Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)

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The journey to find who you are and where you are, will take you through many unsettling turns.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
-H.P. Lovecraft

 

 

mystic_knight1 “The following is a guest post by The Midnight Mystic Mage.”

I would like to start off by giving my warmest thanks to The Well Red Mage for accepting me as a contributor. I will do my best to conform to the styles and level of knowledgeable content that is always seen on this page. I know that I enjoy what I read on here and I hope that I can prove myself to be a valuable addition.

This was without a doubt one of the most disturbing & psychologically thrilling games I have had the pleasure of playing. The Lovecraftian qualities were definitely in full force with the sanity of your character changing when witnessing terrible events being the shining example. You play as Daniel, a character who as in the title, is suffering from a form of Amnesia. Right off the bat there are events that, if playing under the right conditions, will send a chill right up your spine. I tried to always be playing in a peaceful environment with headphones to really get the full terrifying effect.

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“And don’t forget to pick up the eggs” – Also Former Self

As pictured above, you will find notes in various areas that will begin to help you piece together what exactly you are there to do and how it was that you got there. The feeling of being unsure about these things while also having to make your way through such a spooky setting is something that was very new to me and was pulled off very well.

Amnesia does not let you get settled, when you are about to get used to the way that it is scaring you, it changes tactics and grabs you right back in the clutches of fear. I honestly had points where I had to take a sanity break for my self the same way that you have to dodge, run, and take one for Daniel if you wish to pass on to the next stage. Speaking of the sanity in the game, it is a genuinely weird feeling the first time that Daniel starts to lose it. The walls begin to appear to move, the noises become more violent and terrifying, it even goes as far as to break the third wall and make you believe that you have actual cockroaches crawling across your computer screen. Sure this trick is one that will only work once and you know whats going on when it happens again in the game, but I seriously jumped back from my screen the first time to inspect it because of how immersed I was in the moment.

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No cult sacrifices here, perhaps you were looking for another shrine?

I will try to stay out of any kind of spoiler territory because it is obviously a main part in playing the game to find out what exactly is this guy’s story, but some of the things that come to light about himself and the others that you are seeking in the castle are absolutely cringe-worthy. As you could see in the note to himself above, Daniel is on a mission to find and kill Alexander, who by all accounts is a dastardly man and deserves every bit of whats coming to him. There are very few actual characters though that you are able to interact with or have any kind of interaction with for that matter. You will spend most of the game exploring your surroundings and hiding from the monsters who are possibly a result of the evil Alexander and his unspeakable experiments and schemes.

I mentioned how immersed I was and how there was no getting used to the way the scares are coming at you. This was very true for most of the game, I would like to point out though that towards the end there are a few puzzles that are just head-poundingly difficult to figure out and that did break the immersion for me and cause what I felt to be a break in the suspense. Usually throughout the game I had no trouble figuring out what I needed to do to advance and stay fully in the game mentally, but they really cranked it up a few notches toward the end and I felt it to be more hurtful to the experience than helpful.

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*Yawns* Yes Daniel, but I still have to figure out what to do with that Chemistry Pot and the big gears.

There was a ton of great reading in the different books and pages you find that I seriously enjoyed. The writing was incredible and such a creative story, I found this to be one of the parts of the game that was really top notch. I also really enjoyed the fact that it was more about the exploration of the truly macabre areas and atmosphere while hiding and outsmarting the enemy, rather than running up guns blazing and taking down as many monsters as possible. I have never found the latter to be a truly scary way to approach a game, but I admit this could be due to never playing the right game that is in that vein. One of the most memorable moments of the game, and indeed one that will be hard to forget even if I wanted to, was the first time that you see the Shadow.

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The pulsing, violent, gelatinous, horrendous Shadow.

The Shadow follows Daniel, I wasn’t very sure what it was the first time I saw it. I was very aware however, that the walls were pulsing alive and that they were trying to hurt me. *Sanity Break!!*. I won’t get too far into why the shadow follows Daniel, or where it comes from. You can see from the picture above and the description though that it can be at times highly disturbing and hard to make your way through. When you get to a section that you are both being chased by a monster and surrounded by the Shadow, a padded cell with a nice warm jacket begins to sound nicer and nicer by comparison.

The developers Frictional Games have had their hands on all of the Amnesia games, the Penumbra collection, & the newest and critically well-received Soma. After experiencing The Dark Descent I definitely plan on giving these other games a whirl when I am able to. Another great feature that I have not yet given a chance was the custom story mode. After taking a second to look through some of the game mods that have been made with this feature, it is definitely something that I will need to look into. There are some very fun looking fan-made expansions thanks to this mod friendly feature.

It is about time to jump right into my first “8-bit Review” lets see how Amnesia: The Dark Descent stacked up, at least from my perspective.

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Living arrangements designed by H.R. Giger

 

 

The 8-Bit Review
visual1 Visuals: 8/10
The visuals in Amnesia: The Dark Descent are somewhere between, “I just threw up in my mouth, that’s so disgusting”, & “Holy crap these images will literally haunt my dreams tonight.” I had some terrible nightmares thanks to some of the more perilous nights playing Amnesia, and I really feel like the visuals of the game were incredibly realistic and gruesome.

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If this device and the description that accompanied it does not make you almost crap your pants, I do not want to see what’s in your basement.

The Castle was beautifully rendered, the lantern you carry and the torches give off a beautiful light that is just enough to see close around you. The game’s designers did a wonderful job giving you a sense of what it is like to be creeping through the darkness while dreading what could be just out of arms reach in any direction. It was not a setting that has many huge breathtaking scenes as in Far Cry or Uncharted, but I felt that the guys over at Frictional really did a wonderful job creating a setting that makes you want to check just one more time that you didn’t hear something outside of your window.

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Slowly… Slowly…. Holy crap the walls are breathing again!!!

audio Audio: 10/10
This is why I highly recommend that you play this game in a quiet place with headphones on. The noises that you hear in the background in this game are entirely chilling. I was just looking through my screenshots and I was having trouble remembering why I found a particular image that I will insert below scary. Then I remembered it was the ghastly barking of dogs in the background, the sounds of animals being experimented on and of vicious ones trying to break free. It is what made the blood stains and the pieces of animals around the room so disturbing. If I wasn’t to have heard all of the terrible noises in this area, it may not have been so terrifying looking back.

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The disembodied, terrible, howling. ….SQUIRREL!!

The voice acting was incredible, Daniel was portrayed by Richard Topping. He did a wonderful job making the character relatable and expressing plenty of motion, there is never a monotonous moment. That being said it is the sound effects that made me give this game’s audio a perfect score. Do you really want to walk down the hall and see what is making that noise? Are you really going to open the door and find out if there is anything making that horrible shrieking noise? Or is it just your mind playing tricks on you? The effect the audio has on this game and on your mind are something the likes of which I have never seen before.

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Oh God, please don’t tell me how they use that..

Many of the sounds and voices that you hear are mere phantoms of what has once taken place there. That is what really causes the scenes to get under your skin. Most of them would be creepy enough without the added effect of tortured souls crying for mercy, or hearing that monster’s groan as he makes his way past the room that you are hiding in.

gameplay Gameplay: 8/10
The minor gripe I had about the puzzles does not take away from this being a truly amazing gameplay experience. I love the first person exploration and the puzzle solving really is a strong point for much of the game. It is a great feeling when you are able to combine a couple of items and find your way out of a tough spot. They usually were logical in what they asked of you to complete them, but it took a ton of searching sometimes and it just completely made you lose the spooky atmosphere that was so masterfully built up.

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Looking for something?

I loved the controls, it was seamless to lift an object, rotate it as needed, crouch, look around a corner, all of the good stuff that you need for a stealthy horror game. The need for light kept things interesting, you need to keep candles or torches lit around you or your lantern lit to ensure that your sanity doesn’t get sketchy. To achieve this you will need to use your lantern oil and your tinderboxes that light the torches and candles sparingly. All in all the gameplay made for a great experience, I would have liked the puzzles toward the end to have been a bit more straightforward, but it definitely wasn’t game breaking. They did a good job of making sure if you pass an area with a needed object that there is a suitable substitute that you can use.

narrative Narrative: 10/10
This, like the audio, is a shining example of what this game does spectacularly well. I really do want to keep from spoiling it for anybody who wants to play, but I will try to give a little bit more of the narrative without giving away the heart of it. Daniel is searching for Alexander, it becomes clear after a while that Alexander was doing some terrible experiments on animals. He is harvesting a substance from them called Vitae that it seems he is able to get a higher volume of the more terrified the animal is while he is draining it. Of course he is not able to get the amount that he is really after with animals so he moves on to human experiments.

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Which leads to a whoooole lot of effed up shiv.

accessibility Accessibility: 7/10
This is probably the part that I would consider the weakest, which is still not at all very weak. The puzzles that cause you to look for something in a very strange spot and combine items to use in a way that really takes some time to figure out, were a bit of a nuisance at times. I did have to go to a guide a couple of times even though I try for quite a while before giving into that impulse. This was the only problem I had with the accessibility but it did break the immersion enough when it happened for me to consider it a problem.

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Go down the stairs three times, then jump twice, and a magical poison apple will appear. Combine this with your glass jar, and you are ready to fix the elevator.

challenge Challenge: 9/10
The same reasons that the puzzles frustrated me are partly why this game was very challenging indeed.There were other aspects that made the game difficult though, such as the conservation of oil and tinderbox resources that I mentioned earlier. Also there are some areas such as the flooded area that require some swift movement and fast thinking. It definitely felt like an accomplishment coming to the end of the game and making it through all of the hardships along the way.

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Only if you tell me how to get the door open in the Chancel.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 10/10
As I have mentioned, I found Amnesia to be unlike any other horror experience I had played before it. The story draws you in and really makes you want to figure out what is going on in this screwed up little world that is unfolding. The sanity is handled in a very original way and causes you to question your own sanity much as the player is himself. The core concept of what is going on with Daniel and Alexander is also very unique in its own right. Amnesia is definitely a long shot from derivative, though there are some parallels you could make as with any game.

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This may look like a skull in the fire, but it is my mind, being blown.

personalgrade My Personal Grade: 9/10
What a terrifying experience. It is really hard to capture the feeling that comes across you when you are creeping through the dark hallways, already scared of everything happening due to the character’s insanity and the haunted past of the place, and then you see the first experiment gone wrong or whatever exactly the abominations that walk that place are. It is extremely haunting, and it has such an incredible story, I full heartedly consider this game a classic in the horror genre.

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Just a tiny bit unsettling

Aggregated Score: 8.9

 

The Midnight Mystic Mage is the resident writer of sublimereviews.wordpress.com, a reviewer of games, books, and film, and a fan of all things horror and spooky. Follow the link… if you dare!

 

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16 thoughts on “Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)

  1. Frictional Games does some incredible, ahead-of-their-time work when it comes to presentation. I remember playing through the Penumbra series a few years ago and being absolutely terrified and also amazed at how terrified I was. I think a lot of that came down to the realism, and the fact that they totally nail the whole “mess with the player’s head” mechanics.

    Judging by the fact that you liked Amnesia, Penumbra is an equally mentally punishing game that will push you to your limits! Particularly, Blague Plague, although I don’t recommend skipping the first for story purposes. That game was simply beautiful and it just added to the terror you felt.

    As a side note, you reminded me that I still need to play A Machine for Pigs!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Fantastic review. I’m way too much of a wuss puss to play a game like this (even though I love Lovecraftian horror and tropes). I may be tempted to look up some spoilers, because I’m still curious about what’s really going on. Granted I may be risking my sanity in even reading about it, but curiosity isn’t just for cats.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Fabulously written review! I usually steer clear of horror games, as my imagination runs away enough without any prompting and I actually do like getting to sleep now and again, but this has been one horror game that I’ve kept wondering if it was worth becoming an insomniac for.

    …maybe I’l try watching a Let’s Play first (haha)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What a well-written review! I’m grateful again that you’ve written it considering this is a game I absolutely couldn’t find myself playing. Ever. I’m such a wuss when it comes to horror games. But having only read a little bit of Lovecraft and enjoying Mountains of Madness, I feel you conveyed the sense of dread that’s apparently all over this game. I played Alien: Isolation (which I’d recommend) because of my love for the sci-fi franchise, but that was borderline too much for me, man. I LOL’d at the mention of the illusion of roaches crawling across your screen. It reminded me of the humorous X-Files episode where they pulled the same prank. First time I saw it, I jumped, too. Thanks again for writing this!

    Liked by 3 people

    • At The Mountains of Madness is definitely a favorite of mine. It gets hard to follow at times with all the technical scientific terms, and the measurements, etc. It really paints an amazing picture though. I definitely need to check out Alien: Isolation, it looks like an amazing game. Very happy to be able to contribute.

      Liked by 1 person

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