Amnesia: The Dark Descent [GAME REVIEW]

In celebration of the recent release of Frictional Games latest game 'SOMA' (which I am currently playing) and the arrival of October - or as I like to call it; the month of HORROR! I thought it would be fitting to look back at what is considered to be one of the best horror games ever made; 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent'. Now is this a title that the game deserved or is it actually an overhyped bore?

Usually with an introduction like that, you would expect a slow burn until you find out the answer to the question but with a game like this I am not even going to wait another sentence because 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' is actually one of my favorite games of all-time. No joke. This is a game that really resonated with me big time because honestly, while I love games and have a Steam library consisting of over 100 of them - I really cannot find myself playing singleplayer games at all except for a very select few. I really do not know what is wrong with me in that sense but I generally get bored whenever I play a game by myself. With 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' however, that is not the case. This game hooked me right of the gate with an intriguing story and unbelievably good atmosphere that I just could not let it go until it started scaring the living daylights out of me. As of today (October, 2015) I have beaten the game four times. While you would think that means I could probably do a speed run and beat it in a mere couple of hours - you would be wrong because while I definitely know a lot more about the A.I. and when the monsters usually show up - the atmosphere and tension is just so stunningly good that I can never bring myself to RUN whenever I am not seen by one of the creatures.

One of the best aspect of the entire game is actually the pacing. Like all the great horror movies - this is not a very fast paced and action filled game. The pacing is slow and builds up over the course of the game in a way that I am sure a lot of people could not take and decided to give up on the game after spending the first 30 minutes just wandering around. For me however it just makes the overall experience THAT much better because you can tell that the creators have a clue on how to establish tension and that you cannot just throw everything at the players at once. For maximum effect you need to show restraint and wait for the juicy stuff until the player is fully invested in what is happening. If the player was only mildly enjoying the game or was just a couple of minutes into it - the first BIG scare would not mean as much and that first BIG scare is THE most important one. Naturally the game teases you a bit to get you worried about what is to come and those moments are flat out excellent.

Frictional Games truly are the masters of horror games right now because they KNOW how fear works. They know that imagination is so much scarier than just loud noises. As a result of this, 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' is one of the scariest game ever made - and in my opinion; THE scariest. When the weakest part in your game is the title - you know you have a brilliant game in your hands. With the title though, in my opinion it should just have been called Amnesia. The Dark Descent is rather unnecessary because most people just skip that part entirely. Calling the game The Dark Descent makes it sound rather manufactured - BUT that does not take away from the actual quality of the game. Everything in it perfectly complements each other and deliver a stunning experience that you will not forget anytime soon.

There are so many memorable moments of the game that it almost becomes silly. The famous "water part" is spine-chillingly intense and more than justifies all the buildup leading up to it. Everything in the prison is terrifying on a purely atmospheric level and is definitely the highlight of the game in terms of sound. We also have the monsters and frankly... all of them are memorable. I remember every single one in the whole game which is really a testament to their design and the way they are used. The Grunt is definitely the game's most popular as it is the first one you see and is generally considered to be the primary enemy (it is the one with the distended jaw that hangs over its torso). The Brute is definitely more powerful and its "theme song" is also more terrifying - but naturally the game should get scarier the further into it you get. The Kaernk is the water monster that you never see but its presence is always there whenever you are dealing with the water part (in fact you encounter it a total of six times in the game).

While you can definitely play the game without reading the notes and follow the story 100%, reading the notes just adds so much more to the atmosphere and you start to feel more and more insane as you go. Nowhere feels safe, the urgency and looming presence of never being alone is where this game truly shines and you will never experience that better than through reading every single note you find. While it is not exactly a masterpiece of a story, it is surprisingly deep and you really feel for the main character (Daniel). Having a title like "Amnesia" could very easily just have been a cool and scary title they came up with and make it they one they go with even though it has nothing to do with the actual story but here, the "Amnesia" part of 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' is a major part of the story and is part of the hook that keeps you going because you genuinely want to know what is going on.

The actual look of the game is simply stunning. You can tell that a lot of care was put into making this came look as good as it possibly can be and truly sell the horror aspect from a visual standpoint. When it was first released, the next four to five months I had several screenshots from the game as my wallpaper on my computer. It is that beautiful to look at. Sure they are not the most amazing graphics you will ever see but I honestly expected a lot less for what is essentially an indie game.

But really though, while the story and graphics definitely add a lot to what makes this game scary, what ultimately sells it is the sound and while I have already talked about that. I have not mentioned the actual soundtrack at all. The music is actually one of the best parts of the whole game. Even by listening to it on its own you start to feel a little uneasy and maybe give you a reason to look behind you just to make sure you are not being watched. The scores that are played during the more calm moments of the game are actually quite beautiful to listen to and shows that the composter Mikko Tarmia (who also just recently composed the music for 'SOMA' which is awesome) did quite a versatile job as not all of it is just meant to freak you out. In fact one of the best scores is the end credits called "Lux Tenebras" (fun fact, that was originally supposed to be the title of the game) which is just a beautifully composed piece of music that complements everything else in the game magnificently well.

The mechanics are really easy to get a hang of and can actually be quite fun once you realize that you can practically pick up everything (books, rocks, chairs etc...) and throw them but it also adds to complicate the puzzles a bit because it is not always completely obvious what you have to do. In one puzzle you might need a rock - but that does not mean that you are not able to pick up a rock like that in any other puzzle so you are not immediately going "oh now I can suddenly pick up a rock, that means I am going to have to use it". While the puzzles themselves are definitely not the most difficult thing in the world - they really should not be as that would just become slightly irritating and take you out of the experience as it all just comes to a halt story-wise. No, this game is fairly straightforward and there is nothing to really require you to look up solutions online. The ONLY thing that makes you turn the game off sooner rather than later is just the sheer and utter TERROR. The first time I played it, I could only really get through 30 minutes at a time after the first encounter with the servants. I can easily get through a horror MOVIE as I am rarely scared by them - but games like 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' is just terrifying.

Overall, 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' is simply a masterpiece and one of my favorite games of all-time (although I am not exactly someone who plays even half of the games that are released) just through its sheer terror that it invokes in you. At the time I was really disappointed with the horror movies being released that experiencing something like this really made up for it. Frictional Games KNOWS how this genre works and their work cannot be commended enough. The sound design is impeccable, the story is really interesting, the graphics are stunningly beautiful and it is just filled with so many memorable moments in a way that may probably never be replicated by another game like this.


- Lucas


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