Game: Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Almost every second I spent hesitantly wandering through Brennenburg Castle made me feel real tendrils of fear, insidiously worming their way around my neck into a tight, invisible stranglehold. When it comes to horror, you can probably tell I’m more of a casual sojourner, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent‘s clever manipulation of control, lighting mechanics, and chilling musical score are a firm reminder of why. Originally released in 2010 for PC, the PlayStation 4 port delivers all the same psychological thrills through a masterful build up of suspense – even if there’s no proper save button.
Daniel with no surname wakes up in an inebriated stupor and no memory of how he got there, leaving you to scope out the dimly lit surroundings in search for clues. Diary entries are in fact the main way to advance the story – aside from mild puzzle solving – and reveal portions of it via eerie, yet carefully measured flashbacks. It’s as if the developers know just the right moment to strike, warping and mutating your visual field with jittery occlusion. Speaking of jitters, Amnesia: The Dark Descent extracts their full potential by tying them down into the ‘sanity’ game mechanic: Staying immersed in darkness too long negatively affects your mental state, which ranges from ‘crystal clear’ to teetering on the edge of mental breakdown. Teamed up with the sound of a heavy beating heart, the beast of terror is unshackled from its chains: A dark room transforms into a sinister chamber, lantern oil and tinderboxes, the tools Daniel must use to illuminate his environments, suddenly become as indispensable as lifebuoys are to a drowning sailor. Frictional Games readily give you power, or perhaps the illusion of power, but are just as quick to take it away. Playing with a controller is (naturally) less precise, and sometimes frustratingly unresponsive compared to a keyboard and mouse combination, but it’s nowhere near awful. The otherworldly enemies add yet another fantastic dimension to gameplay, forcing Daniel to submerge himself in darkness to hide, simultaneously jeapordising his sanity levels and challenging you to escape under presssure – not an easy feat with the distant clangs and intensified creaking that invade the atmosphere.
The score is relentless, cacophonous and frightening, and by taking advantage of biologically ingrained defence mechanisms (and the rumbling of the dualshock controller) helps define Amnesia: The Dark Descent‘s world in a huge way; The tangible sense of fear would simply not exist without it. Morbid DLC packs Justine and A Machine for Pigs are similarly terrifying examples of multisensory manipulation, despite omitting some of the original elements. The Amnesia collection is a worthy addition to any horror fan’s library, and in its balanced orchestration of gameplay manages to deeply entrenched fears that lurk in the unlikeliest of places – within ourselves.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.