Somewhere along the way, games stopped being scary. It seems as though nbody wants to go around snapping pictures of ghosts or running around in a short skirt from something in a clock tower anymore. Even traditional survival horror series such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill now boast about their improved combat or their co-op modes – two very un-horrific traits.
Developers ripped out the dark, beating heart of horror in order to infuse the titles with more action-oriented mechanics to appeal to a larger audience. While this strategy has seen wild success, the idea of instilling fear into the hearts of jaded gamers has all but been abandoned like basic hygiene at a convention. (I’m looking at you, BlizzCon.)
About two months ago, Frictional Games, the makers of the Penumbra series, released Amnesia: The Dark Descent which has steadily gained an audience. Played through a first person perspective, you never hold a gun or any other weapon. A good bit of the game leaves you wandering through a series of dark empty rooms. This may just be one of the most ambitious titles to come out this year. Amnesia should come with a free pair of pants because you’re going to crap yourself once you start playing this game.
As I Pondered, Weak And Weary…
You start this darkened journey lost and alone in a strange castle. The character you play, Daniel, mumbles to himself throughout the game as he tries to remember the circumstances that brought him up to this point. You have, as you can probably already deduce, amnesia. Pieces of paper littering the seemingly abandoned castle speak of an archeological dig gone wrong and a nightmare chasing you throughout the darkened corridors. Notes left for yourself speak of a man hiding deep within the catacombs that you’ll need to stop if you ever want to escape this nightmare.
Daniel’s paranoia is deliciously contagious. Even going into this game accepting of the horror genre, you cannot help but snicker the first couple of times your character jumps at seemingly random events such as the wind whipping by or strange sounds. But soon the character's shallow breathing and barely audible heartbeat bring you further into his world. The sound design is nearly perfect – catching every little hint of the wind or the scurrying legs of a beetle crawling across the floor. His fear has become your fear. And it’s around that time that insanity starts kicking in.
Any Lovecraft-tainted game worth a hill of beans must have some sort of insanity mechanic involved, and Amnesia uses the light and dark effects to balance this out. Light is a commodity in this game. Find tinderboxes or lamp oil to light your path. Time spent in the darkness slowly drives the character insane, causing visual and auditory illusions as well as decreasing your mobility. It is, after all, rather hard to move anywhere in the fetal position. Limited supplies makes it nearly impossible to remain in the light but you’ll need the darkness to hide from the monsters.
Yes, there are monsters in this game. No, you cannot kill them. You run and hide like a good horror character. Doors can slow down their progress, but you have to physically close them and open them by sliding the mouse. With some doors not opening the same way, you can find yourself fumbling with the handle just as the thing behind you begins to tear you apart.
As The Nameless One Sleeps...
As H.P. Lovecraft once discovered, the most horrible things lie in the minds of the reader. Amnesia sets a beautiful stage in a gothic castle environment and covers it with a nearly impenetrable darkness. With amazing audio and the right visual cues, it’s more often than not the player jumping first before the character in the game even reacting. This is a truly a unique experience for fans of horror or anyone who happens to own a PC. Amnesia proves that horror isn’t dead, only waiting in the darkness.
Plus, Amnesia is on sale right now for the Halloween weekend, and you can pick it up now for only ten bucks. Isn't that worth a good scare?