how much time and effort has been put into crafting this game. The game’s audio effects prove to be equally well done. Amnesia does not use any ‘jump scare’ sound effects, instead focusing on subtle things that disturb rather than shock.

Amnesia manages to succeed in doing what many games nowadays don’t – providing players with a genuinely frightening survival horror experience. Now that Frictional Games has crafted such an interesting, immersive game; will this make bigger studios sit up and turn their focus towards survival horror, rather than action horror? Only time will tell. For now, turn the lights down and the volume up for a truly horrific game. But in this case, we use the term ‘horrific' and mean well by it.
The Score
A few niggling gameplay elements can’t keep Amnesia from succeeding in what it set out to do – offering players a true survival horror experience. If you’re looking for a different horror game, Amnesia is for you. Just don’t sleep with your lights off afterwards. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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9 Comments
3 years ago
100% agree with the score. Scariest game I've ever played, definitely up there for my favourite games this year. I've honestly never been as frightened as I was with Amnesia. The story was fantastic and completely bats**t by the end too.
3 years ago
I did play through the demo and I liked what I saw a lot. It is just not a setting that is a personal preference for me. I have been thinking of checking out the Penumbra series ever since playing this demo because they are largely the same gameplay but set in a more modern, scifi-esque (ala Area 51) setting.

I will say this about the game.. it certainly has creepy factor of 11 out of 10.. it's just downright disturbing... even with the lights on, I found myself checking over my shoulder at the slightest of noises (like when the fridge turned on in the kitchen for example)..
3 years ago
I wish my PC was competent enough to handle this... console port, please!
3 years ago
Nice review, but perhaps a better choice of screen shots is needed?

I get that it's a dark game but there's one screenshot I can see, then one of an orange dot on a black screen, and one of a white stripe on a black screen icon_razz.gif
3 years ago
Benza wrote
Nice review, but perhaps a better choice of screen shots is needed?

I get that it's a dark game but there's one screenshot I can see, then one of an orange dot on a black screen, and one of a white stripe on a black screen icon_razz.gif
Hehehehe.. yes.. I know what ya mean.. if it wasn't for the white background they're on, it would be fine.. but I have to agree there. There are a couple of screenshots in the gallery that are a little "brighter".. maybe they can be swapped..
3 years ago
Michael Kontoudis wrote
I wish my PC was competent enough to handle this... console port, please!
The requirements are super low I thought. Like 2Ghz processor and 2g ram.
3 years ago
Benza wrote
Nice review, but perhaps a better choice of screen shots is needed?

I get that it's a dark game but there's one screenshot I can see, then one of an orange dot on a black screen, and one of a white stripe on a black screen icon_razz.gif
Haha, I'm sorry about that. I got those screenshots directly from the website. There were better ones from GamesPress, but those were all watermarked...
3 years ago
Brilliant review: not 100% if its my cup of tea (80% to be exact) so downloading the demo now and if I like I buy.

Btw: Im loving the exchange rate!
3 years ago
Awesome review, nice to see the more out there PC games getting some attention, the platform has sooooo many incredible games that get overlooked this generation.

renegadesx wrote
Btw: Im loving the exchange rate!
Makes Steam an even better alternative to EBgames than usual icon_smile.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  09/09/2010 (Confirmed)
Genre:
  Adventure
Year Made:
  2010
Players:
  1
System Requirements:
OS: Windows XP/Vista/7
Processor: 2.0Ghz
Memory: 2048MB
Disc Space: 3GB
Video Card: Radeon HD/GeForce 6

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