Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a horror game unlike most others I’ve previously played. It’s first-person, and you spend the vast majority of your time completely alone – no allies, no enemies. You spend your time interacting with the environment by exploring and solving puzzles. Sometimes you might have to hide from a monster, but the real conflict is internal as you battle to keep your own sanity.
Amnesia is a first-person adventure game that’s a little over two years old. The graphics and interface looks like it might be older, but once I tried the game, I found it worked very well. When you approach an item with which you can interact, a hand icon appears. You can move things or hold them by clicking on them. If they’re not an inventory item for use later but are able to be picked up, they’ll float in the center of the screen. You interact with everything in a similar way. For example, you don’t go through a door by running up to it and pressing the enter-key. Rather, you press the left mouse button and either pull or push (depending on the door). This leads to some interesting situations when running from a monster. I hear something, and my heart begins to beat faster. Is something near me? As I look around, I see something move in the corner. Now my heart’s racing, and I bolt for the door. When I reach it I use the left mouse button and push forward only to find that it’s a pull door! In my panic, I don’t realize this soon enough. The controls make the game feel very immersive.
Light and darkness plays a large part in the game. Being in the dark will slowly drive you insane, which, among other things, will make you hear things that aren’t real. This is particularly scary because then you can’t be sure whether something’s really there. Being in the dark drops your sanity, so you need to keep your lantern fueled or be able to light enough candles. Lantern oil and flint and tinder become very valuable resources. The screenshot above shows a look at a room while relatively sane.
This screenshot shows the same room with less sanity. Note that it can get a lot more distorted than this. Looking at monsters drives you insane, you have to be careful not to look for too long. You can hide in the dark from the monsters (but that drives you insane as well), but if it wants you dead, you’ll die. There really isn’t any fighting the monsters. Your best bet is to run as fast as you can, and if you’re cornered, to hide or attempt to distract it with the flesh of another. Fright and panic were two emotions that fought to be dominant in my body as I played the game.
As you might expect, there’s a lot of creepy imagery. Here’s a closer look at the pile of bodies from the last two screenshots. This was a relatively tame shot, which is why I chose to share it. There are other bodies that can be found, including anatomically correct, fully nude bodies. There are also limbs and even mangled torsos that can be found (and used as distractions for monsters). As you go insane, you’ll see other things as well. One room had metal cages hanging from the ceiling. When sane, they’re empty, but as your sanity drops, you begin to see bodies in them. It was particularly unnerving when I saw bodies in them after having previously seen them empty.
It has a really fascinating story. Your character, Daniel, has purposely given himself amnesia and left himself with a letter telling him to kill Alexander. Daniel assures himself that Alexander deserves to die even if he doesn’t like it. The plot examines what it means to be good and evil as well as the concepts of fear and torture. It’s extremely fascinating but also frightening and disturbing. As I progressed through the game, I heard audio flashbacks and occasionally was given full, playable flashbacks in which Daniel’s past was examined. By the end you find his past troubled and complicated, and might question whether his actions were correct. Near the end of the game, you’re given a few choices. Morally they’re a little ambiguous, mirroring life.
The game suggests you play it in the dark with headphones. I didn’t do either of those things. However, the fact that I played without the brightness maxed meant I’m at least trying to play by the rules. There’s also the fact that I played it all the way through even though most people I know stopped playing after finding it too frightening. DLC, Justine, is also available. It provides a new story, but there’s no saving; When you die, you have to restart. I didn’t enjoy that, so I didn’t complete Justine. However, the base game is fantastic. If you like horror, you should absolutely try Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It could be the perfect game to play on Halloween!