Amnesia: The Dark Descent

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Amnesia: The Dark Descent game cover

ConsolePC/Mac/Linux
DeveloperFrictional Games
PublisherFrictional Games
GenreSurvival horror
Release Year2010
Purchase (PC)Click here to purchase from Amazon.
Purchase (PC/Mac/Linux)Click here to purchase from Steam.

We’re in October. Guess what that means? Horror movies, horror shows, horror games. Nothing else gives you such an adrenaline rush than having to experience something that scares the shit out of you. Literally.

So for this month, I am going to look at the Frictional Games catalog and maybe pick up a few other games. For tonight’s review, we look at one of the most popular horror games of all time. A game that is often the subject of Let’s Play videos and reaction videos.

That game is… Five Night’s at—

PFT, HA HA HA!

I’m sorry, but that game isn’t scary at all. A game with zero atmosphere and nothing but BWAAAAAAH jumpscares is hardly worthy of mention (COME AT ME, FANBOYS!)

No, we’re going to a game that has challenged popular horror series such as Silent Hill and Resident Evil. One that has proven that not all horror games need to give you a means to defend yourself. You only have your wits, reflexes and resources to lean on. That game is Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

I must be one twisted fuck because I have played over 140 hours of this game on Steam. Yeah, that much time. I have played this game longer than completing some of the RPGs I owned. I just love it that much.

And there is quite a bit of replay value too. There are endless custom stories you can play, plenty that offer new challenges and even give fresh experiences. It’s a game that has gotten the horror element down right to the tee.

So first, let’s start with the gameplay.

 

A Vacation at Castle Brennenburg

Amnesia: The Dark Descent beginning

You play in first-person view, exploring an enormous gothic-style castle in Prussia during the 19th century. The main objective is to keep pressing forward as you solve puzzles and avoid danger.

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Puzzles can range from simple tasks like pulling hidden levers or collecting keys to open new doors to doing more complex tasks like making specialized chemicals or getting a big machine to work—which can have three or four different smaller puzzles to solve. You can get hints on certain puzzles by picking up notes around the area. To this end, you will need to collect many items you find along the way such as keys and machine parts in order to advance forward.

Some of these puzzles though can be really tricky and require a lot of backtracking to complete. You have to be thorough in exploring each area, because there might be hidden areas you have missed that contain important items that are required to move forward. There are chemicals you may need to mix or special tools that allow you to bypass jammed doors. Or hit stuff with a rock. No really, that can sometimes work too.

You have a health and a sanity meter. You die when your health drops to zero—obviously. However, when your sanity is too low, it affects your vision and your ability to steer yourself. You may even collapse on the ground, making you vulnerable to the ungodly creatures waiting for you at the other end of that dark hallway.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent low sanity
My HOT. STINGING. BRAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIINNN!!!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent low sanity
Oh dear god, get up get up get up…

There is also the game mechanic for light and darkness. Simply put, standing in darkness will allow your eyes to adjust to it better. However, your sanity slowly drops when you remain in it for too long—indicated by the crackling sound of “cockroaches in your brain” and your heart beating. You can amend this by collecting tinderboxes and oil lantern.

Tinderboxes let you provide fire to candles and torches. While these items are relatively numerous in the main storyline, some custom stories keep their supply extremely limited so it would be wise to conserve tinderboxes for when you really need nearby light sources.

Lantern oil is fuel for your lantern (derp) and gives you a portable light source. Beware, oil consumes quite fast during usage and it’s generally rarer to come across than tinderboxes.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Grunt
Oh shit, that’s bad timing!

You may also find the rare Laudanum, which heals your wounds.

Managing these resources effectively will help you in the long run. While they are not exactly necessary to complete the game, they make it a whole lot less unnerving and troublesome to play through.

And of course, the monsters.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent first grunt
Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in.

Oh yes, they are some pieces of work.

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Beautiful. Fantastic.

Other than the looming sense that you were being followed throughout the game, there are vaguely humanoid monsters patrolling the castle. Known as the Gatherers, these hideous creatures seek out wanderers to capture them. Even if it means cleaving someone’s flesh.

While you can slow their advances by throwing a large object at them, you can’t kill them and they run surprisingly faster than you. Your best chances of survival is to crouch in the darkness or behind objects while they are not looking.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent hiding in closet
You may even take cover inside these closets, which the monsters will never look inside.

You can also try to slow their advances by closing doors on them and looking for a quick place to hide at.

There is a certain satisfaction of solving difficult puzzles by yourself and outwitting the ever so persistent monsters. Constant jumpscares in horror games… aren’t good—I’m looking at you, Five Nights at Freddy’s. The best way for you to experience fear in video games is to force you to enter places that you just don’t want to go into. While Amnesia does have its share of jumpscares, they’re few and they receive a decent amount of buildup.

Amnesia has the distinction among horror games in making you feel very helpless. Yes, games like Five Nights at Freddy’s do that too, but in a way that is artificial, predictable and cheap.

Freddy Fazbear jumpscare
BLARGH! RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!

The Storage and both Prison maps are very well done in this regard. They force you to enter through unnaturally dark areas, where you need the lantern more than ever and monsters lurk in numbers.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent torch jumpscare
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKK!!!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent prison

 

The Lovecraftian Tale

The story follows an amnesiac young man named Daniel, who has received messages from his past self to assassinate a man named Baron Alexander in the depths of Brennenburg castle. Along the way, Daniel learns of the disturbing occurrences of the castle and the true nature of his former partnership with Alexander. Meanwhile, he is being hunted down by a monstrous entity that seems to defy logic and reality.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent shadow
BETTER RUN, MUTHAFUCKA!

I’ll stop right there as it is better to experience the story yourself.

While one can argue that the plot makes predictable turns, it becomes more of a matter of being about the journey than the destination. You can guess on what may happen next, though one can also argue that the narrative is quite compelling on its own. The game is more about digging for backstory, finding out why Daniel had drank the amnesia potion and why he wanted to kill Alexander.

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You know a game is good when even the loading screens are interesting to look at. And the subtext of these narrative passages add quite a bit of depth into Daniel’s character.

The story can be thought-provoking in place and it does make you wonder about the human nature, blurring the line between killers and victims. What makes everyone human.

But what really sells the game is its atmosphere. Its detailed sound design and interesting environments add to the horror already present. You could be walking down a hall when you suddenly hear a pained shriek at the end. Sometimes, you can hear someone’s footsteps in the floor above you. Or maybe you can hear a monster’s growl down the hallway next to you…

The various locations really sell the dark, oppressive nature of the game. The “hub” areas give you some time to take a breather and feel safe for a while, but you still know there are things wandering about. These places are even gorgeous.

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The soundtrack also does wonders in selling the appropriate tone.

When you first start up this game, it recommends that you play it with the lights off and headphones on. It is like YOU have entered a horror story and will have to experience it directly. And that is the key word: experience. One unlike any other.

Going down dimly lit hallways.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Archives
…While some zombie cows moan in the background.

Watching something move in the darkness.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Refinery grunt
Chaaaaange? Anyone got chaaaaange?

Waiting anxiously as a monster comes crashing through your door.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Guest Room grunt attack
Not by the hair of your chinny chin chin? Then I’ll huff… and I’ll puff… and I’ll blow your house in!

Watching your sanity slip, having you see things that you do not wish to see.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Transept insane Alexander portrait
Hey, buddy. I’m glad you’re here. Can I borrow your eyes and lips? Buddy? …Buddy?

I absolutely love this game. A lot of detail clearly shows and it is well worth the effort.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Justine
Hello, me.

And of course, there is a little more. The Steam edition of the game already includes the Justine expansion, which is a short campaign that you have to complete in one try. You play as an unknown woman and the objective is to reach the end while avoiding the three monsters. There is an optional objective of also saving/sparing three hostages locked up in the depths of the underground dungeon (by the way, this is a different location from Brennenburg Castle). Depending on how many you save, you get a slightly different ending… with an interesting little reference to another famous game when you save all three.

Even the monsters here are truly freaky, like coming straight from a Marilyn Manson music video.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent suitor
I’M NOT A SLAVE! TO A GOD THAT DOESN’T EXIST!

And ultimately, the best feature of Amnesia is the Custom Story. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a playground for aspiring game designers, and Frictional Games had given the tools to allow people to design their own scenarios. They can create new maps, new models (and monsters), provide voice acting and much more. Later on, I will add a list of recommendations to this article based on custom stories that I find worth playing.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a game of losing your sanity. The “dark descent” in the title can be interpreted as a double entendre: literal and figurative. You’re entering the dark depths of the castle while you’re entering the dark depths of your fears. This game will continue to stand out in the horror game genre, as it knows how to scare you to tears.

And now that we’re about finished here, please enjoy this hilarious cartoon by FlippinDingDong.

 

Custom Stories/Full-Conversion Mods – Update 03/01/17

Alright, it’s been a while since I’ve written this review. A LONG while. I’ve been so busy with other stuff (real life included) that I didn’t really find much time to play Amnesia. So without further ado, let’s discuss the differences between custom stories and full-conversion mods.

A custom story is a downloadable fan-made campaign that you typically drop into My Computer -> C: drive -> Program Files (x86) -> Steam -> SteamApps -> common -> Amnesia The Dark Descent -> custom_stories. At least, that’s where it goes for the Steam version of the game for Windows 7. So after you drop it into the correct folder, you can select this new custom story from the game’s main menu.

A full-conversion mod is a downloadable campaign that includes new assets and a much larger scale than your typical custom story. You need to extract these projects into the root directory of your game, which in my case is My Computer -> C: drive -> Program Files (x86) -> Steam -> SteamApps -> common -> Amnesia The Dark Descent. And to play these campaigns, you have to go to the actual project folder and use its own executable file. These campaigns will NOT appear in the custom stories menu of the game’s main menu.

Let’s take a look at some of these campaigns.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

$19.99
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
8.375

GAMEPLAY

9/10

    STORY

    8/10

      GRAPHICS

      9/10

        SOUNDTRACK

        9/10

          Pros

          • The game successfully captures the feeling of horror and insanity, making you question what is real and what is an illusion.The monsters are uniquely disturbing and hideously grotesque, serving as memorable enemies in the game.
          • The story is quite fascinating for the most part, shown and told well with enthusiasm and presented to us like an interactive horror novel.
          • The puzzles are fun to solve and offer a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when completing them.
          • Brilliant sound design that makes the game feel very much alive.
          • The ability to create and play custom stories, and the fanbase is ever so happy to provide high-quality scenarios in many different flavors.

          Cons

          • While the story is enjoyable, it can be predictable at times as it seems to put more emphasis in the backstory than the present events.
          • The puzzles can be quite difficult to solve if you don't know where to go or what to collect to get to the next area.
          • The controls can be awkward at times, as the physics based gameplay may require some tedious busywork in order to progress.
          • Some people may consider the lack of combat mechanics to be a flaw, though this is the entire point of the game to begin with.
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