Thursday, October 7, 2010

Amnesia The Dark Descent review

So a new indie horror title has been all the buzz lately, but is it any good?


All I knew about this game was that it was a new horror game for the PC made by the people who did the Penumbra games, which wasn't saying much for me, as I found the Penumbra games boring and gimmicky on the short play I gave it.

The game booted up (a retro gaming phrase that needs to be brought back) and within a few minutes I was grateful for the games' indie status; the  menu was minimal, cut scenes non-existent and tutorial? Pfft nothing apart from the GTA-style text at the top of the screen telling you how to open a door, which brings me to a very note-worthy point of this game; the controls.

Penumbra, for those who haven't played it, was a physics based first person horror game, where you click and hold down the mouse button to pick up an object and move it around like some obsessive compulsive housewife. A good idea, and Amnesia continues to use it to its advantage, as manually opening doors and boxes creates a nice dynamic and tension to otherwise mundane activities; no longer was opening a cupboard a boring task to see if it had a key inside of it, as now it was a slow and tense procedure that reminded me how immersive video games can be.

After an hour of playing this game which has virtually no HUD (just a small semi-transparent gray dot in the centre of the screen), no equipping weapons or items, and no save points (it auto saves whenever you quit), something struck me; a feeling of complete disgust and shock, at every video game publisher and developer who has ever advertised their horror game as being the 'most', 'best' or 'biggest' at anything ever, whilst this game flies under the radar whilst being quite possibly the best horror game in existence, hands down.

You see, I categorize horror into two groups; short term and long term.
Short term horror is physical, on the spot and in the moment horror, the fear of being chased or something jumping out and screaming at you. Think along the lines of Forbidden Siren or Resident Evil.
Long term horror, is when the idea of something is terrifying, sick or twisted. A dead child haunting it's parents or something. Psychological horror, basically. Think more along the lines of Silent Hill 2.

Amnesia is the epitome, and a perfect, shining example of short term horror, and pulls of everything with such perfection and professional ease, that every other horror game should look at it for direction and tips.

I've always said that first person was the best outlet for horror games, and this game is why: 

In a silent corridor with the warm glow of my lantern being the only source of light, I can see about 2 meters ahead of you; beyond that, absolute darkness.
I hear the sound of cold air around my head, and as I make my first few steps forward, I hear a shuffle of steps nearby, around the corner. The corridor comes to an end, with a left or a right path to take. I huddle against the left side of the corridor and peek around the corner...blackness.

Then the screen does a motion blur 'shudder' like warp and I hear loud groans behind me. I spin around and through the blurred lens of the game which represents your 'sanity levels' I see it. A human like pale creature passes under a yellow light just long enough for me to know he's staggering my direction.

At this point as I turn and run I can hear him getting closer, and closer, until I hit pause, take off my headphones and slide back on my game has made me do this before..I am sitting in front a gorgeous, horrific masterpiece.

I will say little more on the game, and let you enjoy it yourself without any spoilers, but just note that there are times at which you may need a guide, and I'll link to the perfect text file at the bottom of this article, but don't use it for anymore than what you need it for, as spoiling this game will be taking away the best gaming horror experience you will have for a long time.

In length, it isn't long, perhaps two or three days of solid gaming, a week or so playing conservatively, but due to the simplistic nature of the game, multiple playthroughs seem natural, especially with the commentary mode available in the options menu that lets you play through with the games developers talking over it and a custom story mode that will undoubtedly lead to expansions and tasty mods.

Available for PC, Linux and MAC, you can get a free demo and purchase the game here at Frictional Games' website.

A walkthrough that I used three or four times is here in a tiny text file, courtesy of GameFAQ's.

Graphics 9/10
Best use of simplistic and effective lighting in a horror game to date, and excellent use of blurring, warping and 'breathing' effects on the walls.
Very consistent and the lower settings allow it to run on low-end PC's.

Sound 9/10
It does have a score, but mostly slow strings and sound effects. The usage of the effects at the right times made me turn on the radio and mute the game. Not because it was bad, but because I was terrified. Excellent job.

Gameplay 10/10
Yes, a perfect 10. If any game deserves it then this is it. Simple yet atmospheric, basic movements like walking and running are all you need. No wall hugging, climbing, hanging, swimming, shooting, aiming. Just you, WASD, left shift and your mouse.

Lifespan 8/10
Not long, but short and sweet. Consistent levels and difficulty make reruns feel like you're still playing on.

Overall 9.5/10
Buy this now.

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