Amnesia: The Dark Descent review
Daniel wakes up with a splitting headache in a decrepit castle, and not a shred of memory. I normally would have rolled my eyes at the premise, except Daniel did it to himself. As detailed in a note written by his former self, Daniel “chose to forget,” and his only mission in the present is to find Brennenburg and kill him. I might have at least written a reason why, and possibly drawn a few maps for the benefit of my future self, but even so, Amnesia: The Dark Descent manages to put a fresh and horrifying spin on a tired cliché.
There are no bullets to horde or rusty pipes with which to beat enemies senseless. Amnesia is a different breed of survival-horror that has rarely been attempted. When an enemy appears, you run for your life and you hide. The twisted humanoids that stalk the halls of the castle are few, but they are viciously deadly, requiring no more than two swipes with their sharp claws to end your life. I’m almost ashamed to admit how many times I cautiously came out of hiding, only to scamper back at the slightest noise and huddle down in the darkness.
Light is Daniel’s only friend in Amnesia, and his source of sanity. In the darkness, Daniel’s vision gets progressively hazy and cockroaches scramble across his view, the sounds in his head grow more convoluted, and his movements become muddled until he is reduced to a useless pile of bewildered flesh. Daniel’s episodes of insanity are only temporary, but you don’t want to be caught in one at the moment a creature decides to attack.
Daniel has tinderboxes used to light torches and candles throughout the mansion, and a lantern that he carries at all times, but there are never enough tinderboxes to light everything, and oil for the lantern is a rare commodity. Daniel will never be completely blind in the darkness, but as in real life, it takes a few moments for his eyes to adjust. The halls only get darker and more labyrinthine as you progress. And so, you either constantly push Daniel to the breaking point in an effort to save your supplies, or use them freely and hope that fortune watches your back down the road.
Amnesia constantly toes a fine line between predictability and true terror. The soundtrack is a heavily layered mix of moans, screams, creaks, and what is possibly someone munching on potato chips, which is incredibly annoying. It isn’t long before you can easily distinguish atmospheric sounds from the ones that represent actual danger. This doesn’t make the appearance of enemies any less nerve-wracking, but it is an unfortunate side-effect of repeatedly recycling the same sounds.
Amnesia features a good mix of realistic puzzles that will occasionally test your wits, but are mainly to keep you moving through the castle in search of components. My main complaint with Amnesia is that the game doesn’t always follow its own rules (minor, yet possibly helpful spoiler ahead). For example: I spent the first two hours checking paintings on the walls before succumbing to the fact that they were non-interactive decorations. Little did I know that one such painting, indistinguishable from the others, was interactive and vital to progressing.
Amnesia isn’t always the smoothest experience, but it is never dull. The repetitive soundtrack and a few unnecessarily difficult moments are easy to forgive when the surroundings are so genuinely unsettling. In a time when guns and zombies rule the horror scene, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an ominously welcome diversion.