Amnesia ~ The Dark Descent ~ is a first person survival horror game developed by Frictional Games in Sweden. The game was first released in 2010 and was offered as part of the Humble Indie Bundle IV. I now give here my full review:
The story is told in a slightly odd and very non linear fashion. Initially you begin as a player and do not know who your character is or where you are. Most of the character back story is told while exploring areas of the castle and you come across diary entries and journal notes, both from your character Daniel, and other former inhabitants of what you soon discover is Brannenburg Castle.
It might've just been me being slow on the uptake of what the hell was going on story-wise, but it took me about half of the game (we'll say roughly 5 hours in) to put one and one together and figure out that the "Shadow" that was "chasing" me was really/also the strange meaty tendrils and masses that will populate areas and cause damage as the game/story progressed.
Once the entire story is realized, just before the "final confrontation," I felt that in whole it was a pretty good story. There were some things I did have questions about though, but I will cover those in the "Final Thoughts" section at the end.
Game play in Amnesia is pretty basic. You move with the WASD keys, and look with the mouse, standard PC controls for an FPS. You can also "shift" sprint and crouch (which I modified to the "C" key instead of the left Control key (I think that's what it's set as initially). You also have "Tilt Left" and "Tilt Right" keys (Q & E keys) and I'm not 100% sure what these are intended for. There were a number of times in the game when your character seemed like he was faltering, but those only lasted for a moment before completely blacking out.
Did I mention running/sprinting? Because you do a lot of that in this game. There are a number of monsters, well, three anyway that I can think of and you have to run the fuck away from each and everyone of them. Maybe an experienced player could run around and "tilt" their way when avoiding some of the faster moving monsters, maybe that's what the tilt keys are for.
Amnesia is basically a point-and-click game. You wander from room-to-room, see an item, pick it up and look at it in your inventory all the while wondering when you're going to use that sturdy surgical needle next. It actually reminded me a lot of Shadowgate 64: Trial of the Four Towers, in that they were both FPS games that didn't involve any real "fighting" and you went through rooms in a castle and solved puzzles to progress to new areas.
Another really cool/fun thing with Amnesia is that you're able to manipulate a lot of objects in the game. Cabinet doors, drawers can all be opened by clicking on "where" you want to grab a hold of then moving the mouse in the direction that you want to pull that object. Some larger objects such as boulders and wooden beams can only be moved by clicking on them and then walking in the direction you want them moved. Some objects seem ridiculously light, such as barrels, which you can pick up and hurl across the room as the same you could do with a book. Most of the objects in the game don't do anything, but are there and you can pick them up and throw them. They have no purpose, but it helps to solidify that this world is "real."
Regarding your health and sanity meters, they will slowly regenerate although you are able to find "healing potions." If you happen to be "killed" by one of the monsters, you will respawn/regain consciousness in a nearby room. There was a point in the game where I decided to "fuck it all" and not bother healing myself and if I ran into a monster, I would let them kill me, knowing that I would respawn/come to near by and just continue with what I was doing before I "died." This mentality quickly took away a lot of the fear and "survival" aspect.
Near the end of the game, I seemed to hit a mental wall and ended up visiting gamefaqs in order to solve some puzzles. They weren't complicated puzzles mind you, just difficult to figure out. Like [SPOILER ALERT] combining the copper tube and the sturdy surgical needle (which I figured out on my own), but then injecting it into the skull of a fresh (as in only a day old) corpse in order to have blood pour out of the open tube end, which you then injected yourself with so that you could have an important anti-fungal antibody in order to access a "locked" area. Yeah, had to look that one up. I also looked up a map for a large open area that required a lot of running and I was moderately low on lamp oil.
From someone who grew up with the original NES, pretty much any game that comes out is going to have beautiful graphics. Amnesia is no exception. Shadows in this game move and dance as you think they would in a more-or-less haunted-type castle. I really don't have much else to say on this front. The game looked good with the graphics engine in the game ramped all the way up although I didn't give it a try at the lowest setting. Maybe I should have, considering this is a full review, but oh well.
MUSIC & SOUND
The music in the game was composed by Mikko Tarmia and was very nice. Nice in that it was very unobtrusive and didn't distract from whatever may or may not be lurking around the next darkened corner. The majority of the in game music is dark ambient, designed to maintain the mood of the game. I've listened to a bit of the soundtrack, not extensively, but again, it's good mood music.
The sound effects in the game are also really well done. Cringe-worthy really. There's a good number of squishy and "splotch" type noises when you throw a chair at a fleshy, bleeding, pulsing mass emanating from the ceiling/floor/wall.
As I had previously mentioned in my first impressions, that I was really excited to see that another game aside from Eternal Darkness implemented a sanity meter to a horror game. In the game, this was represented by a brain and brain stem that would shrink and pulse color as you went more and more nuts. There were also textual descriptions such as "Head is pounding, hands are shaking" and ". . ." Warping of the screen, seeing hissing cockroaches scurrying across are all visual cues that your sanity isn't as sound as you would like it to be. You can also hear people screaming, voices saying things "get out of here" or "what do you want?!" as if they were just behind you.
All of these are designed to continually unnerve you although I didn't find them as interesting as in Eternal Darkness, but while those sanity effects worked in that game, doesn't necessarily mean that they would work well or translate to Amnesia.
I really enjoyed Amnesia and is the case with any game that I like, there are also things that may have bothered me, but not to the point that I'm going to not like or hate a game. There were a number of times that I was getting quite frustrated though, which was usually due to my lack of lantern oil and trying to avoid whatever that noise was that's right behind me. Or running from candle lit room to candle lit hallway to bit of moonlight coming through a crack in the roof just to avoid going insane all because I have no lantern oil.
All in all though, despite some frustrations, this was a really good, fun game. I was frightened when I was supposed to be, even if it wore off just as quickly. I would highly recommend this game if you haven't already played it.
The Darkness Comes
P.S. So I just found out that the "Justine" tab when you start up the game leads to a pseudo expansion game. I'm excited to start this now, or at least when it starts getting dark.
P.P.S. A really cool part in the game was when I went into a room with only one exit, I picked up something (a diary entry most likely) then there was a growl behind me and banging on the door. The game told me "Hide, you have nothing to defend yourself with" so I ran into wardrobe I had just finished checking (and knew that it was empty) and closed the door. The outer door burst open and I could hear the "thing" growling, grunting and breathing heavily while it stomped/shuffled around the room. I heard it leave after, maybe 20 seconds but even then I hung out in the wardrobe hoping that whatever it was wasn't going to be "right there" as I opened the door. It wasn't, but it was still pretty fricken scary.