Genre: First Person Shooter Developer: Publisher: Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 9th Sep 2010 Platforms:
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Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a Survival Horror game developed by
Frictional Games - the indie developers behind the physics based Penumbra series. While the Penumbra series definitely had an element of horror to it, it generally had a much stronger focus on utilising physics to affect objects in your surroundings. Amnesia however, takes the opposite approach - with a very strong focus on horror and much more basic physics puzzles.
You play Daniel, a man who wakes with amnesia alone in a not quite empty castle. When I first read the title of the game I audibly sighed and I did so again when I read the gameís description. The main character beginning the story with amnesia is a plot device used so often it is regularly mocked in almost every form of media, so I naturally had very low expectations for the game.
Itís a very easy method of exposition - now your character knows as little about the world around them as you do. The story can now get away with outright telling you how you are supposed to feel about elements of the world and various other characters, instead of showing it through background information. Amnesia: The Dark Descent doesnít take the amateur hour route however, instead turning a tired plot device into an essential element of the game.
The Survival Horror genre is generally defined by the vulnerability
of its characters - by limiting ammunition and weaponry, players find themselves a lot less eager to mix it up with enemies and a lot more likely to take paths they think are less dangerous in an attempt to stay alive. The genre has been struggling for the past several years now as its best and brightest move to a more action oriented gameplay style - and while some titles (like Resident Evil 4) are great games in their own right, it is difficult to consider them Survival Horror titles.
It is not difficult to consider Amnesia a Survival Horror title however, as you would be hard pressed to feel more vulnerable in a video game. Instead of limited ammunition and weaponry you have no ammunition or weaponry - and almost no chance to live if you are spotted by one of the monsters in the game.
Danielís amnesia also plays a major part in furthering the playerís vulnerability. Knowledge about the world around you is limited to what you learn from letters and diaries around the place and giving Daniel the same limited knowledge of his surroundings makes him very easy to identify with, allowing players to easily place themselves in his shoes.
One of the few things Daniel is certain of is there is something after him, something in the shadows along with the monstrosities wandering the corridors of Castle Brennenburg. Because of this, Daniel has a deep aversion to the dark and he slowly loses his mind the more time he spends away from a light source. Your sanity is also affected when you notice something unnatural, like a fountain spurting blood or something howling in the forest surrounding the castle.
The developers have done an amazing job of using sound and visuals to further increase the tension and feeling of terror. Danielís teeth chatter and his heart beats loudly as he becomes more frightened and your vision blurs and swims as you lose your grip on reality. The music is eerie and unsettling while you explore the areas of the
castle and builds to a crescendo when a monster is searching for you.
For those who havenít played Penumbra, the gameplay bears similarity to the gravity gun puzzle sections of Half-Life 2 - with a much stronger focus on realism. You pick objects up with the left mouse button and throw them by tapping the right and you also maneuver most other objects in the environment with these moves.
Doors are pushed open by holding the left mouse button and moving the mouse up, drawers are opened by holding the left mouse button and moving the mouse down. It can take some getting used to, but once you have the hang of it it feels very natural. The only issue becomes figuring out which objects can be moved and which canít - although it is usually easy to tell.
The story gets its inspiration from the celebrated horror author H.P. Lovecraft, whose works tend to have a polarising effect on people. I personally canít stand his style of writing, although when I first
heard the concepts behind his books I couldnít wait to get a hold of one. The twisting and skewing of a personís mental and physical features against their will, power so great it renders man insignificant and the sense of utter hopelessness provide a sense of horror giant spider clown gods canít compete with.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent uses the video game format to embody these concepts, bringing the first person view, physics based puzzles, sound effects and music together brilliantly. The sense of dread washing over you as you crouch in a corner in almost total darkness with your vision swimming, heart pounding and breath comes in short gasps as a humanoid creature with flayed skin instead of a jaw stands just metres away from you is more intense than any other video game has managed and if you even marginally enjoy the horror genre you owe it to yourself to pick it up.
Really recommend a decent set of headphones for this game, I tried to play it without sound but its not freaky at all without it.
This game makes you go insane if you take it to seriously.