Amnesia: The Dark Descent is undoubtedly the single most engrossing and ingenious survival horror game that has ever been my pleasure to experience. Deep, complicated and incredibly unique, Amnesia succeeds fully on its rich and detailed story, perfectly executed horror elements and the uncanny ability to not only take you by surprise, but pummel your insides with genuine fear and anxiety. The Dark Descent is an indie game perfect for any gamer looking for a complex story. It is a one-of-a-kind experience, an armada of brutally terrifying creatures and the perfectly ominous atmosphere with which to hurl those monsters directly into your face. Anyone looking for a high budget, graphically intricate game with intense action sequences should look elsewhere, for Amnesia’s subtlety and undeniably riveting (yet at first confusing) plot is what makes it so successful.
Amnesia is set in a fictional 1839 and begins with your character, a young man named Daniel, chugging down some type of Amnesia inducing drink in the fictional Castle Brennenburg, after apparently doing something so horrible that he didn’t want to remember his recent past. As the story and game progress, you find many pages from your own characters diary and other notes that help to outline the former state of the now decaying Castle (which was once a thriving mansion, now lifeless and tarnished), why you came to Brennenburg, and why you wanted to forget the past in the first place. Not only do you learn more details about your past as you traverse the unbelievably colossal Castle Brennenburg, but you also encounter distorted creatures, almost cryptic rooms and environments that trigger your memory, and the spine-chilling narration of antagonist Baron Alexander of Brennenburg, who’s personality and reason for existence makes up a large portion of what makes Amnesia such an enjoyably twisted experience right until the very last moment. To make matters worse, not only are you being chased by your past, but by also by a mysterious ‘shadow’ that you only learn about by undergoing it’s wrath as it destroys every area it passes through at various points in the game. The people that you learn of and meet across your ‘journey’ are impeccably detailed and their stories help bring together one of the most brilliant, unpredictable and original plotlines ever to be written for a video game. However, given its exceptionally unique feel and gameplay, it feels less like a video game and more like an interactive horror experience, though it’s only made better by the fact that it is like no other game out there.
The most notable feature of Amnesia is the gameplay- there is absolutely no combat. None at all. If you encounter any of the Castle’s various monsters, your only options are to either hide in the darkness (this costs your character his sanity, which is actually monitored by a meter in the inventory screen) or run for your life and hope for the best. Amnesia doesn’t use cheap thrills and cliché horror game elements like obnoxiously huge monsters or overused pop up scares. Instead, Amnesia petrifies you with its dense and sinister audio (the game is meant to be played with headphones and has received tons of recognition for the effectiveness of its audio), horrifically detailed environments, perfect moderation of the use frightening monster encounters (two of which are visually disgusting, one of which is completely invisible) and again, the fact that you are virtually helpless and lack the ability to fight anything that crosses your path. Every time you turn a corner, enter a new room, or hear the heart sinking growl of one of the Castle’s many ‘grunt’ monsters (aka Mr. Shambles), you feel the penetrating terror that the creators of the game intended you to feel, all without seeming too formulaic or predictable. Everything awful happens when you least expect it, Amnesia is that meticulously crafted. This makes Amnesia constantly engaging, ruthlessly intense, and almost always unpredictable.
The only other noteworthy element of gameplay present in Amnesia is puzzle solving. For somebody such as myself, who loves puzzle solving in video games and critical thinking in order to advance, Amnesia was perfect for me. The game is truly unrelenting in this way; there’s always somewhere else you have to go, always something else you have to do, always something else you have to figure out all on your own before you proceed. There’s always a door that won’t budge, a passage way blocked, or some type of concoction that requires you to suck it up and navigate the dark halls of the Castle in order to find the ingredients. The best part about it is that Amnesia uses those normally trivial game elements in varied ways, so that the game never feels repetitive or too easy, and there is always a reason behind everything that you do. Also, the only direction or aid that you get in solving the sometimes two hour long puzzles are a note or two that you may or may not find. The game is definitely for more advanced players, and ones with the attention span to be able to think before acting. Castle Brennenburg’s murky halls are not only home to torture chambers, monsters and bloodcurdling uproars (see Mr. Shambles), but challenging and immersive puzzles that require true skill and patience to complete.
Being developed by a lesser known and smaller company doesn’t take much away from the quality of Amnesia as a game. Sure, the production values aren’t great and the cut scene sequences aren’t exactly technically impressive, but rather are made effective with overwhelmingly detailed audio, excellent voice acting and environments that range from vibrant and gorgeous to repulsive and dark. Despite lackluster graphics and a mediocre game engine, nothing really detracts from what Amnesia attempts and succeeds at doing- destroying your sanity and pushing the limits of how fast your heart can beat. While at times the game is stressful because of its merciless difficulty and lengthy puzzles, it is always at the same time captivating. For a game so stressful that it’s caused many players to be unable to finish, I found it so charming and profound that I couldn’t put it down. Its gameplay is addicting, as is its beautifully written storyline. What starts as a simple mission to uncover the past turns into an outrageous mind game that allows you to experience the atrocities caused by your character all because of the manipulation of Alexander. The story and uniqueness of the characters and the progression of the plot make the game more gripping as it goes on. It’s definitely confusing as all hell, but by the end you’ll be truly stunned by the perfectly executed plot twist and the discovery of why everything happened in the first place and why you were even brought to Castle Brennenburg.
While definitely not suited for the average gamer, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is uncontested in its genre; simply the best and most addicting horror game I’ve ever played. It’s long, demanding and incredibly difficult, but rewarding and entertaining right up until the credits roll. The Dark Descent is a must play for any gamer who not only wants a brilliant story with which to immerse themselves in, but one who won’t mind being tormented and terrified throughout that story.