Let’s face it… the survival horror genre is pretty pathetic these days. Once-great franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill have become mere mockeries of their former selves, relying more on action and Hollywood cliches than good old fashioned horror.
But all is not lost. Through all the drudgery, indie horror games have arisen. Last week I talked about Nightmare House 2, a fantastic Half-Life 2 horror mod. This week, however, I’m looking at commercially-released indie horror game… Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
What is there to really say about Amnesia? Chances are, you’ve at the very least heard of it… probably seen some videos on youtube, too. Amnesia, despite its indie roots, has become somewhat infamous for being one of the scariest games ever made. But why? What makes this game in particular stand out? Well, let’s take a look.
Amnesia puts you in the role of Daniel, a British man who finds himself waking up in a terrifying evil castle. Daniel has lost his memories, and experiences flashbacks and hallucinations as he travels through the castle that give insight into what happened.
The castle is a dark and eerie place, with mysterious sights and sounds around every corner. Daniel, in his fragile state of mind, will gradually go insane if he stays in the darkness. Sanity is nearly as important as health, as Daniel will move more slowly and erratically when his sanity is low. Luckily, there’s two different ways to light up your surroundings: tinderboxes, which can be used to light candles and torches along the way, and your lantern, which is pretty self-explanatory.
The most notable feature of the game is the frightening atmosphere. The developers made excellent use of sound, darkness, and unpleasant sights, putting you on edge while rarely making use of jump scares as many similar games would. Indeed, for much of the game nothing is really happening; you’re simply exploring the castle. It takes quite some time for a monster to make an appearance, and longer still for the monsters to become an actual threat.
Of course, the terror jumps up to 11 once you’re being actively hunted down. The first monster you encounter is an apparently invisible entity dwelling in the water… a being that can only see you if you’re standing in the water. Which, of course, you will have to do. The fact that you can’t see the monster only makes it even scarier, since your imagination has to fill in the blanks. Daniel is no fighter, so he has no means to fight back… his only defense against monsters is to run and hide.
Throughout most of the game, the monsters you’ll face are of the physical sort. Admittedly, if you were to look at them in direct light, they’re pretty ridiculous. However, the darkness makes them seem so much worse. In Amnesia, what you can see is only half as terrifying as what you can’t see.
Primarily, however, the gameplay is mostly about problem solving and exploration. There’s really not too many mosters in the game, which is actually a good thing. Not knowing when they’re coming puts you on edge, and keeps them from becoming stale. You also discover more about Daniel and the castle as you play, collecting journal entries and notes scattered throughout the estate.
Overall, there’s not much I can say about Amnesia that hasn’t already been said. The game is masterfully crafted, managing to scare you even when nothing’s going on. The graphics, while nothing revolutionary, serve the game well. The environments are dark and oppressive, making you dread every further step you take. If I had one complaint to make, it’s that the game does tend to drag a bit later on. However, it’s a fantastically terrifying experience, and one I suggest you partake in. The sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, is coming out soon, so why not give the original a try? You won’t regret it.
I give Amnesia: The Dark Descent 4.5 Rangers out of 5.