Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one of those games I couldn't put down.  Not because of its immersive gameplay or great graphics but because it is downright terrifying.  A:TDD is touted on the internet as the scariest game you'll ever play.  Based on the YouTube reaction videos, such as this one, I just had to see what the hullabaloo was all about.

You take up the role of Daniel, an Englishman, in the year 1839 who wakes up in Brennenburg castle. Daniel is tasked by his former self to dwell deep into the castle and find Alexander of Brennenburg and kill him.  The story unfolds through notes and diaries that are found throughout the castle.  Most diaries are supplemented by great voice acting.  While exploring the castle Daniel is being haunted by "living nightmares".  There are also cut scenes or flashbacks to further explain the story.

Amnesia plays like your standard FPS, you can strafe, lean, run and jump.  What sets Amnesia apart is how you interact with objects and the fact that there are no weapons in the game.  There is also no HUD.  What you are greeted with is your health bar represented by realistic looking heart and an insanity bar represented by a realistic looking brain.  These can only be accessed by opening up your inventory.  Nearly everything can be picked up or examined using mouse gestures.  The player can pick up a book, examine it by rotating it and then throw it after you are done.  Desks, doors and closets can be opened by clicking and holding the mouse button and dragging it towards you or away from you to either open or close.

For half of the length of the game you are solving puzzles. The other half you are scared shitless running away from grotesque monsters or nightmares lurking in the dark hallways of Brennenburg castle.  Daniel is powerless against the nightmares.  In fact just looking at the nightmares drives up your insanity gauge.  When you encounter a nightmare you have few choices; run, hide or die.  Brennenburg castle is draped in darkness which you can use to your advantage to hide from the nightmares, however, standing in the dark also drives up your insanity gauge.  So you are constantly playing a cat and mouse game of light or dark.  Stay in the light and have the nightmares find you or lurk in the dark and go insane.  To help you you are equipped with a lantern you constantly need to refill with oil.  You can also find tinderboxes which you can use to light candles, torches or other sources of light.  You have to pick and choose which sources to light as tinderboxes are scarce in Brennenburg castle.

Brennenburg castle is covered in darkness.  This then creates a perfect atmosphere for the game.  Corridors are lowly lit by candles and moonlight shines through an otherwise dark hallway.  The game looks beautiful even though mostly everything will be dark.  There are cool little effects that add to the atmosphere such as when you enter a pitch black room coming from a room that was lit your "eyes" will slowly adapt to the darkness and objects will start to appear.  Another little effect I thought was nicely done is when Daniel starts to go insane his surroundings start to move and vibrate, again this adds to the already creepy atmosphere.  Although there is nothing breathtaking about the graphics the atmosphere is so well done that you'll be scared regardless if you run the game on its highest or lowest setting.

There have been reports that users are having difficulty playing the game.  It is recommended that if you have an integrated graphics chip that you upgrade your hardware.  I ran the game using a laptop equipped with an i3 370m, GeForce 420M and 4GB of RAM on mostly medium-high settings.  I didn't notice any slow down or any other issues.

Just like the graphics the sound is so well done it literally brings Brennenburg castle to life.  The game recommends that you play it while wearing headphones.  Which is exactly what I did.  The sound plays a big part in getting your skin to crawl.  When being chased the nightmares make noises that ramp up in volume as they get closer.  Opening that door and closing it gets harder when you know the nightmare is standing right behind you.  The voice acting in this game is also very well done.  When listening to the diaries the actors voice portrays fear, confusion, and anger very well.

So should I?
The bottom line is that if you are tired of so called "survival horror" games *cough*Resident Evil*cough* and want to experience a bone chilling game that takes survival horror to the next level then there is no better experience right now than Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  It is available on Steam right now as of this posting for only $10!


MSRP: $19.99
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games (Digital Download), THQ (retail)
Platform: PC, MAC, Linux
Released: 09/08/11 (Digital Download) 02/22/11 (Retail)
ESRB: M - Mature

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