Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review: Scare-Inducing Backtracking

Turn the corner and take a deep breath. Hear the slow, methodical pounding of your heart. Listen to the droplets of water dripping from the ceiling land on the ground, and echo across the halls and chambers. You feel your sight growing fuzzy and watery, and you feel your breathing become labored. You lean around a corner. You hear a voice behind you. You turn around, but no one is there. You feel small insects crawling all over you.

Are you going insane?

Maybe.

In Amnesia, the Dark Descent, it’s quite likely.

The selection of horror games has decreased dramatically over time. Gone are the grittier, darker Fatal Frame, and the Resident Evil games. Today, you have a choice – Dead Space, Dead Space 2, or Silent Hill. It comes as no surprise that Amnesia comes as a breath of fresh air for those looking for a game that will keep them up at night.

Amnesia takes the horror game genre and returns it to dark, deep, scary roots. In Amnesia, your only weapon is the light. Stay in the light and risk losing your life to monsters, or stay in the dark and risk losing your sanity. The emphasis on monsters and enemies in general in Amnesia isn’t to make the game more difficult. The monsters are there mainly to scare your pants off, although they still want to kill you. Your only choice of action against monsters is to run, hide, or stack barrels in front of a door and pray that it doesn’t get inside. Several times in the game, the occasional enemy may serve the purpose of making your heart speed up by a few thousand beats per minute. Wear a diaper.

With a good pair of headphones or decent surround sound, the scrapes and footsteps of Amnesia are one of the best scare achievements in the game. The majority of the game lacks music, unless you qualify the constant humming noises and groaning noises as such. The sound effects of the game can  frighten you by themselves. Your heart pounds loudly during stressful, frightening moments in the game, adding suspense and drama. Everything you touch or move has the potential to make a startling noise, without becoming obnoxious.

Disembodied voices float through the air of the castle, warning you of unseen enemies. Insects crawling below make an oddly satisfying skittering noise as you walk by them. Amnesia shows a person just how scary a bump in the night are.

The biggest failing in Amnesia is the story line. Not for lack of trying, Amnesia’s story fails to grip a person the way others  in the genre have done. The story is simple enough at first , and not bad by any means; a man, trapped in a castle, who has a serious case of amnesia. Not soon after beginning the game, gamers may find themselves overlooking the majority of the storyline, which unfolds for the player in journal entries written by the main character that are scattered throughout the game. Interactive cut scenes are also used, although a bit more infrequently. Even this fails to truly bring the story to life. But don’t fret over that too much – You won’t be able to pay much attention to the story while you’re being scared to death.

Another small problem in Amnesia was the amount of backtracking involved when an important item hiding in the dark wasn’t apparent on the first run-around. It pays off to explore the rooms steadily and find as many supplies the first time around to prevent a lot of grief down the road when you realize you’re missing something important.

For an “indie” title, developer Frictional Games has done with Amnesia what Silent Hill hasn’t. Amnesia brings survival horror down to basics, and throws the player into an dreary, dark environment sure to get a jump out of even seasoned horror gamers.

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