Oh God. I’ve seen horrible things. Horrible, terrible, disgusting things. They make me cringe, they make me feel gross, they make me depressed.
I’ve seen them in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This is quite literally the scariest game I’ve ever played. I don’t think it takes the title of my favorite horror game (that still belongs to Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem for GameCube), but I’ve certainly never experienced this sense of dread in any other game. It’s phenomenal. And if you’re interested in that kind of experience, you should probably read on.
Amnesia is the child of Frictional Games, who you may know for their previous horror series, Penumbra. I actually grabbed Penumbra: Overture as part of the Humble Indie Bundle, but never got a chance to fully play through the game. Amnesia certainly has a similar feel, but its newer relative is much more polished and is actually a full-length game, rather than an episodic adventure.
In Amnesia, you play as Daniel, who wakes up in a strange castle with a serious case of, …yeah, amnesia. He can’t remember who he is or why he’s here, and you soon find out that this was a decision of his. A note to his future self reminds him that he chose to forget all the terrible things that happened previously – which already makes you feel anxious. Why wouldn’t he want to remember who he was, and, wait… if it’s that serious, why do I want to find out again?! You slowly piece together that you used to be working for a guy named Alexander, who did some terrible things, and he’s crazy and you have to find him and OH FUCK WHAT IS THAT SOUND?!
I don’t want to get too much farther into the story, because that plays such a huge part in the amazing sense of immersion you feel. This game is horrifying, and it only gets worse as you unravel the story of how your character got there. You might want to crap your pants, but your eyes will still be glued to the monitor. You’ve got to play this game in the dark, at night, with headphones (as the game suggests at the beginning) – I promise you that you will not get the same experience otherwise.
A huge part of what makes the game feel so immersive is the sound. The production is excellent; you can hear every single creak, every breath, every bug crawling across the floor. There’s a pretty excellent score that changes with each area of the castle and each stage of the game, and helps indicate what mood you should currently be in. You’ll find yourself letting out a huge sigh when you step out of a deep dark place into one of the castle’s Halls, where the music changes from spine-tingling creepy to a lighter, though still eery melody. You’ll also definitely find yourself thinking you’re hearing things that you’re not… or maybe you really are. It doesn’t matter. Your blood pressure will elevate thinking about the possibility that one of the horrible monsters in the game is going to pop out at any moment.
And when those damned things do pop out, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. One of Frictional’s very deliberate design choices was to make you entirely, completely vulnerable. You have no gun, no crowbar, no weapon of any kind. You have zero defenses. All you can do when an enemy comes near you is run away, crouch in a corner, and look away. You have to run into that dark room with the dead pigs hanging everywhere and blood spattered all over the walls, get yourself into a corner, crouch, and look down at the floor. While you’re huddling there like a coward, your sanity is depleting and you feel like maybe you should just look to see if it’s – OH SHIT, IT’S STILL THERE!
Without a doubt, this is what makes the game so deliciously terrifying. If you had the mindset that you could just attack any rotting zombie-like creature that came wobbling your way, you wouldn’t feel the same sense of “oh-dear-God-what-do-I-do”, and it might just turn into an action game. That’s where Amnesia differs from Dead Space, the Half-Life series, Resident Evil, and all the others. You don’t get the privilege of defending yourself. Those types of games have become more action-oriented recently, and while they can be great games, Amnesia provides a whole new experience.
There are some things here that aren’t perfect. This is an indie project, and you’d be able to guess that if you saw a friend playing. The graphics aren’t the best in terms of textures, models, and overall quality, but the game uses an excellent sense of light vs. dark to keep your emotions flailing around like a deer trying to navigate its way through a tavern, so you never really notice the chunky polygon models or the muddy textures. You don’t have time, and, frankly, you don’t care, because that monster could come and eat you if you stop and look around for too long. The voice acting is also sometimes over the top – especially for the main protagonist, which is unfortunate – which does take you out of the game’s world for a moment as you realize that, somewhere, at some point, there was a guy sitting in front of a microphone recording these lines. There’s also quite a bit of text to read in the game that doesn’t have any voiceover, which is necessary for the story but certainly messes with the game’s pacing.
This game is $20. It’s for both PC and Mac. You should buy it. It's on Steam (and other digital storefronts). It gets a 10 out of 10. It’s not the best game I’ve ever played, but the hours I spent playing this game were some of the most satisfying gaming hours I’ve had in a long, long time. Just make sure have a change of clothes on hand, because you’ll get your insides scared right out of you.
out of ten