The true meaning and essence of “horror” has, over time, been eroded and reduced to little more than cheap scares, sudden, in-your-face imagery, and generous helpings of blood splatters. In a lot of ways, horror has become synonymous with gore, a fact clearly evident in the movie industry, and recently, in the world of videogames too. Developers seem quite content following the same old equation whereby some ugly freak of nature jumps the player from the shadows, only to explode into gobs of flesh and blood when shot at a few times, wailing incessantly all the while. For one, that’ll probably work once or twice to startle you a little, and two, it gets utterly boring very quickly. Why so?
It’s because true horror is not about cheap, one-off scare tactics, or big, bloody explosions; it’s about being able to create an atmosphere that’s capable of hooking into your subconscious and your mind, one that can make your spine tingle, your hair stand on end, and your skin crawl with goosebumps, and then keep you in that fearful yet strangely enjoyable state. And such pieces of entertainment seem to be getting rarer by the day. Luckily, the development team at Frictional Games seems to have recognised these facts when crafting their latest title, and so, I’m indeed pleased to introduce you to Amnesia: The Dark Descent – a fantastic, genuinely frightening, and deliciously entertaining blend of horror, adventure, and puzzles.
The most glaring difference between Amnesia and other “horror” games is the complete omission of weapons or defense items. A traditional oil lantern is the only thing that’ll accompany you throughout your journey, and believe me, it’s more useful than any type of gun would ever be, given the game’s setting and environments. And being an oil lantern means that you have to keep a constant supply of oil handy, or else you’re going to be in pretty deep trouble in the dark. Not that you aren’t already troubled enough, anyway. You awaken from unconsciousness and find yourself in a huge castle, seemingly uninhabited, but that’s far from true as you’ll find out later. You know or remember virtually nothing, except that your name is Daniel. A few minutes of unsteady trotting around, and you find a note from yourself in the past, telling you to find and kill Alexander, the owner of the castle. And from there on, your quest for knowledge concerning said note, Alexander, and the castle itself begins. Rather than give you a story from the get go and have you simply give it a conclusion, Amnesia lets you piece the whole thing together bit by intriguing bit as you play along.
Speaking of which, there’s a fair bit for you to do before you can uncover the truth behind the sinister happenings at Castle Brennenburg and bring it all to one of the game’s three endings. Gameplay can be generalized into two main segments: exploring and puzzle-solving. The former is an absolute must if you want to succeed at the latter, but is also imperative if you want maximum insight into the full story. The game’s various challenges won’t necessarily have you visiting every room and rummaging through every drawer or cupboard, so you’ll have to take it upon yourself to do so to uncover all the information left behind in the form of diary notes and flashbacks. The puzzles are typical adventure game fare, and are none too complicated, but are quite clever and enjoyable to solve nonetheless. Whether you need to clear an obstacle, activate some machinery, or obtain a vital piece of information, a core feature across all challenges is that of collecting and using items, sometimes in combination with each other. Among these items, the most valuable ones are tinderboxes and oil jars, both of which are used to light up your path, and these are often your reward for thorough exploration of drawers, cupboards, chests and cabinets. Manipulation of movable objects such as doors, valves, etc. require you to make real-life motions with the mouse, and while this can take some getting used to initially, it provides a nice little touch as opposed to being able to do everything by just clicking.