REVIEW: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Friday, June 1st, 2012

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Oh, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I love you for what you do and hate that you do it so well. Amnesia is a psychological horror game for PC and Mac, available on Steam and Onlive. If your computer can’t run it, than buy it through Onlive as it relies on your internet connection, rather than your computer specs. The game is created by Frictional Games, who also made the Penumbra series as-well. The game is the only horror game that I’ve played that has scared me to the point that I stopped playing to calm myself. Resident Evil and Dead Space never came close to that.

Frictional, as an independent developer doesn’t make millions of dollars. If Amnesia didn’t sell very well than they would be forced out of business. Luckily the game was met with such high critical success, and strong word of mouth, that it sold well beyond their expectations. The game has become somewhat of a test of courage among the video game community; many people even post their ‘freak outs’ on youtube. People unfamiliar with the game would probably think that a game couldn’t be that scary. In my opinion they are wrong .

You play as Daniel, a young man who finds himself in an old run down castle unsure of how he got there, or who he even is. Right at the start of the game you find a letter written by yourself, addressed to yourself. You have forcefully given yourself amnesia and you’re tasked to kill the lord of the manor: Alexander Brennenburg. You’re not told why you have to kill him, but decide to explore the mansion in hopes of finding out. The story itself is passable and certainly better than Resident Evil.  It reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft in a good way. You’ll find various notes around the castle that unveils its dark secrets. You’ll also have flashbacks too; you can still move around in the flashbacks as they are done by voice only.

The game is entirely in first person, which for a horror game is preferred. Third person dampers the immersion in horror games because you know very well that you’re controlling another person. You control your body with the directional pad, press shift to run and space to jump. Unlike, say, older Zeldas where a press of the button will swing your sword; you have to use the mouse and move it fully in order to achieve the same result. Say you want to hit something, you would take the mouse and move it from left to right like your own arm. This heightens immersion because you’ll be manipulating things closer to how you would in real life, than on a 360 or ps3 controller.


Outside of “puzzle important” items, you’ll have three items that are necessary to your survival. The tinder box, the lamp/oil, and your health restorer. The health restorer isn’t that important because you’ll pretty much die from most monster attacks. The weakest monster can kill you in a few hits, so if you’re in such a situation you’re probably already dead. Tinder boxes light up torches and the lamp is….well an oil lamp. You carry it around and it illuminates your surroundings. Tinder boxes are plentiful if you ration them, but oil is harder to come by. Light is a resource in this game as it’s the only thing that keeps you from going insane. When you’re in the light, your sanity slowly starts coming back but monsters can see you easier. Low sanity makes monsters easier to see you and blurs your vision. There are some small sanity effects but I won’t spoil them. The puzzles mostly  involve finding an item and using it on a machine to start it up again. Puzzle hints are told through notes you find near the puzzle, so don’t skip on reading the text or you’ll be lost. The puzzles aren’t too hard but if you’re stuck on them, your immersion will drop and so will your feelings of fear.

There is no way to fight monsters so you must run and hide from them. You hide in the darkness and avoid looking at them to escape from them. If you look at them they find you easier, so you have to look away and hope they don’t find you. This creates intense terror, in a way that mowing down zombies in Resident Evil or Dead Space does not. It’s hard to feel scared by anything knowing full well that you can not only kill it, but kill it and 20 others just like it in a few minutes with your rocket launcher. I Don’t feel scared I feel excited when playing Resident Evil and that just shouldn’t be the case at all. The monsters don’t appear very frequently, but because of their immortality and strength they are a huge threat. In other games, zombies and necromorphs appear far too frequently to feel like a threat. Most of the time you’ll only vaguely see the monsters lurking in the shadows or hear it howling in the distance. You’ll never  know just exactly where they are or how close they are to finding you unless you get too close.

There is one area of the game that is most assuredly not scary; but after being told what its intention is you’ll not want to stay in for long. The area is brightly light, has a fountain, and has calm relaxing music playing. If you enable the developer commentary (which you shouldn’t on your first play-through), you’ll find out that it exists to keep you from getting used to the terror of the game. If you’re exposed to terror for long periods of time, then it will slowly lose its effect. However,he most relaxing area of the game is perhaps the most devious of all!

Will you venture into the mist, not knowing what may lurk inside?


Music is one of the most important parts of the game as it has a significant impact on the atmosphere. The relaxing area has soft music playing with sounds of water flowing, reducing the tension. The sounds of the monsters moaning  in the distance raises your heart rate, and makes you fear turning around the next corner. The music mostly encompasses  the sounds of wind blowing, or the sounds of your own(and others…) footsteps.  When you’re chased by a monster, you’ll hear intense music playing along with the screams of the beast and your own heavily beating heart.

The only major criticisms of the game that I have, is that it does its job too well and it’s a bit too short. If you’re immersed in the game and let it sink its hooks in you, you may quit playing it due to fear. It’s also only about 8 hours long give or take, which is short but understandable for an indie game. If my strongest criticism is that that it does its job too well and I desperately want more of it; I believe that’s more of an issue with the games industry than the game.


The horror genre has in recent years become a sub-genre of the shooter; with resident evil and dead space being the most prolific. Silent hill seems to be the last well known horror franchise that tries to be scary and that saddens me. The AAA horror games that come out, should be so scary and come out frequently enough that Amnesia shouldn’t be seen as the light at the end of the laughing stock of a tunnel that horror is today. But, that is exactly what it is. The feeling of fear is unique to each person though, what scares me might not scare you. If you’re not scared by Amnesia and are scared by Resident Evil, I don’t think you’re wrong in feeling that way. I personally believe the game is the best at what it does and puts most AAA horror games to shame. It is well worth the price of admission. I’d skip the game if you have a heart condition though. The game recommends playing in the dark with headphones on…which you may soon regret.

Review Score

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